Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Spirit Burns Like a Wildfire

How are you all doing?
I hope things are well.
I have some pretty CRAZY stories for ya'll.
Hold on tight.
First story is about an elect man.
There is a man here, in Lutsk, Ukraine, who's name is Dieter.  He has been coming to the church for many months, talking part in our English classes, meeting with the missionaries, and reading the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.  Did I mention that he's a German man? (I thought the name gave it away)
Because he is German, it can be hard to communicate with him.  He speaks a very little bit of Russian, some English, a very tiny bit of Ukrainian, and obviously, German.  This made lessons with the missionaries less than effective, though they always found a way to laugh and joke together.
Finally, someone had a great idea.  Let's call the missionaries in Berlin, and set up some lessons with him!  So they did.
Little did we know, Dieter was more than ready to receive every bit of truth that the missionaries talked to him about.  He took every lesson, understood the doctrine, and decided to be baptized.  
So he was baptized.  President Malinos, from L'viv, came down to help us out.  A Ukrainian who speaks fluent German is very handy around these parts.  Dieter was baptized in his native tongue by my companion, who has a college minor in German.  Then, he received the gift of the Holy Ghost as well, in his native tongue.  
Since none of the missionaries out here ever understood the full extent of what Dieter was trying to tell us (because he was so difficult to understand), we were not prepared to hear his translated testimony.  That man has a powerful testimony. Though it was translated from German, to Ukrainian, to an English speaker, I was shaken down to the core, and I'm so glad that I could be here to witness it.  Israel is truly being gathered from around the world.

My second story is about the most amazing sequence of events.
Sister Zhuk had been sick for (I believe they said) seven years.  She could only lie on her back in bed and suffered quite a bit of pain.  Each time I went over to visit them, she was incredibly kind to us, but could only say very few words very very quietly.  She loves her husband, and he loves her very much.  He spends his days taking care of her, and didn't spend much time besides 20 minutes for us to drop by and share a spiritual thought.  He couldn't come to church, because he can't leave her besides to go and buy food every so often.  
We had just finished skyping with our families, and since Elder LeBaron had a hard time getting everything connected, we were running a bit behind.  We decided to contact instead of going straight to another appointment.  We were walking along the path behind the church, just trying to contact and find some people to teach, when Elder Hadfield expressed that he was having a hard time stopping people, and he didn't know why he let a couple of people walk past him without trying to share anything.  He then felt the need to talk with a woman who was playing with her Grand-daughter.  
Instead of talking about the gospel though, he decided to ask her about directions.  He asked her the fastest way to the street on which we lived.  She showed us a different way than where we had initially planned to go.  So, being awkward to completely ignore her advice, we went that way.  
This route took us past Brother Zhuk's house, as opposed to going around it.  
As we were walking past, a woman was trying to get in.  She recognized us as being from the same church as Brother Zhuk.  She called out to us, and asked if we knew Nadia (sister Zhuk).  I responded yes! I was the only missionary currently serving in Lutsk who had been by to visit the Zhuks.  She expressed to us that Sis. Zhuk had passed away that very day.  We had Brother Zhuks number, and we were able to call him to come and open the door to the apartment complex in which they lived.  
This made a great opportunity for us to come in and comfort Brother Zhuk, sing hymns with those who were there.  We shared a bit about the Plan of Salvation.  We talked about families, and shared pictures of ours.  We made plans to bring the other two elders over the next day to help carry the casket and help with the funeral services the next day.  I was able to have a full conversation with Brother Zhuk while Elder Hadfield was talking about the plan of salvation with another woman, and I truly felt the gift of tongues help me communicate with him.  It was incredible.
We did all of this, and then we left, hugging our Brother, and promising to return.  As we exited the door, we were met by the Priest of the local Orthodox Church.  He was going in to perform some ritualistic something or whatever.  We were glad that we had a chance to invite the spirit and to comfort those who were there.  Because of the spirit leading us, we had been there first.  The Lord led us to help our Brother in his time of need, and it was absolutely incredible.

Brother Zhuk is now excited to get to go and do the temple work for his wife, attend church actively, and know that she no longer suffers from her earthly ailments.
The Lord is a Lord of Miracles.

Now a quick report on my companion and me!
We're doing great!
We just got found 2 new investigators.  Volodimir and Avraam.  They both have expressed sincere interest in the idea of The Restored Gospel of Christ, and are excited to see that His Church is available to us again.  
I got a bit of a stuffy nose the past few days.  I hate snot.
Ukrainian Orthodox funerals are kind of strange.  
I had to hold a candle, and hot wax periodically dripped onto my hand.  That kind of hurts.   A casket needs to be lowered three times in each doorway as you take it out of a household.  Orthodox priests chant a bunch of random stuff from the bible and put a tune to it... and then they splash the casket with Holy Water, which I'm pretty sure he kept in a used juice bottle.
I am so thankful for what we understand about the Plan of Salvation.  
I hope there won't be any kind of those theatrics at my funeral.

Skyping with the family was great, and I love them so very much!  I was glad that I got to see all of their faces, even if it wasn't all at the same time (I did see Rachel's face for about half a minute!)
One of our Investigators is a photographer, and did a "couple shot" with my companion and I.  I hope you enjoy it.
I know we do.
Well, I love you all very much.
Let me know about what's going on back home, and all around the world for that matter!
I know that this church is true, and that God has prepared the way for all of us to be involved in his preparations for the Second Coming of our Great Redeemer, His son, Jesus Christ.
  Pray always, and come of conqueror.
Much love,
Elder LeBaron

Are You a Gentile?

Dear Family and Friends,

I have had the most incredible week of my life.  Why?  Because We had President Lawrence, President of the Eastern European Area come and speak to us in a MASSIVE congregation of every member from the western part of Ukraine.  That's right.  A congregation of (I would estimate) nearly 300 people.  BLAM!  You would not believe the ruckus that was made by the members in L'viv.  It was a time of much rejoicing, and a time to show us just how powerful the members of Ukraine really are.  This is an awesome time to be a missionary.
Imagine this;  Every missionary in our mission had been spending weeks organizing their branches... preparing... reminding... baking banana bread and handing out flowers -- all in the hopes of getting every member, investigator, and random person who was interested would show up to L'viv for a massive spiritual uplift.  

It was a success.
I love that.

Directly after this wonderful 2 hour conference, the members returned to their homes on the big ol' buses that they showed up in.  Then, it was our turn to be educated -- The Mission conference had begun!

I learned so much.  I can't even begin to describe the incredible things I learned about the House of Israel....  Just so you know, the patriarchal blessing is one of the GREATEST THINGS I EVER GOT.  It's amazing what I didn't even know about myself until some serious scripture study, in depth reading... and even then, Sister Lawrence rocked my whole understanding of the Gospel just by explaining the House of Israel.  Fair enough to say, nobody has studied this topic enough yet.   Are you a Gentile!?  The answer may surprise you.  HA!

Speaking of which, I thought I should tell you just what kind of people Ukraine has to offer.  It was reported that Ukrainian members have been found from EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL.  That's right.  Don't know where the 10 lost one's went?  They really did go to the land north ;)  Elder Hadfield (my new companion) and I have taken it upon ourselves to ask the members around us what tribes they are from.  We've found that the claim is true.  So... yeah. 

South american can have the Lamanites.
We'll just work with the 10 Lost Tribes ;)

But like I said, it's kinda hard to describe everything I learned.  Basically, the General Authorities and their wives are in their callings for a reason.

In other news,  Elder Hadfield is a contacting BEAST.  I have never talked to so many people in my life.  Lutsk is filled with incredible people, and having a REALLY TALL companion with a sincere disposition makes having conversations really easy!  I am going to love this transfer, I can already feel it.

I got yelled at by an Old Ukrainian Lady for not coming over to beat her rugs... I didn't understand what she wanted from me over the phone.  The other Elder's explained it to me later...not the first time I got in trouble for not understanding what people are saying.

A man just talked to me in nearly perfect English, and I invited him to our English practice.
That happened about 2 minutes ago.  Contacting is magic all of a sudden.  I attribute it to new blood in the district :)

We have a set up appointment with a potential investigator every day for the rest of this week already.  Wow.  Can you see the contrast that's going on!?

Needless to say, all is going well here in Ukraine, and the work is picking up.  People are great, and even though I'm a really weak person who can barely speak Ukrainian, the Lord is getting his work done, and I'm privileged to be a part of it!

I love you all so very much! 
I pray for you and hope for the best!

Elder LeBaron

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Unexpected Guests

Hello family and friends!
I've had a pretty cool week, and I really wanted to tell ya'll about it!
The over-arching theme was self improvement, and learning new skills.

So, last week, right after our exchanges with the other Elder's in the area, Elder Peterson and I were walking home. KER-POW! WE got a call from Elder Lippert.  He's one of the Assistants to the President, and usually is working in the Mission Office.  
He told me that He and Elder Terri wanted to come up to Lutsk for exchanges!  Whoo! 
We had exchanges AGAIN on Tuesday and Wednesday!  
I learned a whole lot while being out with either of these two Elder's.  First and foremost -- 2 years is way to long to go without a sense of humor, so you'd better keep it up.  I laughed harder than I have in a long time.  
Besides that little tid-bit, I learned a lot about what is really expected out of missionaries in the long run.  It can be hard to see the big picture of missionary work when you've been contacting on the same streets, working in the same church building, and talking with the same members without seeing a whole lot of success.  It's very possible to get complacent with the work.  
Working hard isn't enough sometimes.  Sometimes, you have to expect more, and strive further than you ever have in order to see miracles.  Believe it or not, you can even get into a rut of working hard.  
You know what you do when you get into a rut of working hard?  
You find a way to work hard, in a more effective way!
That's the big thing I learned from that exchange --> Always try to improve yourself!
It's hard, but it's worth it.
Our district meeting on Tuesday was even bigger than we had imagined it would be...
Not only were the Assistants in our district for exchanges, but the Zone Leaders had come into Lutsk to have a meeting with us and talk about making goals and working on new skills (the theme strikes again!).  
This made our meeting go from having the usual 6 people to having 10 missionaries. 
 I've never been so aware of how much I still have to learn.  These people are incredible!!
I love the people who I work with!
We went to visit a member who is a former Boxer.  Judging by his age, I think that would actually make him a Boxer who competed during the S.S.S.R.  
The plan was to go over there and to learn Ukrainian; Have a conversation with him, read with him, and ask questions.
I learned some crazy stuff -- Aka, lots of slang and less than mission appropriate words that I don't remember now.  He's hilarious though.  Did you know that a jaw can also be referred to as your "Bread Slicer" out here?  Interesting...

Soon, it will be transfers, and I will be done with my training!  That's pretty cool!
We're having a massive conference in L'viv next Sunday with all of the members from Western Ukraine.  It's gonna be big.
Right after that -- BAM mission conference with one of the members of the area presidency.  And then, I get a new companion.  
It's going to be such a big week next week, that I'm actually not going to get to email until Wednesday (so you know).
I love you all!
I've got a prayer in my heart for everyone back home and those serving all over the place
(Go team Kingdom of God).
Elder LeBaron

Easter, Plam Sunday, and Sunshine!

Hey Family and Friends!

Okay, so, I just want to start by saying how AWESOME the weather here is!  It's so pretty outside right now in Lutsk, especially today! I love the trees out here, because most of them have some sort of flowers blossoming on them, and It's just super pretty.  Not to mention, the sun is shining, and we're actually just wearing white shirts now!  WHAT??  That's crazy to me.  I just got here, and I've gone from a not thick enough coat all the way down to no suit jacket!
Time moves fast people!
My companion is a little less fond of the spring... allergies.  Poor guy.

So... Let's start with Palm Sunday.  This is way interesting, because I don't understand this tradition at all.  People have branches... and they carry them around with them, everywhere they go.  I thought it was supremely bizarre... watching all these people carrying branches for no reason...and then BAM-- It got weirder.  
Apparently, carrying sticks has some implications.  When one wishes to grant to another blessings on this day, one needs only to take these branches, and whack another with them.  this is how you cast out evil spirits......

I can affirmatively say that my companion no longer has any evil spirits in him.
He got whacked.

Other Elders in our District were walking down the street when suddenly, a parade of priests from the local church came marching down the street.  In moving to get out of the way, these Elders were caught unawares by a bearded, robed, Ukrainian priest-- who, in two swift motions, splashed them with holy water.  SURPRISE!
These priests continued to bless everyone and everything on the street, and also went into households and shops in order to bless them. 
Way interesting.

Easter is an AWESOME holiday in Ukraine! Why? Because EVERYONE goes walking around, using a specific greeting, which translated means, "Christ was Resurrected!" and then you respond by saying, "Truly, He was Resurrected!".   It only took me about 5 times of trying before I could remember how to say it.

We didn't really get to eat with anyone or see a whole lot of the food that people make for this holiday, but we did get to see this special bread that they make here, just for Easter.  It's big and fluffy, and shaped like a cup-cake!  It's covered with sprinkles and some sort of frosting on top.  
The tradition is for everyone to get one of these muffins, and in the evening, go to the big local church and have your bread blessed before eating it.  
I was sitting in sacrament meeting, when the little boy next to me excitedly got my attention and pointed out the bread which had been used for the sacrament...

Haha, it was unique, and ironic too.  I loved it!

I love serving here in Lutsk.  This place is incredible.  
Soon, we're going to have a MASSIVE mission conference, which will end with transfers, and I'm hoping that I get to stay here.  More than likely, that will be the case (I'm thinking).
Our investigator who disappeared off of the face of the earth returned to us!  He found work, and he's diligently searching for his answer in prayer!  We can't wait to meet with him again soon!

My training finishes after this transfer... time really flies.

Any who-- Much love!
Thank you for all of your prayers and your support!

I just barely received the ward newsletter for March :)
Thanks ward!  I love you!

I'm so glad to see you all had a great Easter!


Elder LeBaron