Wednesday, August 27, 2014

It's Cold

Email received on time from Elder LeBaron:

We just barely got a phone call from someone in the branch who said that "Brother Valerie isn't doing well" and that was it... also that we need to be at the branch building in 30 minutes (We're about a 30 minute walk from the church...)  I hope I have time to send a real letter... if not, well, you know what happened.
I am not dead.
I love you!
Email received later from Elder LeBaron:

Dear friends and family...

It's already getting colder.  
I'm afraid for the winter already.
And it's August.

In other news,  we've had some pretty cool miracles happen here in this last little while, and I wanted to share one of those with you all!

My story is about a man named Vasil.  Vasil is a sculptor who spent a long time digging himself into bible study, trying to find where the truth about our purpose here on earth could be found, and he was searching pretty diligently.  Out of circumstance, a copy of the Book of Mormon fell into his hands, and he fell in love with it as he read.  He decided that this Book could only have been written by someone who had found the true purpose of our lives and the answers he was looking for.  He sought out missionaries.  He was shortly thereafter baptised, and has been a very active member living in Crimea.  
Fastforewarding about 13 or 14 years --> Vasil was visiting some friends who were living in Ivano-Frankivsk, and happened to be in the city on Sunday.  Vasil, being a faithful member and wanting to attend church services, decided that if the Lord wanted him to go to church, he would provide a way for him to find the other members here in Ivano.  He did not know for a certainty that there was a branch here.  He just saddled up his big back pack, and took to the streets.  

Well, Elder Stout and I had finished our morning routine, and were on our way to the church at about this time, and as we were crossing the street at a busy intersection, we heard someone shout "ELDERS!".  We ran into Vasil!  We gladly guided him to the church building, and he shared his conversion story with us, and asked us if he could take a couple of copies of the Book of Mormon in Ukrainian to give to some friends in Crimea when he got home.  Of course!  He also stayed for all 3 hours, and played an active role in the lessons. 

On P-day (this is why I am writing now, a day late) -- We got a call from a sister in the branch.  She had invited Vasil to stay in the extra room in her house (most members have apartments, so having your own building is a pretty big blessing).  She had been feeling under the weather, and asked Vasil to give her a blessing.  Vasil said that she ought to invite the Elders to give her a blessing, considering the fact that he had no oil, and it was best done with two priesthood holders.  So we left internet, and hurried over to her!
We had an incredible time talking about our favorite prophets, about inspiring books, and of course, Vasil offered one of the most incredible blessings I've ever heard a member give.   After that, he asked the sister about things she had to do that day, and she was a bit exasperated at the question.  She had a lot of trimming to do on her fruit trees before fall came along, and she just isn't as young as she used to be.
"We can help!" I blurped out.  I sat there and smiled, while those two stared at me with awestruck faces.   I'm not sure why... but they seemed surprised by our offer.
"And you see, the Lord always provides" Vasil said to the sister.  I assume they had some sort of conversation about that earlier, and we had just been in the right place, and the right time to affirm his words.

We trimmed those trees while Vasil gathered up the branches in a bucket, and he helped the sister gather the pears that were still on her pear tree (those suckers grow REALLY high up).  We finished this incredible unplanned activity, and we were thanked with a smile and a BIG bag of fruit.  That sister is incredibly generous.  

I bring this story up, because I've seen so many examples of incredible members here on my mission.  I think one of the things that Heavenly Father wants us to ingrain into our hearts is the understanding that we are all brothers and sisters, and that he wants us to treat each other with love and respect by fulfilling our callings with all of our hearts.  Not just our church callings, but wherever live may call you.  Right now, I'm a missionary in Ukraine, and I'm trying my best to do what needs to be done.  Vasil is a member from Crimea who happened to be in Ivano for a little while.  Wherever we may be, it doesn't matter; We need to be 100% true to the promise that we made at baptism, and carry the Savior's name in our hearts and show it through our actions.  I have some pretty big goals for the kind of member I'd like to be, and I've seen some incredible examples in action here.  

Let's all take care of that little part of the garden that our Father in Heaven gives to us.

Love is one of those things that should always be growing and giving us fruit, even if it's cold.

I love you all very much!
I'll be praying for you.

Elder LeBaron​

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sweet Mercy.

Hey folks!

Here's what's up!  Calling people from a book... most every single day.
Talking to people... on the street, WHEREVER we go.
So many people wonder how much I get payed  (I've been asked that question a lot)
-- More than money, because I work for the Lord.

For real though,  it's been pretty average here in Ivano.  I haven't seen a whole lot of stuff changing, but I feel like we've hit another wave of the devil trying to get us down.  So many dogged appointments... and it's really unfortunate.  All these peoplen need to do is show up, and WHAM!  Gospel truth would be settled in their laps.  But, alas, there's some connection not being made between the fact that we tell people where and when to meet, call them before to remind them, and then them actually processing that this means that WE JUST WANT TO HELP YOU LEARN HOW TO GET SALVATION!

My companion, Elder Stout, is probably the most diligent and Preach My Gospel hardwired missionary in the world.  I've got a lot to match up to here people.  This guy is solid.   He's determined to reach 100% obedience, without fail, at all times and in all places.  He's an incredible example.   I think the Lord said, "Hey, Elder LeBaron looks like he's getting kinda comfortable... time to shape up."  And put me with Elder Stout.  It's been a pretty big eye-opener to how much more I could be doing.  Luckily, the Lord knows each and every one of us PERFECTLY, and so he gives us exactly what we need... whether we apply the teaching, or kind of resentfully avoid it.  Unfortunately, I've been kind of resentfully avoiding the strict obedience thing, and pulling the "Well, spirit of the law, man!" card on him way to much.  Between his rigidity, and my relaxed goofiness, I think we're going to make this work out for both of our growth.  Mostly mine.

We have an investigator from Nigeria.  WHAT?!  I know.  It's so sweet being able to teach the missionary lessons in English.  Right after our Plan of Salvation lesson with Alex, I was INCREDIBLY jealous of all of my friends who get to speak English.  But for reals, this guy is legitimate.  He does international trading or something like that as a free agent, and is working on a deal right now with FedEx.  He's incredibly smart.  He also knows Russian and Ukrainian.  He also LOVES the idea of living with his family forever.  His wife is Ukrainian, and has a little bit of a thing against us... because we're not Orthodox.  We're hoping to change that with cake, smiles, and teaching her about the blessings that come with The New and Everlasting Covenant.

Our other investigator who had a baptismal date was taken.

By who?
Who else...

The Jehovah's Witnesses.

Ommitting details that I cannot disclose because of their sensitive nature, our investigator has chosen to start bible study with their missionaries, and discountinue our lessons.   


Sometimes, we do everything we can, and other people use their agency to make a choice which opposes the things that they know are right.  It's hard.  Being a missionary isn't easy when that happens.  I can see, in a very small part, the sadness that Heavenly Father feels when we choose to do something that we know is wrong.  You just have to find the sunshine in the joy of those who decide to change, grow, and find that eternal joy.  I often turn to my favorite verses D&C 123: 16-17.  Even when hard times hit, if you just lay down all your cards on the table, turn it all over to the Lord, and then stand back and let Him do His work, we can really have the assurance that all will be well.

I love you all very much!
I hope that even in your trials, you find faith in our Heavenly Father, and in the healing power of His Son's Atonement. 

Elder LeBaron

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Great Search for Grocery Bags


I'm doing great here in Ivano-Frankivsk!
Things are going really well, and we've got a lot of work to still do.
Like always.

Today, really, has all of the best stories.  The rest of my week was just the usual... contacting, calling from the area book, meeting with some of our investigators... NOT meeting with a lot of them... so many dogged appointments.  

But no worries!  We are still going foreward with faith!  There are people in this city  who are ready to put the cleansing power of Christ's atonement to work in their lives!  We just have to do our very best to find them!

Okay, story time!

So today... we went grocery shopping at a place called Velmart.  Yeah... like Walmart.... with a Ukrainian accent.  
There, we bought all of our groceries for the week, piled up the wagon, and went over to the cashier!  Quick cultural note;  Most people buy groceries either every day, or every other day here.  It is strange to by a large mass of food.  Not to mention, we are already in our missionary gear, so we stick out as Americans throughout the entire store.  So, we get to the cashier, and start loading up the little conveyer belt with ALL OF OUR AWESOME FOOD.  It always brings a tear to my eye to see such a masterpiece.  My joy was cut short though... when my companion asks the cashier lady for 3 large bags.
"We don't have any bags...."
"Oh... should we ask the other lady?"
"No... we don't have ANY bags.... at all."

How are we supposed to get all of this food out of here??

I quickly explained the situation to the assistant manager, and after he finished laughing, he told me that he was sorry, but that he couldn't do anything about it...  


So we got a brilliant plan.  You know those drawstring backpacks?  I bought five of 'em.
Elder Stout just carried the massive new pot we bought and all of our eggs in his hands.  I felt pretty proud, no matter how ridiculous we looked.  It was a success.  

My companion, as I'm sweating and about to pass out under the heat and the weight of our weekly food, being as determined and harworking as he is, is still contacting people.

"Excuse me sir, do you have a second?"
"Look boys, just go home and eat your eggs."

Fine. We will, and we will enjoy them.

I talked to a man, and actually, just like a normal person, explained the hilarious story that just happened to us.  He immediately opened up, and we had an amazing conversation about the city, and about the reasons that we need God in our lives.  

I call it drawstring contacting.  *INSERT PATENT HERE*

I also had an interview with President Lattin today.
He gave me a lot of great insight, and I have a lot of great things to start working on. 
It was inspiring.  He's an incredible man.

I know that Christ is our Savior.  I know with all my heart!

Well, I'm having a lot of fun here being a missionary.  
This is definitely the Lord's work.
I love you all very much!  

Elder LeBaron​

3 Watermelons, 2 Exchanges, and 1 Very Heavy Piano

Hello Everybody!
I'm going to explain now why this email is so very late...

Once upon a time, Elder LeBaron and Elder Stout both have a problem with things happening on time, when we plan them... no matter how hard we try.  
Yesterday, as we had begun our internet time, we were interrupted with the most terrifying and exciting noise that we as missionaries experience.  It was our phone ringing.  In Ivano-Frankivsk, when you get a call on P-day, it either means that a miracles is happening -- someone called the number on the back of the 123,334,112th pamphlet that you've handed out and explained -- or Brother Fooshtay is calling to tell you to do something.  Brother Fooshtay is our Missionary Coordination Leader here, and he is also incharge of all the registration and deregistration paperwork whenever missionaries move cities.  Every missionary in our mission knows him... he's notorious for throwing a monkey wrench in your P-day plans.  

I think that explaination helps you know which of those two gave us a call.

But this was a new sort of adventure.  No, we were not off to the government office where we do registration paperwork!  We were going to go move.... a piano?  What?  Well, when Brother Fooshtay has got something planned, you've just gotta go with it.  It's impossible to argue with him, considering that most of his hair-brained schemes actually turn into fun activities with productive missionary work involved.  

But that kind of shot my email time in the face.  Essentially, I've only got time to type up this bad boy, and then we're off to go splatter this city with English Practice advertisements.

Back to the piano.  So, we head off to meet the Zone leaders (they're the only other Elders in the Oblast [district... aka  each district is one "state" of Ukraine, situated in it's capital city) with us), and we met them by Pizza Plus (there's awesome pizza here in Ivano).  Met with the Zone Leaders, Elder Peterson (yup, my trainer), and Elder Clairidge (yup, cool guy), and took a taxi all the way to the other side of the city.

UKRAINIAN APARTMENTS AND NOT CONSTRUCTED TO HOUSE A PIANO.  Fact.  We literally fliped the piano, bottom over the top, twice.  It was the most ridiculous and unorthodox moving job of my entire life.  I was covered in dust and dirt.  Good thing I wore my oldest pair of slacks...

Then, we get that monster onto a moving van, and the Zone leaders ride in the back to makes sure that it doesn't tip over during the ride.  There is nothing strapping this down... just two american boys with a dream; Survive to the end of the mission-- don't get crushed.
Sometimes, I realized after the fact that businesses are run differently here in Ukraine.... like moving companies.

Elder Stout and I rode in a taxi.... to the OTHER other side of the city.  You know, to where the Fooshtay's actually live.  

Turns out, this scheme entailed giving us a chance to provide service, have family night with the Fooshtay's, and have our MCL, because he also invited the sister's over for family night.  He bought 2 watermelons (By the way, watermelons to Ukrainians are something you eat AFTER you have a meal.  I have come to appreciate this commodity as NOT a fruit, but as dessert.  Weird.)

Okay... also, I went on an exchange with my trainer!  WOO!!! We tore it up here in Ivano, and hit the streets so hard. Starting of the morning with a 3-4 mile run... 4 hours of contacting, english practice advertisement, Jehovah's witness discussions, a member present lesson with the Zone Leaders investigator, Serhy.  I was exhuasted by the end of the day.  It was awesome.

Yesterday, Elder Jolstead and I also spent some time together on Exchanges (Assistant to the President from L'viv).  It was incredible to be on a lesson with an investigator from our area, and finally have the language down enough to really get in deep to his concerns.  The only problem is, he told us that he had no desire to change his life and live the law of Chastity and Word of Wisdom in their entirety.  Promised blessings.... explained the commandments... used parables, and every method we know as missionaries.  It all came down to bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, and his power to cleanse us through the atonement.  He left by only saying "I will try to live them.  I'll read if I have time".   


But yeah.  I'm also getting better at ping-pong, as a happier side note.  Members love to play here when waiting for appointments, and I'm TOTALLY down for that.  

We also had a massive picnic in Calomia with 3 districts!  All the members from Kmelnitsky, Chernevtsi, and Ivano-Frankivsk all met together, shared spiritual thoughts, ate a TON of great food (I had my first Shashlyk [ukrainian BBQ]).  It was awesome, and investigators were there, including one of ours from a little city on the edge of the oblast.  It was a miracle that he was able to come, because he lives so far away!  President Duchak really helped out, by letting him sleep over at his place.  WAY TO SUPPORT THE MISSION!!!


I just blabbed for a good long time... But it's because I love you all and I want you to know what's goin on here.  Good things people!!

Love you all very much.
I know the Gospel is true, and that this is God's work.

Thank you family.
Thank you friends.
Keep up the good work.

Elder LeBaron

Pictures:  I'm eating well... we're having lots of fun.... good times on adventures.

Sweating Onions, Crazy days in Ivano Frankivsk.

Day 4 -- Just barely put real food in our fridge.  I have eaten onions and fried potatoes for almost every lunch and dinner since getting here.  I woke up this morning with the most pungent smell of onions filtering through my nostrils.  It was me.  I am sweating onions.  Strangely, I always anticipated this day would come.  

I'm in Ivano Frankivsk!  It's a beautiful city with lots of old buildings, very green, and oh, a 2 story apartment for missionaries with two bathrooms and a full sized kitchen.  WAPABAM!  The only problem was the lack of things to eat in the fridge... don't worry, I bought real food, and I won't die.
I walked into the craziest schedule of my life, though.  My new companion, Elder Stout, is 100% consecrated.  I haven't ever once heard him say anything that wasn't a quote from preach my gospel, I'm pretty sure.  He's on the phone with investigators, potential investigators, and members almost non-stop.... which means I'm contacting people left and right while he's got the airways.  I've never worked harder.  It's only been 4 days, but I come home so exhausted each night... I feel like I've already been here for a month.  We're working with 7 investigators, which is basically unheard of in our mission.  I have no idea how that happened, but I'm glad to say that they're there.  Unfortunately, no one will commit to being baptized... ever.  Most of our investigators like to learn the doctorine, and like to try and make us argue with them about religion, but none of them seem to be sincerely looking for an answer about if the Book of Mormon is true.  It's been very hard to get the lesson to go in a direction in which the Holy Ghost can really teach any of them... We get the facts down, but we can't get the real teaching done.  It's impossible to get the Holy Spirit to stay anywhere when the spirit of contention is reekin' up the room!

But we'll keep working, and praying, and hoping, and reading, and trying to invite the spirit teach.

I just want to testify of the gift of tounges for a moment;  My whole mission so far, I thought that I spoke Ukrainian pretty averagely.  I got along, and that was enough to not get down on myself.  I've prayed every day that Heavenly Father would help me to become a good speaker, and be able to help people understand our message when I talk with them.  It just didn't seem to be coming to me though...
Something happened when I got to Ivano though.  I've had almost no issue speaking to people since I got here.  My language skills have seemed to improve a lot, and out of nowhere!  I've really enjoyed teaching on our lessons, and have been able to teach all of the principles and my thoughts about them without much difficulty.  It's seriously a miracle.  I know that God gives us gifts for a reason... so I figure this just means that he wants me to be talking to even more people!

Now... there is a rumor about there being a lot of crazy people in my area.  I still don't believe it, but, I have had several strange encounters since getting here.  One of them occured during a lesson with an investigator... who spent about 10 minutes explaining to me about how God is actually not a man, but a Giant Pink Chicken.  Another happened when a man ran up to us and started explaining Satanist symbols to us... and there are many, many, many more stories like these. 

Did I mention that I've only been here for 4 days?

It's been a little weird here.
But hey, what are ya gonna do?
Serve a mission, I suppose!

I love you all very, very much.
I'm excited to hear from so many of you, and I hope that things go well for everyone.
I'll be praying for your success!
Work hard, Play Hard,

Elder LeBaron