Monday, June 30, 2014

Sometimes, It rains. So what?

Sometimes, it is rainy.

This is a fact.
Especially this week, it has been rainy.  

One problem with rain is that (as I think I've explained before), it makes people not want to be on the streets, which is the only place that we actually find people to talk with.  The weird thing is, that it has been rainy on and off throughout the past few days.  We go inside, it rains, we go outside, it is sunny.  As we are walking along, in the sun-shiney city of Lutsk, clouds gather in a matter of minutes and BAM, it rains again!  It's an incredible phenomenon. Somehow, the native people can sense it coming on... before the signs manifest themselves.  It's like a superpower that they all have.  I do not have this power.  It makes for a rather soggy day.
This has made our job really interesting.  It has not, however, stopped us from talking to a lot of great people, handing out copies of the Book of Mormon, and trying to set up meetings every single day this week.  That's what most missionaries are doing each and every day, and I'm going to tell you, it's something that's really grown on me.  
I've learned a lot about hoping for miracles this past week.  One of the things I've learned is that Heavenly Father doesn't always provide the miracles we want.  That's something that can seem kind of hard.  We may pray with our whole heart and soul that something will work out the way we imagined it... and then poof -- It just doesn't.  This doesn't mean that miracles don't happen. 

I want to tell you all something.

Miracles are happening around us every single day.  The fact that I am living, breathing, and smiling is a miracle to me sometimes.  The fact that Heavenly Father let an 18 year-old boy travel half-way across the world in order to try and tell some of his brothers and sisters that God loves them and has a plan for them to be truly happy forever; that's a miracle.  The warmth and love that has grown inside of me for my Savior, and for my Father in Heaven, that's a miracle.  On top of all of that, I have seen people take on baptisms; People have accepted commitments to change their lives; People have faced and overcome challenges in their own lives.  All of this, because God lets us choose it.  

Some people say that the Gospel confines us, but it really defines us.  It sets us free to become the best we could ever become.  God has a plan for us, and he knows exactly which miracles we need.  His plan involves a personal improvement plan for each and every one of us.

It's a miracle.

So maybe this week has been a little rainy.  Maybe I've even gotten a little wet.  The sun is still there,  shining to let us know that it's still day time!  Eventually, the day is going to come to an end, and we'll look back on this day and have to take it for what it is worth.  I want to have given everything I have.   The trick, I suppose, comes from not waiting for the storm to pass, but learning how to dance in the rain.

If you haven't read the talk, Your 4-minutes, from this past general conference, now would be a great time to do that!

I love you all very much, and I'm glad to say that I know that My Savior not ONLY lives, but that He loves me and gave me the greatest gift I could ever imagine... 
He's the greatest miracle, and I don't think I could express the fullness of my feelings in words.

So I'll leave you with my love, and my support!
I'm praying for you back home!
I love you all so much, and I'm privelaged to have you as a part of my life!

З Богом,

Elder LeBaron

Picture: This is an old woman who sells bird feed on Center Street here.  She's always smiling when I see her.

Yura, Guardian of Pigeons, and Slayer of Television Sets

What even happened this week.  I'm going to try and explain.  Please hold on to something stable.

I'm just going to cut straight to the story about the title, because this was just absolutely ridiculous.  

Elder Hadfield and I have been having a hard time finding new investigators.  This happens to every missionary at some time or another.  Such has been the case with us.  We pray on our knees every morning before leaving the apartment for safety, and to find those people who are ready to hear this message.  Since it was raining this day, and our only method of finding investigators besides visiting members (who we didn't manage to get any appointments with), or english (we are on a 2 week break from english class), is contacting on the streets.  When there is rain out, NO ONE will stop and talk.  In fact, it makes people here kind of angry.  So, since it was raining, we decided to make some awesome cake for some members who helped us on lessons recently, some older people, and anyone who has had some difficult circumstances recently.   We had run out of flour.  This meant going to the store.  Okay! Time to leave the apartment.  On our knees, Prayer.
This particular time, I was especially invested in praying for just ONE AWESOME missionary experience that day. Anything, please.  I knew it was raining, and everyone out there was trying to get from one place to another, but anything.  

Well, the rain stopped for a bit.

We went outside... and there, on a bench, was an old man eating some little bread thing and a can of tuna.  Naturally, we weren't about to pass this one up.  Elder Hadfield planted himself right next to the man, and began talking to him!  It seemed like an awesome contact!  The man even offered his half eaten bread thing to us.  We kindly declined, because we had already eaten.  
"So, we're volunteer's of our church, and what we do is meet with people, and teach them about this message!  Would you have some time this week when we could meet and explain a bit more?"
"Where is your church?"
Elder Hadfield explained where our church was, and then tried to give some directions...
"Show me where it is!"
"Uh... okay,"
Elder Hadfield then looked at Elder LeBaron, and all I could muster up to say was, "I left the oven on."
"Will it be okay?"

And so we took this man across the city, by foot, to our church building.  He explained about his life as we walked... He worked as a miner!  He has a very large family.  His name is Yura!  He also has a strange love of pigeons.  On our way, he found one hobbling around in the middle of the street, and went out of his way to chase it off to the side of the road, in order to save it's life (?).  

Remember how I said it stopped raining for a bit?  It unstopped.  We got very wet.
At one point, we thought we lost him... but his just stopped to take a whiz in the bushes by someone's house.  Cool.  Do what ya want bud'.

Finally, we get to the Church.  We've by this point (embarrassingly) realized that he was drunk from the beginning...
Seeing our church, he immediately turned stone faced.  We gave him a pamphlet, and he bid us adieu.  Awesome... wet and on the opposite side of the city.  Adventures!

So we take a bus back home.
We finish the cake.
And we take off to deliver it.

SURE ENOUGH, back outside of our apartment, there he is again.  This time, he is smashing a television set with his bare hands by a dumpster.  He cheerfully greets us, we waved to him, and went about our business.  I'm not sure what kind of missionary experience that was, but I assume that it's going to help somebody, someday.  I think the moral of this story is two-fold;  Always check the sobriety of those with whom you are conversing, and God works in mysterious ways.

Then we were in a Village outside of town doing a "Young Men's Activity".  This means that 4 missionaries went out to the Polyshook family, and did service, played soccer (which was 4 Americans v.s. 4 Ukrainians.  Take a guess who won!), and ate food with Bohdan Polyshook, our only priesthood holding young man in the branch.  It was awesome!  
At one point during our service, near the end, Bohdan showed us where they kept these long wooden poles with sharpened ends.  We took them.  We threw them.  Over, and over.  It was probably the most fun I have every had, and I can't adequately describe why.  We made a game out of it.  I sometimes forget that I'm an 18 year-old boy, and we all find doing dumb things really entertaining.

Our investigator, Volodymyr, is getting baptized on Saturday.  He's so incredible!  

Well, that's a little bit about what happened with us this week!
We're still looking for people to teach, but hey, we're doing the Lord's work.  As long as we work hard, talk to as many people as we can, and sincerely search, he will show us where we can harvest, and where the lost sheep are.  This is an adventure with the Spirit, and I love it!

I love you all too!
Hope all is going well for you!

Elder LeBaron

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Banana Bread is Magic

Hey everybody,

I'm so glad that I got a chance to hear from almost everybody this past week.  I had a lot of emails.  I love hearing about your lives!  I laughed, I cried (not really), and in reality, was just overjoyed to see all of the success and growth in your lives.  Seriously!  My friends who are out in the field now all sound so grown up.  I feel a little like a toddler here, because I trip over everything (the roads are terrible), I don't understand the full measure of what's going on around me, and I speak like... well, a toddler.   The crowning jewel of this image is that I've got the biggest smile plastered on my face, since I'm as happy as a clam to be out here doing this!  (Who decided clams are happy?)

So.  Banana bread is indeed magic.  
Everyone loves it here.  I have made more banana bread in the past 4 months than I have even EATEN in my entire life.  It's nuts.  
We give it to less actives, inactives, and investigators alike!  What does this magic bread do, you may ask?  It makes people our friends.
We had a meeting with an Inactive member of our branch who recently returned from business in Russia, and we read the Book of Mormon with him (2 Nephi 2), and then gave him our favorite bread.  He called us back the next day to get the recipe from me.
We will be seeing him again sometime this week.

Investigators.... we have not a lot.  BUT, that makes me less sad when I think of the fact that one of those good gentlemen who we're teaching has a BAPTISMAL DATE FOR JUNE 21st!!!  Woo!  I'm so excited!  He's the sweetest, humblest, wanting-to-learn-est man you ever did meet.  His name is Volodymyr.   We met him on the street at the beginning of this transfer, and it has just been a joy to meet with him, every single time!

Baptisms in this country are hard to come by... so I've heard.  I don't believe it though.  People here are well prepared by Heavenly Father to receive his restored gospel, just like anywhere else in the whole world.

Today, we get to go help Brother Zhuk set a goal to go and get his own personal endowment, and then help him prepare to go to the temple in a year and have all of the work for his wife done.  He's a stellar guy.  One of the people I won't forget for as long as I live.

Here's a Parable straight from his mouth, to you!

Everyone in the world is carrying their own cross.  For each and every person, it is different.  We all have personal struggles and difficulties.  One man, thinking that he is clever, decides to saw about 3 feet off of the bottom of his cross.  This, as he had anticipated, makes his cross much lighter.  He carries on, following the crowd of people, onward down the trail.  Finally, they all come to a canyon.  Each person, one by one, lays down their cross, and walks across it to the other side.  To this man's dismay, his cross is too short to operate as a bridge for himself.  Because he had tried to relieve himself of part of his duty, he did not have what it takes to cross the canyon.

And so it is with our lives in a way.  Heavenly Father gives us challenges, enough to help us grow.  It is possible, through our own choices, to find ways to avoid these challenges, and not face them.  We can dance around our difficulties in a numerous variety of ways.  The fact is, someday, somehow, we will face an end.  A point when we show what we have become, and how we faced our trials with faith in this world.  If we haven't done that, if we aren't prepared, that can seem like a pretty scary day. 
On the other end, we really can't carry this cross alone.  We, by ourselves, are nothing.  But, with Christ by our side, we can accomplish all things that are put in our path.  He will help us carry our load.  His yoke is easy, and his invitation is simple.   He asks that we do all we can, all that is possible, and then leave the rest to him.  My favorite scripture as of late is D&C 123 the last two verses of the chapter (I believe 16-17).  God's plan is glorious, and as it turns out, very managable.

Anywho, that's my two cents for you all this week!
I can't wait to hear from you all again soon!

I love you all very much!

Elder LeBaron

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Old Woman of Volodimir Volynsk


I hope you all are healthy and happy.  I pray for it a lot :)

Things of interest -- I was in Rivne on exchanges with the Zone leaders.  Rivne is a great place.  I hope I get the chance to serve there someday.

My companion and I get along great.  He's like an older brother to me, and shows me a good example of the older brother I should become someday!  (Shout out to Matt, who's working really hard back home, and got a new job!!)

Before I start off my story this week, I'd kind of like to prepare your minds.  You should all think of something that you have sacrificed for the Gospel.  For my friends out on missions, this is going to be a really easy one.  Family members will come to mind. Friends will be there too.  Maybe your favorite music or some sort of video-game you used to play.  It's okay if it's one of those things, as long as it means something to you.

Now, I'm going to tell you about Sister Matsyoha.
There is an old woman who lives in a little village, 2 hours away from our tiny branch here in Lutsk.  The village is called Volodimir Volynsk.  In the standard of America, you could consider this a village, but it's actually just a small town out here.  Out there, you can find just about everything that you need to live, and that's about it.  It's quiet, peaceful, and nothing much goes on there.  
This sister of ours is a small woman, with a big heart.  She sits at home and sings hymns to lift her spirits, because her days are hard.  It's difficult to walk, because when you get to about 86 years of age, everything kind of creaks a bit.  She can't do much more than sing, prepare food, walk around her house whenever she builds up the energy to do so, and wait for her children to come and visit her.  She waits for them... or for one of the sets of missionaries from our church.
When we got to Sister Matsyoha, she was having another hard day.  It's been raining here for a long time, so there wasn't even a whole lot of sunshine to warm her little house.  It was just kind of dismal.  The smile on her face though... it's going to stick with me for the rest of my life.  The way she laughed when she shared stories about her children, just how excited she was to have us try her cooking (as it's one of the things she's most proud of), and the way she sincerely prayed to her Father in Heaven --thanking him for everything that he had given her-- will never leave my heart. 
Sister Matsyoha hasn't forgotten the face of a single member of the branch back in Lutsk.  She used to attend when she was younger.  She had the chance to go to the Kiev temple twice.  She loves the gospel, and she does everything that is still possible for her to do in order to show it.  

Remember that thing that you sacrificed for the Gospel?  What you gave up to do something for the Lord?  I just wanted to tell you that it is worth it, that's all.  It's incredibly hard for us to see sometimes, with these little mortal minds, the effects of our sacrifices.  Are they really going to mean anything?  Why don't I just pack it up and go home?   
I'll tell you why.  Because Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Sacrificed everything for me.  What is stopping me from giving up everything I have to serve him?  Only that temptation to think that it won't be worth it in the end.  Faith is a powerful thing.  It changes lives.  I know it's changed mine already, and my faith is still very, very small.  
So when something God has asked us to do seems hard, we just need to exercise our faith, and do it.  He fulfills all of his promises.  I can just see him smiling when he sees his little children learning how to walk up the path back to him, holding the hand of our Elder Brother (We'd be a mess without him, you know?).  Sometimes, he's got to pick us back up, but we'll get there.

Well, I just wanted to say that I love you all very much.
I'm excited to be where I am, and I feel like I'm right where I need to be.
I hope you all feel the same.

Elder LeBaron

PS.  In the pictures, I must explain the ​МОХІТО bottle for those in Spanish speaking contries. X's are pronounced as H's.  That is all.  I thought it was funny.

-- Старійшина ЛеБерон

Village Adventure and Chances to Learn!

It is so hot.

I can't believe that when I got here, there was snow everywhere, and I was cold even with my heavy winter coat on.  Now I'm sweating bullets and our apartment is like a little easy-bake oven.   We cook in seconds!  
Seriously though... it's so hot out here.  I would tell you exactly, but I don't understand Celsius. and there's no thermometer around here.

We had an awesome experience this last week, in which we got the chance to visit a less-active family who lives in a little village about an hour outside of Lutsk (By bus).  We're their new home teachers! :D We got up first thing in the morning, worked out, ate breakfast, got into our work clothes, and hopped onto a bus.  
When we finally got there, I had forgotten what the other Elder's had told me as far as directions are concerned... but I confidently took my companion along the dirt path right behind the stop and started walking.  I was pretty sure they said something about a dirt path.  Makes sense, right?
Long story short, we ended up lost in the middle of nowheresville, by a heard of cows, and some random rancher man.  I called Brother Polyshook, and gave the phone to the Ukrainian farmer so that, between these two Ukrainian guys, we could figure out where we even wanted to go.
Longer story short, I chose the wrong dirt path.  Back track = 1 hour total of walking back to there house... which was in the opposite direction of where we were heading.  Maaaaaaan.

But it's okay, because we finally made it to their place!  What was first on our agenda, you may ask?  Sawing logs!  Ha!  It was actually pretty fun, even though I never got to play with the Chainsaw myself.  Bohdan Polyshook handled that, and I just stacked logs onto the little makeshift log holder thingy.   (I'm really eloquently versed in farm vocabulary now, you see). 

After hours of work, we got to wheelbarrow all those logs to the back of the house, and stack up a bunch of them.  Brother Polyshook said that he would do them himself... mostly because I'm pretty sure I wasn't stacking them the way he wanted.  He's got a thing about orderliness and niceness that I just don't have.  
Then, we fooded.
We fooded so hard.
There was borshch, and there was home-made "pizza" (it's not just pizza here, it's something more magnificent), and there was home-made apple cake with chocolate on top.  Ah man. I can't even describe the joys of that meal sufficiently.  I have not yet eaten anything super horrendous, but I have eaten the GREATEST THINGS IN THE WORLD here in Ukraine.  

And then, we had a spiritual thought about gaining spiritual light through scripture study, prayer, and church attendance.  They were great!  We had a family discussion, and everyone was so involved (except bohdan, but he was suffering from food coma, kind of like me).
We then looked at some of their family photos, most of which were pictures of their two returned missionary sons.  Afterwards, we left them with smiles, hugs, and handshakes.  All we had to do was walk back to the bus stop, and ride on home.  
This took up our whole saturday.  It was the most wonderful of days.

Sunday, I was privileged to speak in sacrament meeting.  My main topic was on eternal gifts, and how Heavenly Father gives us gifts that really matter. My Ukrainian is bad, but my heart was so full of love when I was speaking.  I really do love this branch so much.  I got to my testimony, and just told them how I know the Lord has sent me here to work in Lutsk because he loves me and he loves them, and he wants us all to learn from eachother.  I got patted on the back when I sat down, and Brother Sheratyuk and Lavernanko told me that they're glad that I'm here too.  I love this place!
Then I was also assigned to teach Elder's Quorum.  The lesson was cool, because it was about gaining knowledge.  The members here are such good examples of that, and so our discussion was very active!  I almost didn't speak the whole time.  It was just awesome!

I'm learning a lot as a person out here on my mission.  
1) Never cast off your confidence.  True, we need to be humble and search to improve ourselves always.  That does not mean that we should be less than we know we can be.  
2) The Lord ALWAYS has a plan.  You just have to put the spirit on like a harness, and stick around to enjoy the ride.
3) Hard work never goes unrewarded, as long as you work with a sincere heart and a noble purpose in mind.  You may not execute everything perfectly, but if the Lord wants it done, it gets done.

And of course, much much more.

I'm glad to hear that all of my friends who are serving are having a safe, fun, and effective time!

I love you all back home!
Take care of yourselves, okay?

Aaaaand... yeah.
I can't wait to hear from all of you again soon!

Elder LeBaron​

Members of the Church are Awesome.

Hello everyone!

Man, I love this place.  Can I just tell you a little bit about this wonderful city that I'm living in now, and have lived in for the past 3 months?

I love a captive audience :)

This is the most wonderful place in the whole world, "Zee best in all zee Galactica!" as one of our good friends here put it.  Lutsk is a sleepy city of about 400,000 people on the north-west portion of Ukraine placed right in the bend of a river.  There's a lot of old, beautiful buildings here, the crowning jewel of which is a big ol' castle on the far south side of town. The weather lately has been a bit rainy and windy, but every so often, there's a burst of sunshine.  Our days are warm as of late.  It's beautiful here.
Everyone here is very kind and willing to say a good word about you.  People like to talk, not always about the Gospel, but they love to talk!  I've never been so kindly rejected in all of my life :)  And, I've never been so warmly accepted.   I've even been hugged here!  It's inviting.

I'd like to tell you a bit more about the people here who are Members of our church.  They work HARD.  Every minute of every day is spent working for a living, working for their families, working to learn, working to grow, and working to become better people.  And, yet, they have the brightest senses of humor.  When they know english, they love to use it on the missionaries.  I can't count the number of times I have heard "Good morning!"  Or "Sank you very much!".  Above all, we work together, and we have a big vision for this place becoming a ward someday. People are coming back to us, new people are entering the doors of the church, and hearts are being soften towards us.  I just can't explain how happy it makes me to be here.

We have been working a lot with members as of late, in order to reach a mission goal that was set by President Lattin.  It's been awesome be getting them involved in the work of Salvation even more, and growing closer together in frienship.  

We spent some time at an old grandma's house this last week.  Sister Katerina is a hoot.  Elder Hadfield ended up using this freaky back massage thing, and she made him rub her back.  HA!!  Then she insisted that we take a picture with her and a bunch of flowers, and we were joking around about how they smelled good, even though they're fake.  She's a funny lady, but I honestly only understand about 45% of what she's saying.  She likes to sing folk songs and throw in a bit of russian too.  That adds to the confusion.  She's great though!

We went over to visit Brother Zhuk again this week, and he showed us this awesome "Title of Liberty" that he made with some past missionaries.  He insisted that we pose for a picture with him while holding it.  
He came back to church for his first time in 7 years, and he was so happy!  He even volunteered to bless the sacrament next week with my companion.  I got volunteered by Brother Sadovie to teach the Elder's Quorum lesson... he thinks he's funny.  All-in-All, good things are happening again in the Lutsk Branch, and I'm loving every second of it.

Our investigators are still working with us, and we're confident that one of the two will have a baptismal date by the end of this week.  We will see.  One of them is often gone for work in the eastern part of Ukraine, and that can make it difficult to meet with him.  
We just had a lesson today with Volodimir, and he expressed his faith that God answers our prayers.  He is going to prayer about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and about it Joseph Smith was a propet, and above all, he wants to recieve a confirmation that the Book of Mormon is true.  What a sincere and kind man.  He was at Church on sunday, and he really enjoyed it.  We see him progressing every time we meet with him.

Well, as you can probably tell, I love where I'm at, and I love the work.  I have a long way to progress, but I'm excited to be a part of this, and I hope to improve everyday.  The Lord qualifies his workers.  We just need to work!

I love you all very much!
I pray for you oft'!

Elder LeBaron