Monday, December 12, 2016

Week 79 - December 12, 2016 Goodbye Motherland. . . Hello Mother!

Wow, where to even start? Honestly, I'll just talk about my last week, 
because it's been incredible!

Monday: We went to our weekly film club at the university. We were on our way and 
got of the metro (subway) and saw this group of young people singing outside in negative 
degree weather! We went up and took a little video. They are Christians from Korea! 
They study here, but they also share their testimonies about Christ as much as possible. 
They were out singing songs about Christ. It was super sweet and inspiring. I'm glad I was 
able to talk to them for a little bit and tell them that we greatly respect them and we believe
 in Christ, too! Then at film club, we brought the uke and geetar and played our famous, 
"Come, Come Ye Saints." They asked us to play it again, then we taught them the words 
and the next thing you know, all 15 of us are singing this beloved hymn! We then talked 
about the historical significance of the early pioneer saints. It lead to more questions, 
which we couldn't answer because of the religious law, 
but it was still a super sweet, tender moment!

Tuesday: Packed my suitcases. . so sad! Then last minute souvenir shopping with 
a member and a friend, Anton. We got sushi at this pretty cool place. Anton is one of 
our friends from the university. We have spent some time with him this past month 
and a half. He has become of our really good friends! 

Wednesday: Met with Vera, one of my favorite babooshkas ever! She is hilarious and 
stern all at the same time. She wished me all the best luck, especially at finding a husband 
(a common blessing here in Russia). Then we had institute! It was really good. 
I got a bunch of polaroids with members I love here in Kazan. 

Thursday: Met with our dear friend Gyzel and Lera! They are the sweetest girls ever. 
Gyzel drew me a picture in my planner. So sweet. Then later that night we had family night. 
It was Japanese themed and we made sushi rolls. I taught them the tricks, 
but honestly they preferred their rolls to have cheese in it. . . .yes you read that right. 
Cheese. Cream cheese is best :/ I don't get it either haha. Anyhoo, we had 4 friends there. 
We had the incredible experience of sharing the gospel with our friends (Anton included) 
and telling them about the Book of Mormon. Almost gave them out, but they wanted 
hard copies. Anton was SO interesting in the KM since he had never seen the book before. 
Luba, a young woman in the branch, shared a beautiful spiritual thought on Patience. 
She asked someone to read Mosiah 3:19. Anton's hand shot up and he read it for us. 
Then he continued flipping through the book with great eagerness. Sister Palmer and 
I almost cried with joy. It is sooo much more rewarding when you are sharing the gospel 
with a good friend. It just means much more!

Friday: BEST DAY EVER! Did service at an elementary school with our friend Marina. 
We all made t-shirts for one another in our district. SO FUNNY.  Saw all of my friends 
in Kazan for one last big hurrah. We went ice skating and had snowball fights. 
It was literally bliss!!!

Saturday: Traveled all day. Elders helped move all my bags and our friend Marina met us 
at the bus station. She made sure we were all settled in and even bought us some juice and 
muffins as our lunch. She's like our russian mama here. Her daughter is member in 
Los Angeles so I amgoing to meet her sometime when I get back. So cool!! 
Then we left to Samara. The sisters fed us and took care of us!

Sunday: BEZI!!!! Man, I've missed this place. They were in a new building. 
It was incredible. The members have been waiting for over a year to move to this new 
building and it is BEAUTIFUL!!!! 3 stories high and so wonderful. There was a 
special spirit in that meeting. My good friend, Elder Pacheco, was then release as 
a branch president there for the past 5 months. It was incredible to see the change in the 
whole branch since the time I first served there (exactly a year ago) and now. 
It is night and day. I am so grateful for the Spirit. Then a member invited me 
and Elder Pacheco over for dinner at their place. 
We went on elder-sister splits. . . .lol just kidding! We went with our companions. 
It was super sweet!!!

Anyhoo, super long letter. I'm sorry, but I hope you enjoyed that! I love my life. 
I love the Lord. I know He loves you. God is good. I know that. I have felt that. 
And you can, too! Please feel free to ask me how you can have more happiness 
and peace in your life. I would love to have a long chat about that.

I have no regrets!

LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!!!!

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Week 78 - December 5, 2016 2nd to last email. . .

My dearest readers,

Wow! How crazy is that?I can't believe I only have one more emailing day! It is weird. 
Yesterday, I said goodbye to the members here in Kazan. I'll be staying here in Kazan up 
until Saturday, then I'm going to Samara so I can say goodbye to the member there in Bezi. 
So strange. I'm really going to miss all my friends here. We've got a full week planned 
so time will really fly!

 The other sisters came for splits! Hollah

Just a nice announcement: I'll be returning home December 16. I will be having a little get together next Saturday December 17. I know my mom has sent out some invites on Facebook. If you are interested and able to come, I would love to see you there! Just email me and I'll give you the details if you don't already know. I love you all!!!!

Service activity last week! Remember this guy? 
We served my first 3 weeks in Russia together. 
Now my last three!!

Last week:

Quote from film club when talking about caves: "When you spend enough time in darkness, 
you know the real value of light." I loved that thought! It is true. This is a testimony as to 
why we need opposition in our lives. I read the conference talk from April 2016 from 
Elder Oaks. Opposition is really how we grow in life. An athlete can't gain muscle 
without resistance. The same goes for our spirits! We can't grow without resistance! 
It is a principle easier said that applied. But I'll try my best!

One of the highlights of our week was when we were sitting home, doing studies in the 
morning on Wednesday. We get a call from one of the youth telling us it was her mom's 
birthday today and wanted to know if we could do something real quick for her. 
We said we could figure something out. We bought a cake at a store and then took the 
30 minute bus ride over to their home. Looked like we weren't going to have 
full studies and lunch. .. again. We got there and her mom was SO happy! 
We showed them the cake and card. The kids starting saying, "Whoa! How did they 
know that we always buy that cake???" The mother then replied, "They prayed about 
which cake to buy, of course!" I thought to myself, well, not exactly true, but we do pray 
to have the Spirit with us always and to do the will of the Lord. So, that counts, right? 
We were really grateful to be an instrument in the Lord's hand in that moment. 

We are waiting for our friends.

An inactive member, Marat, rented out a gym for us to play volleyball with him (yay!) 
and told us we could invite friends. So we did just that! It was super good, we had 4 friends 
there, and Marat and his 2 friends and random people from the gym joined us. It was sooooo 
nice to play volleyball again! I wasn't horrible either! A lot of people asked if I was a 
professional volleyball player. I wish I could have said yes haha. Then we were able 
to talk to the people there who work at the gym, too. He is so good at getting us to talk 
to people (he is the one who gave us the referral who we sent to Moscow). It was great!

 Does he count as captain Moroni??? Creepy kid's museum.

Honestly, so many good things. I have no idea what to say. I love my time spent here in Russia. 
I wouldn't change it for the world. I love the people here. I have been so blessed. I look 
forward to seeing many of you soon, though! I hope you have a great week!!!! 

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, November 28, 2016

Week 77 - November 28, 2016 Thank Goodness for Thanksgiving!

Whelp I've got no time. Thank goodness for copy and paste!

Monday night we go to the university for a "film club" run by an American, 
who also is an inactive member of the church. We talk in English to the students. 
This week, the did a debate and the topic was: What is more valuable, donating time or money? 
We sat as the mediators. After a wonderful, deep discussion about the benefits of money 
and time for those involved, the teacher concluded by saying how the most important part 
is that donating or being charitable is "not about you." After which, Sister Palmer 
and I were able to testify about our experience here and why we came to Russia 
to donate time and money. We did not say anything about God or the church, 
but we just testified of the good of service and giving of yourself to others. 
We felt the Spirit so strongly in that classroom. We know the students felt it, too. 
Then, sister Palmer told me that a student went up and talked with her and 
the teacher after class. He sang praises to us for what we are doing here. Then Steve, 
the teacher, goes on and says, "I know quite a bit about what they do here. 
They not only do all these good things, but they also get a lot of opposition 
and persecution for trying to do good." It was so wonderful to hear that from people 
who don't have to tell us we are doing a good job. Sweet experience.

The next day we met up with a friend of our from the university. We went to a museum 
for a concert of sorts. It turned out to be an Italian Opera concert. We were sitting there, 
enjoying the music when out of nowhere we see a member from our branch! 
It was the coolest thing. She saw us and was super surprised. We were a little 
worried that we were enjoying ourselves too much and not "working hard" 
enough where we were miserable, but seeing a member by total surprise was a testament 
to me that the Lord is carefully placing us where He needs us to be. And sometimes 
that is a wonderful concert to support one of His daughters. 

Thanksgiving was great! More details later. . . or not. here are some pictures!!

Us doing the Russian woman pose as a district.

Being sophisticated and what not around someone else's snack.

Sisters together for a show.

We be dazzling errbody out here.

Thanksgiving breakfast.

Soup for when I was sick this week. 
I feel a little better. Sister Palmer did a fabulous job 
making it for me while I rested!
Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, November 21, 2016

Week 76 - November 21, 2016 District Conference

     My dearest readers,

It's been a pretty chill week. We have been meeting with a lot of members. 

We have this one member who has a pretty strong personality. She's so funny. She loves me. 
She thinks I'm so "wise." At least someone does! She felt like she really needed to meet with us, 
and we felt like it was a while we hadn't seen her, so we met on Tuesday. It was a good meeting, 
she talked a lot about herself and how she was feeling. It was obvious she had humbled herself 
quite a bit since we last met with her. She was sharing all of her feelings and what was going 
on in her life. While in the meeting, we were praying in our hearts to know what to say to her. 
Two scriptures came to my mind as she spoke. Mosiah 3:19 and then Ether 12:27. 
She was tearing up while reading and pondering them. She said that these scriptures were 
exactly what she needed to hear. I have such a strong testimony of scriptures and just really 
listening to the people we work with and then turning to the Lord and asking Him to inspire 
us to know what to do and say. 

The sisters Kazan and Bezi at the Renaissance Hotel 
(owned by Marriott) for our district conference. 

Us after a long day at conference and then a 
5 hour bus ride back home! 
We still look good despite freezing out butts off outside.

This week will be super exciting. We are going to a special Tatarski play on Wednesday night. 
Then two Thanksgiving activities. One at the university where we have been volunteering 
with English and the other at our branch building. It will be a blast!

That awkward moment when you realize you haven't 
taken any photos this week so you snap one of 
your view from your window. ... 
I love the Lord. I am so grateful for His continual love and kindness to me and those 
whom I love. I know that our desires and wants are super important to God. He hears us 
and loves us. We have a Savior who does everything for us. We can show our love to 
Them through studying their word, especially the Book of Mormon. 
I know that it is true! 

I love you all!!

I love toliatti!!!

Gave a mattress pad to a member last week, 
super convenient since it kept you warm outside.

Creepy picture at the metro that I just HAD 
to share with the world.

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, November 14, 2016

Week 75 - November 14, 2016 Hollah! [insert witty title here]

      My beloved readers!

It has been an eventfully uneventful week. We have been traveling all week and so 
we haven't been able to work in our own area for a while. We had zone training 
which was super duper good. 

Most of the zone. All these young'ins!

Random pictures of the volunteers.

Sister Palmer and I made shirts for the zone leaders, 
and the made shirts for us. Here is the finished project!

My favorite part, however, was not the actual training (however good it was) 
but the workshop afterwards for the church's 12 step addiction 
recovery program. Sister and Elder Reed from Moscow came to give us all training. 
Sister Reed is my hero. She has such a passion and enthusiasm for the work. 
She inspired me so much to really look at the worth of the individual who is struggling. 
The program is not only for people to have addictions to drugs or alcohol, 
but also for unwanted, reoccurring negative thoughts or sugar. 

The most wonderful couple in the world. 
Sister and Elder Reed changed my life!!!

We have been sent here to love people and help them return back home. I just reflect 
on the thought that we are all working towards the same goal, but how different 
all our paths are. President Ottesen randomly said "I wish all sins smelled like smoke." 
I agree completely. We are so quick to judge those who have problems with alcohol or 
smoking since they are so easy to detect. Boy, would I feel real bad if all my sins 
and shortcomings were as pungent. I am grateful for my life and the lessons 
I have learned from experience. God loves all His children, so why don't we?

I love you all! I hope you have a great week! 

District photo . . sister palmer is in there somewhere...

Elder Plettig's family came to Kazan. 
We had to take a picture with them.

All sisters picture! Love these Kazan girlies!

The bezi sisters trucked our backpacks back home 
since we had a meeting, so sweet!

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, November 7, 2016

Week 74 - November 7 MIRACLES!!!

 I don't have much time, we are going on a bus today to Toliatti for our zone training 
so I'll need to be quick. 

Fighting for "chicken fried rice!?"...

Sister Hofmann were baking cookies that day 
and we have a super inconvenient cupboard near the sink. 
I slammed my head into it so I have a cute little bump on my forehead. 
Now it isn't as noticeable haha

Again, I don't think I have enough time to explain all the miracles 
that have happened this week. To sum things up, we have been able to meet a bunch 
of new "friends" this week and have been seeing miracles. All of the seemingly random things 
we've been doing these past two weeks have just been snowballing into bigger and better things. 
Cool miracle of the week: A couple weeks ago we did a drop by to a less active. 
By some miracle we were able to get into contact with him. Later that week we went to 
an English club that he attends regularly. Last week, we were so busy so we didn't contact him, 
but were thinking about him. Thursday night we get a call from him, and I say "Hi Marat!" 
The man says, "This is not Marat. My name is Daniel." Daniel was at English club 
with Marat and the Mormons were brought up in their discussion. So Daniel wanted to 
know who are the Mormons? Marat then gave him the phone when we called back. 
Daniel said that he is leaving for Moscow the next night. He said he wants to meet us 
and know more about the Mormons. We set up a meeting at 9:30am. It was such a wonderful, spiritual meeting. My first investigator lesson since the new law change. 
I was almost in tears when Elder Shukin testified about the Book of Mormon. 
We gave him a Book of Mormon and a promise that we will refer him to 
the volunteers in Moscow. It was such a huge miracle!!! 

Our District! Love serving with them.

We've met with soooo many new friends. It has been incredible. 
So many plans and so much pizza! Another cool event was that one of the members 
of the area presidency, Elder Martino. He came just specifically to Kazan for the weekend. 
We were honored to have him and learn from him on a personal level. He inspired 
the members and volunteers here of the potential of Kazan. This is the second visit 
from a Seventy to visit Kazan in one year. And only Kazan! That means that this truly 
is a special place. I'm honored to live here and serve the people here. 

Elder Martino, Sister Palmer and I.

I love you all. I love the Lord. I know in troubling times, we just need 
to rely on the Lord and to trust in Him. Have a great week!!!

Winter wonderland adventure!
Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, October 31, 2016

Week 73 - October 31, 2016 Halloween at Hogwarts!

     Happy Halloween!

"You're Volunteer, Sister Graham!" Do duu dododo do doooooo do, do dududu do duuuuu. 

My poor rendition of the Harry Potter intro music. 

Our Hogwarts district!
(from left, Hagrid, a Slytherin, Snape, Harry Potter, Cedric Diggory,
Cho Chang, Ginny Weasley)

This week was incredible. I feel like I say that about every week, but it is always true! 
This whole week was spent preparing for our branch halloween activity. It was incredible. 
Words, pictures, and videos do not even come close to describing how great that activity was! 
The small branch building was pouring with people. We worked all week with our dear friend 
Gyzel and her friends. It was a huge success. We had about 50 people there at our activity. 
Half of them were friends. We got a lot a less actives there as well. The members were 
all so impressed with how well it turned out. We all put in a lot of work and effort 
and it definitely paid off. We needed all the hands we could get!

Gyzel and her friends really made all the difference for our activity. They were super stars. 
One of them, Tania, invited 20 of her friends. It was incredible. I have never seen so many 
youth at an activity before. God definitely blessed us with miracles. The members all loved 
the activity and thought it was a huge success. 

We bought this asian acne mask thingy 
and also special cookies for the holidays

Honestly, this is just a big testimony to me that when we put the work in, the Lord 
will provide the rest. We were stressed out a lot this week and overwhelmed right before, 
but it paid off so much! So many people came and had a great time. Now we have 
really solid relationship with friends now and the members.

Sister Love!

 I know the Lord takes care of His people. I love the time I have here. God loves us 
and is ever so aware of us!

Redyed my hair. A cute member did it for me :D

I am emailing at an internet cafe today, so I will try and send some pictures later today 
at the branch when I have time. I got in touch with my inner babooshka and crocheted a wig 
for Elder Shukin to be Severus Snape. So many good pictures with so little time. 
Today we are throwing a surprise birthday party for Elder Shukin. It was yesterday, 
but we did nothing for him. Poor kid has no idea.

I made Snape's hair.


Me and my hairless cat...
Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, October 24, 2016

Week 72 - October 24, 2016 What didn't happen this week. . .

     My beloved readers,

Talk about a crazy week. I wish I could tell you all in great detail, but alas I cannot. 
I fear I cannot even give you a decent update, but I will do my best. 

Our trip to Tolyatti for conference. Back of the bus fun!

Our zone at our breakfast!

Biscuits and gravy! Hollah! 
We use salami instead of sausage 
because we don't have sausage here in Russia. . . 

Korochi, almost everything in life and work changed this week. We found out Tuesday 
after lunch in zone conference that two sisters, Hullinger (from my MTC district) 
and Hofmann (my old companion) are moving in with us on Thursday night and will now 
be working in Kazan. Surprise! Everyone knew except for us. Whelp, life happens. 
Good thing I love those sisters to death.

Singing with Sister Palmer in the Zone Conference.

Having desert!!!

Watched my first (and not last) Russian Ballet! It was hilarious. No pictures or videos, sorry. 
But the lead dancers were from Japan. Cool huh?

First Russian Ballet.

Had the miracle of Gyzel: On our way to a meeting, Sister Palmer and I were walking to 
our bus stop and saw a girl with a Gryffindor scarf. We decided to talk to her and ask her 
where she got her scarf. Gyzel told us it was a gift and we just chatted for about 20 minutes 
at the bus stop. We exchanged numbers since she really really wants to go to our activity. 
She even offered to help plan and invite all her friends. She texted us the next day to ask 
what she needed to do to help and what time so she could invite her friends. 
We met with her yesterday and she is just the cutest! 

Also, we have an African Big Brother here in Kazan. He is the coolest. We talked to 
his students in English and then ate chicken nuggets at Burger King. . . . 

Life is great and crazy. Life on the other side of the veil (of my mission) is starting to 
hit me aka college. But that is okay, the Lord will provide. 

I love my life, but not at much as I love my Lord and my Father in Heaven. 
I love Russia. I love Kazan. I look forward to my time here serving the Lord. 
Each day gives me something to smile about!!!

Tolyatti Zone Conference
Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, October 17, 2016

Week 71 - October 17, 2016 Ohana means family!

      My dearest readers,

It has been quite the week. It has been filled with meetings, service, adventures, tears, 
and the haka. But not always in that order. We did a really cool service with the elders 
this week talking to some students at an art college in English. They were soooo cute. 
Seriously, I love them all. It was so cute seeing them swoon over the elders, too. 
Oh to be young again. 

Waiting at the university for our member.

We have developed really good relationships with the members. It is just great seeing them 
and having them actually want to meet us. They absolutely LOVE our musical instruments 
and want us to play for them all the time. It is a really good way to do something small for the members. Then we did this really cool service for a less active. It was super cool, 
we talked with these art students in English. They were all so cute. They made us 
feel so cool haha. This week we did a Luau for our family night. It was a huge success. 
We had 4 members and 4 friends. It was really fun. We taught them how to Tahitian dance 
and Haka. They loved it! They didn't want to leave! It is really evidence of God's support 
of our efforts to make our activities better for the members. 

Selfie life!

We went to an asian fusion cafe and they gave us 
the biggest lemonade . .  . each!

I love those little things that happen to us that are just huge billboard signs of God's love for us, 
but on a completely personalized level. Yesterday, a member shared an experience of an elder 
who served here. He cannot draw to save his life, and for some reason he felt really impressed 
one day to draw something. Nothing turned out, but a few pieces of paper later and dreams of becoming the next Leonardo Da Vinci out the window, he drew a very humble bird. 
Then they went off to serve. They were at a bus station and saw a frantic young mother 
and child. They offered some help. She then told then about her husband's death and they were 
on a way to a funeral. He felt impressed to give her the simple picture of the bird. She took it 
and started crying. She said her husband always drew her those kinds of birds. This experience 
and countless others of my own are just such great testimonies that God really is a loving 
Heavenly Father who knows us personally.

Much love, 
Cectpa Graham

Monday, October 10, 2016

Week 70 - October 9, 2016 Circus, Service, and Sublime Messages from High!

   My dearest readers,

I love you all so much! I have to apologize ahead of time. We just have so much to do 
and so little time to do it in. Highlights:

Monday: We went over to my dear friend Anya's house for some really yummy 
traditional Chinese food! It was the highlight of my life! 

Me and my beautiful Chinese friends!!!! I was soooo happy. 
I wore that dumb smile the WHOLE time!!!

Tuesday: We did some service at a members home. We also said goodbye to our ol pal 
Elder Rouche. He will love Toliatti.

Our lovely district! I love them already! 
I get to practice translating, too. 
German is a wonderful language...

Wednesday: We had four meetings that day with members. It was incredibly busy, 
but we were able to do much good! The Lord is blessing us with chances to serve 
members all the time. We are so lucky!

Thursday: FHE! We watched Legacy. Man, what a great movie! 
It inspires me every time. 

Friday: We helped an active member in our branch garden. Super fun. 
Sister Palmer also got attacked by the pet hairless cat. Second one in Russia 
and in life haha, so fun. then we cleaned the branch building.

Saturday: General Conference was amazing! Seriously, I have been so inspired! 
God is love! We met our new district of foreigners . . or natives since we are the foreigners.
 The CIRCUS is awesome!!! 

We had a primary activity to go to the circus. . . I died of happiness!

Us outside the circus.

Sunday: General conference! It was awesome! Seriously, I love it. 

Watching conference!

Made sushi for general conference! 
This one turned out a lot better since I had rice vinegar. 
;D The members loved it!

Life lesson: We have to keep trying. We all make mistakes and we need to 
keep trying to do the right. I love the talk given by Elder Renlund April 2015

When we almost miss our ride. . . 

 My invitation to all of us is to evaluate our lives, repent, and keep on trying. 
If we don’t try, we’re just latter-day sinners; if we don’t persevere, we’re latter-day quitters; 
and if we don’t allow others to try, we’re just latter-day hypocrites.10 As we try, persevere, 
and help others to do the same, we are true Latter-day Saints. As we change, we will find 
that God indeed cares a lot more about who we are and about who we are becoming 
than about who we once were.

Sister Palmer thought I should get a picture 
with these puppets. . . I wonder why?
Much love, 
Cectpa Graham