Monday, November 30, 2015

Week 25 - November 30, 2015 Thanksgiving!

 Dear Readers:

Sorry y'all I'm out of time. I love you!! 
The Church is true! The Book of Mormon will change your life! 
Here are excerpts from my letter to my mission president about my week:

It has been quite the week! We had splits, which is always a good time and learning experience. 
I loved working with the sisters and finding ways I can improve on being a more effective and diligent missionary. I have been trying to accept the Lord's will as my own. 

Sister Leavitt! The Sister Training Leader (Also sister Hansen's trainer)

Also, I made a beautiful realization this week. 
I have been praying for the longest time to have an overwhelming love for Balakova. 
While I thought I have not had that yet, Saturday at the branch activity and this morning, 
I realized that I LOVE the members here. 
That's all that matters when it comes to loving an area. I truly love the people here. 
I can't believe I would have lived my whole life not knowing them 
if I hadn't served my mission, especially here in Balakova. 
This has helped me through the hard times. I just have to have faith and hope! 

Oh my goodness, we've seen and INCREDIBLE miracle this week. Last Sunday, 
we weren't sure if our branch was doing anything for Thanksgiving since it is an American holiday. So I mentioned it to some of our beloved members and they said of course they do something. 
So with a week to get everything together, we set on having a Thanksgiving activity on Saturday. 

It was not looking good the whole week. 
People kept saying they would try to come but they weren't sure. 
We were so worried that there wouldn't be enough food and that no one would come. 
Saturday morning, we missionaries were scrambling to find things to get the activity together. 
We planned for 3:30. A few people came with some treats. 

The beginning of Thanksgiving

Then, just 50 minutes later, 
the branch building is full of people and the table is overcrowded with delicious treats. 
It was a hard week, so this made all of the struggles worth it. 

I've never felt so happy and full of love and gratitude in my entire life! 
I was missing home since Thanksgiving is one of our big family activities. 
I discovered that I have a new family, here in Russia. Truly a miracle! 
Balakova hasn't had a branch activity in 10 months.. Yet it took only one week, 
many determined members, and the Lord's approval for this miracle to happen! So cool!

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, November 23, 2015

Week 24 - November 23, 2015 Thanksgiving is BEFORE Christmas!

    My dearest readers,

Thank you so much for your love and support each week. 
I appreciate the prayers on behalf of me, my family, and the people I serve. Prayer works! 
Sometimes it just needs time, but an answer will always come!

​Hipster photo of Balakova

This week has been pretty interesting haha. 
We have this great referral from one of our eternal investigators Misha, 
who just recently was drafted in the army, and her name is Enessa. 
She is seriously so incredible! We first met her a couple weeks ago. 
She really wants to learn English so she agreed to meet with the missionaries. 
She knows that we can only teach doctrinal lessons. 
She's very believing and is seriously the sweetest! 
We met last Tuesday at this super hip cafe. 
We weren't able to have the lesson we prepared 
but we were able to build a stronger relationship with her and learn more about her. 
She comes to English Club and is always so nice. She's super cute and is like 6'1". 
We really feel like there is so much potential with her! 
She even agreed to go to our Thanksgiving activity!

On the Volga

So, to finally explain my heading. My dear, sweet, lovely, obedient, 
beautiful companion thinks that it's okay to put up the Christmas tree ON Thanksgiving!!! 
Like after they eat dinner!!!!
 Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Christmas just as much as the other toy elf, 
but I am a firm believer in waiting until the day after Thanksgiving to start decorating. 
The Lord says to every thing there is a time and a season. That goes for holidays, too!!! 
Poor Thanksgiving is the middle child of all holidays. 
I am just a defender for all those who are forgotten. Anywhoo, we are SUPER excited, 
because we are planning a super last-minute Thanksgiving activity for this Saturday. 
We weren't sure they celebrated Thanksgiving here so we didn't bring it up. 
Turns out they do something every year since the missionaries 
(who are a huge part of the branch) are always American haha. 
So we are going to have a spiritual thought, then eat some yummy food, 
then some music. Lol trying to figure out Thanksgiving music.. . .That will be interesting. 

Let it snow!!!

It snowed like crazy on Friday! It was almost up to my knees at some areas. 
It's seriously sooo beautiful. The cold weather is really rubbing off on me. 
Now 50 degrees is like perfect weather. Beanies are great and so are cute booties! 
I mean I still love the beach and California and all. 
It's actually pretty fun to see people's reaction when I tell them I'm California. 
They think it's the coolest thing ever. Sad part is that I've lost my tan completely! 
I feel pretty pale, but Sister Hansen always reminds me 
how much darker I am than most people here lol. 

My first snow angel!

Anywhoo I know this is a pretty long letter, but that's alright. 
I guess what I'd like to share is that I know that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God. 
Just read 3 Nephi 17. It's probably one of the most beautiful chapters recorded 
of Jesus Christ in all the history of the world. 
You just feel the love the people have for our Savior, 
and the love that the Savior has for us. He truly is incredible. 

I love the Lord, I love my family, I love the Russian people, and I love you all!!!

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Week 23 - November 16, 2015 Stake in Saratov

      My Dearest Readers, 

HURRAH!!!! We did it!!!!
It's been about 25 years since the church was first introduced to the people of Saratov. 
That means for 25 years, members and missionaries alike have been diligently working so that 
there could be a stake in Saratov. What a great blessing it is for me to play a tiny part in this effort. 
I'm lucky enough to partake of the fruits of all these labors. 
These members totally deserve this stake! It's incredible. 
Seeing all of the priesthood leaders be called and sustained was a great experience. 

My favorite part of the whole experience was the bus ride to and from Solnichni.
The church hired a bus to take the members from Balakovo and Marks to the conference.
So many strong members. It was about a 3 hour drive.
I spent most of the time talking to one of the members, Настя.
She's my age and is super tiny ahaha. And super sassy. But luckily we love each other.
It's crazy to think I'm developing the skill to communicate with a whole new nation! Super cool!
We had a good time talking about random things. Then on the way back, Света, her mom,
brought Kolbaca and bread for us to eat afterwards. Within the 3 hours span we were in the meeting,
it had snowed like crazy!!! It was a beautiful winter wonderland!! 

On Friday, we had our Zone Training. It was such a spiritual experience.
There are 24 missionaries in my zone. They are all so great and inspiring.
It started on a note of repentance. Repentance is real. It's the main thing God
and our Savior ask of us.
Have faith and repent and then the kingdom of Heaven is ours for eternity!!
What a marvelous promise!We need to repent everyday. 
Even just having a righteous desire is enough for Christ. Rely on Him!!!!

   Fun Facts:
  - I dyed Sister Hansen's hair. .. . twice.. .. in one day. I felt like I was back at BYU when Whitney
     was the one dying my hair! So that was a fun experience!
  - Ran away from our first drunk guy. No worries, it was in the middle of the day, he was super old,
     and didn't run after us. Don't worry beloved parents haha. I'm safe :]
  - We and the Elders are going to learn how to make Borsche at a member's house today.
     Super stoked!!!! 
  - Elder Dorius, my District Leader, now has the second worst photo of me in existence.
     I fell asleep on the bus ride home. He and this member got a great shot. 
     My mouth was hanging for all flies to settle. Yeah.. . .  

I love you all!!! Stay safe and beautiful!!!

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, November 9, 2015

Week 22 - November 9, 2015 Get Ready to Go Camping, Cause There's Gonna be a Stake!

           My Dearest Readers, 

Yup, you heard me. The 3rd stake in Russia will be in Saratov!!!! 
HURRAY!!!! My mission president came to Balakovo this past weekend 
to visit with the members and bring the great news! 
The stake will be made official this Sunday when we are in District Meeting. 
The Balakovo branch will be going to one of the meetinghouses in Solnitchny (Sunny). 
It's pretty exciting stuff! They are even getting their own Patriarch. 
This is a HUGE deal because all the members had to wait once a year 
for the other Patriarch to come in order to get their Patriarchal blessings. 
What a treat that is! I will never forget the sacrament meeting 
when our branch president announced the stake. 
Gasps of joy and astonishment filled the room, along with a powerful Spirit. 
These people truly deserve the blessings of a stake. 
They and every person in the area, will be greatly blessed because of this huge step. 
Next on the agenda is a temple!!! I hope and pray they announce a temple in Saratov, 
Russia in one of the following conferences!!!! They are ready and deserving!!! 
So say lots of prayers! 

It was so great to have President Schwab with us for a little bit in Balakovo. 
We've been having a pretty rough time. None of our investigators are progressing, 
we contact on the streets for hours on end, and we just don't feel like 
we were accomplishing anything. He gave Sister Hansen and me really great counsel. 
I know that he was called of God to serve our mission! 
I also know that the Prophet Thomas S. Monson and the First Presidency 
are inspired men of God and absolutely CANNOT say anything contrary to the will of the Lord. 
Jesus Christ leads this church through these men. This is Christ's church. 
I know and testify of this truth in his name. 

The most beautiful part of the message I share every day is 
that you don't have to take my word for it, 
or your bishop's or some random professor at Oxford. 
You can know for yourself these divine truths through prayer. I know that prayer works. 
I also know that you will not receive an answer to your prayer 
if you don't do the things the Lord asks of us. 
BUT If you do what He has taught the children of men for centuries now, 
then you will receive an answer. God lives. 
I know this as much as I know that I live. He loves us. 

I am super short on time so I'll just do highlights, 
or copy and paste from family emails lol:

              -We gave out 7 copies of the Book of Mormon this week.  
                That's a record of my whole three months in Russia. 
              -I totally threw it down, like Abinadi status, at our first institute on Friday. 
              -I translated for President Schwab's daughter. 
                Shout out to my homegirl Sister Foote for translating a few weeks ago!! 
                You da tru MVP! Love ya! 
              -I am slowly figuring out what I want to do for the rest of my life. . .. . very slowly. 
              -Read Alma 36, 37, and 38. Great chapters. 
                Chapter 38 is really great for return missionaries.

I know that everything I am going through is to help me be a stronger person. 
Have hope! Believe in Christ! The blessings will come. 

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, November 2, 2015

Week 21 - November 2, 2015 Oh, the Places You'll Go!

     My Dearest Readers, 

What a great week! First off, the visa trip. Man oh man, what a great time! 
So we leave on Tuesday to Samara. It's about a 4-5 hours drive. 
Elder Dorius (in my district for 10 weeks now), Sister Hansen, and I all had visa trips, 
plus all of Elder Dorius' MTC district (about 7 elders) and my MTC district 
(4 other sisters and 2 elders). Safe to say it was a party. 

It was amazing seeing my old district again, all but Elder Lee. 
I missed everyone soooo much!! Especially Sister Thomas. 
Apparently she had missed me just as much because her trainer 
said that she talked all about me haha. I love her. Just like I had hoped, 
Sister Hansen and Thomas became instant friends. It was just such a great reunion. 
All of the sisters in my MTC district will be serving with one another! 
In the same zone too! I'm the odd one out in Saratov, but that's okay! 

We had 13 missionaries in our visa trip group. We made it to Moscow, then Riga, 
then back to Moscow pretty safely. Even though we were only able to stay in the airports, 
Latvia is such a beautiful place! I'm definitely visiting when I come back to Russia. 
Somehow, an elder lost his ministerial slip, which allows us to stay in Russia legally. 
So he and another elder had to stay back in Moscow while the rest of us returned to Samara. 
It was super stressful. Normally all the missionaries make it back to our area haha. 
Luckily everything got sorted out and they are working hard right now in their respective areas. 
It was so crazy, because everyone except Sister Hansen would be going home the same time. 
Elder Dorius' district come back with me and my sisters. 
I had $12 fro-yo at the airport and it was soooo worth it. 
I missed out on T.G.I. Fridays hot wings so I'll remember that for next trip haha. 

We had a pretty busy rest of the week. When we were about to leave Samara, 
we managed to give a KM (book of mormon) to the taxi driver who was super nice. 
Then we had a lot of work to do, despite the fact that we haven't slept fully. 
It takes about a week or two to get back to the swing of things. 

So I saw absolutely NO Halloween costumes on Saturday! I was so bummed! 
So if you had an awesome Halloween costume, send me a photo! I'd love to see them! 
It was English Club on Halloween so our district bought a lot of candy and decorations. 
We then decorated the chalk board for kicks. 
The Elders got us cute little witch-hat-headbands to wear. 
It counts as a costume, right? We ended up having a good time. 

Sunday was cool because there was this broadcast for the Eastern Europe Area. 
A couple of the Seventy, Sister McConkie (who we met), 
and President Russell M. Nelson all spoke in the broadcast. It was cool. 
We watched it in sacrament meeting. 
It was all in Russian, but I got the gist of it. Good news! 
I can understand most of what people are saying in church now! 
Hurrah! President Nelson said something really cool about fasting, 
"Going hungry to help the hungry." It really put things into perspective. 
We don't know why they had the broadcast though. 
There is going to be a huge District Conference (like Stake conference) 
in two weeks where really important people are coming 
to speak to the members of the Saratov area. I am SO EXCITED!!!!! 
Maybe an apostle will come! We might get a stake!! AHHHHHHHH. 
Thankfully, since I'm in the Saratov district I can go to this meeting. 

Whelp, that's all for now. Exercise faith IN Jesus Christ. It's not easy, 
but it can work incredible miracles that will change your life! God lives. 
He loves you. Only good things come from God. 
He will hear your prayers and answer them! Trust me, I know. 

Much love
Cectpa Graham