Monday, June 26, 2017

My First Ballet..... 6-26-17

It is a great time to be serving in Ukraine. There are street markets everywhere at the moment and every one of them has tons of different fruit & fresh vegetables. We missed out last year on the amazing fruit by being cheap but now we have a rule that we have to buy something from those stands every day and it is so good! 

We went to the ballet with one of our investigators. He loves it and had us go to Swan Lake with him. Good times here in Ukraine. 

This last week both of the new converts in the ward (brother and sister) had some differing challenges. For the brother, it was the first time passing the sacrament, which he was really worried about it but it ended up being a really positive experience. For the sister, her eyesight suddenly dropped on Saturday morning. She had no idea what had happened and we offered to go give her a blessing. She said that she was going into the doctor soon and that was the last we heard about it. We had no idea what to think but then Sunday Morning we got a text from her saying that she was at the doctors all day Saturday. They did tons of tests and none of them could figure out what had gone wrong with her sharp drop in sight. She said that she was exhausted when she headed home but prayed her heart out and when she woke up everything was fine. Her eyesight was back to normal. One of the most important parts of this whole story was her relationship with her Heavenly Father. She was so incredibly thankful to God on Sunday and it was visible. Not only could she see clearly, but her relationship with God was strengthened and others could see it as well. Some could say that it was just a freak accident, or a coincidence.. but thanks to her faith in Christ this now turned into a huge testimony builder regarding prayer for her. We can either see and expect miracles, or go a year or two without noticing one.

We headed out to an area in the mission that is an hour or so out of Kyiv that is having tons of success. We wanted to see what was going on there. One of the biggest factors for me was the relationship between the ward and the missionaries. The ward was ready to receive new converts and helped in every phase of the work. On the other hand, the these missionaries just "Get out of the way and let the Lord do His work." A good reminder that we are here to assist and be tools in His hands and when we do that, then the feel of the work changes and that area is really alive at the moment due to amazing relationships in that area. Have the missionaries serve you! It is all that they want to do. Find a way to spend quality time with them and Sundays don't turn into just shaking hands but something more with which the Lord can work with! 

It was the last zone conference for the Packer family. They all bore testimony and it was a great conference. I could go on and on about them. I could publish a book with President Packer quotes and thoughts. Love that family and I was truly blessed to have served under them and with them for almost all of my mission! Gonna miss them a ton but we are excited to welcome in the new President and his family this week. 

Hope you all have a great week! 

Elder Devashrayee

Monday, June 19, 2017

Grasp the "Why"..... 6-19-17

Great last week. Highlights would have to be: 

An amazing time playing Sand Volleyball - home made net and all! We had a great time for P-day today.
See more photos below!

We were able to go pick up the new missionaries from the airport and they were able to stay with us for a day or so and be our companions. 

They both went to the Spain MTC and already know Russian pretty well so they both jumped right into it. One of them is the son of the Moscow Mission President and the other has a Russian dad and ran a marathon in "crocs" which landed him in Sports Illustrated! We took them back to our apartment for the night and we took them on lessons and English practice that night. The next day we took them to the main square (Maidon) in center Kiev and they had a blast. Greenies are fun to be around and we had a lot of laughs and fun doing the work, they had no fear and just dove right into it. We were in charge of holding training meetings and one of the points was "We can do hard things". I had thought of an example in my life that was pretty hard and it is called Fast Offerings on Fast Sunday...

 In our ward there was a low number of youth. My brothers and I made up about half of the young men's group and there were about 7 packets of Fast Offerings that needed to be taken around each month and about 7 or so houses that needed to be stopped by in every packet. Some Sundays we would be the only young men that showed up to take out the packets. My Dad drove us around to stop by the houses and then later when Travis could drive he drove around and I got out and knocked and eventually I was the one who drove around while Justin knocked. Some packets were smaller than others and those usually went really fast when they were handed out. Some packets were more convenient.. and some were usually avoided by the young men. One of these packets, was always taken last if others were there. This had houses full of cats, houses that you couldn't breath in because of how much the people smoked, and one scary house at the end of a road. For the scary house you had to drive the car up a little dirt road and you were all of a sudden in a different world other from the little neighborhood that I lived in. In this home lived a scary old man that all of the youth were scared death of. Since I can remember, my brothers and I were the ones to take that packet.. then inside that packet was one envelope that had the name of Brent Hancock in it - the scary house. From when I was a Deacon all the way to the Priest we stopped by this man's house. We had heard a lot of scary rumors about him, the house wasn't too inviting on the outside, and when we would knock big dogs would come and pound on the door before he opened it. However, over time we started to get to know him. He would bring out fresh vegetables that he grew in his garden and share them with us. He would talk to us at the door for about 30 minutes every time. We learned you just had to kill the engine in the car because there was no way to get out of there fast. He shared old church videos with us and we were able to go back and talk to him about them. Over time we became like his grandkids and he was readily waiting for us on fast Sunday. He started coming to Church from time to time and would sit in the very back. He actually said the closing prayer at Travis' farewell, he wanted to do this for Travis. It was always great to see him there over the next few months and members were always welcoming. He really opened up and at one point I was over there, not on a Sunday, to talk with him or help him with something. He had gotten really sick and looked like he just needed to talk. He sat me down and had me read his Will to him. I couldn't believe it. He had me read his dying words to the world and to his family. I was in shock, but it was a really spiritual experience now I look back at it. We saw him change before our very eyes. We also saw him turn to using an oxygen tank and having us carry it around as he read the Book of Mormon to us out on the front steps. He always had a little testimony to share with us when we went over, but we could see it grow. Before I knew it, he had gone through the temple for the first time (my Dad was able to be there for that) and the next thing I remember is that he passed away shortly after, just prior to Travis coming home from his mission. I cannot tell you how many members of the ward helped in this process of re-activating him, helping him get ready for the temple, caring for him, and then eventually preparing the funeral. This whole story came rushing back to my mind this week. The moment that I really understood what occurred and what the Lord was able to do through us, I dropped to my knees in a prayer of gratitude. 

Why did we go do fast offerings every fast Sunday? I would tell you because we were supposed to and we just did what we were told. I never truly saw the importance of it. To a 12 year old me, this was one of the hardest things I had to do on an empty stomach every month. The Lord works through us when we fulfill our callings. Sometimes we don't know why we do what we are told. We don't fully understand. Until we truly grasp the "why" of commandments/rules we just need to keep following them. The mission really clears the fog of the "why" in life and especially in the church. Why do we contact when we usually don't see the outcome fully? Why do we follow all of the mission rules? Why do we open our mouths on the street to preach about something that is dear to us but gets "trampled under their feet." Lastly, why did I as a young man have to go out to gather Fast Offerings every fast Sunday since I was 12. The Lord will give us hard things. If we aren't stretching and becoming better, then chances are we are not living according to the will of God. 

Sunday morning we were able to go to a Hare Krishna service! It was on the other side of Kyiv but we had made friends with one of them and were invited. It took us through a crazy path through back alleys, parking garages, gates, across railroad tracks, and eventually we ended up at their temple. We were invited in and taken to the 3rd floor where they hold services. Everyone sat down with a bucket in front of them and were peeling carrots while they listened and singed. The main point of the service was freeing ourselves from things on the world. They have a prayer that needs to be said a minimum 108 times a day and that keeps them as clean as possible. They have great beliefs and I have never met one of them that doesn't smile. Really friendly people. We sat down on the ground on a rug and they started to sing, read scriptures in sandscript that they translated to Russian, and held a lesson. All of the people there were in white robes and very bright colored clothes. After an hour, we were taken down to the first floor for breakfast. We had a plate in front of us and everyone was sitting cross-legged (except me because I can't haha) and they came around and poured a mixture of rice, carrots, squash, and other things with a layer of home made sour cream. Next, they gave us халава. Some crazy fruit mush combination that was really good. Check it out because I am not really sure what it is made of. Really great experience. They were extremely happy when I told them my grandpa was from India! They gave me a really cool Flower Lei when I left. Incredible experience!

Speaking of Fathers, I just barely found out that it was yesterday! Happy Father's Day!  Thanks to all of the fathers and especially my father, uncles and grandfathers! 

Elder Devashrayee

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Second Birthday"..... 6-12-17

Passed out, passed away, and spiritually reborn. This will make more sense in a minute. We were able to go and tour some areas I hadn't been in yet. This was a hat made while I was standing there watching them.

This last week was great. Lots to talk about. 

I will start off with a thought I had while I looked over some prized possessions that I have gained while here in Ukraine. One of them is a little McDonald's Happy Meal dog that was given to me by a member in my last area named Alexander. The next, is a huge blue kangaroo tie from a member here in my current ward from over a year ago from Alim. My understanding of the parable of  Widow's Mite was opened to me. Both of these people literally have nothing to their names and what they gave was truly something of great worth. A study without pondering doesn't give the Spirit ample time to speak to us. Reading 10 minutes a day is great. Pondering before, during, and after gives a chance for a very meaningful personal study. 

Passed Out: 
This Sunday, we were talking with members after church when a member yelled at us to run over immediately. We went with him and right inside the door of the women's bathroom a grandma was lying face up on the floor. She wasn't breathing and we propped her up into the sitting position. I lifted her up from behind and put my hand on her back trying to find her heartbeat. Elder Tolman was checking the breathing in the chest and couldn't see anything either and we looked at each other trying to convince ourselves that she hadn't already passed away. The member held her hands and just started talking to her. In what seemed like 5 minutes but in reality was probably 30 seconds she gasped for air and we all sighed from relief that she came around. She was sat on a chair and was instantly given a Priesthood blessing. There was no panicking and the blessing after was given by us shortly after. The one thing I loved was how the blessing was second-nature on behalf of the member who helped her come to. We took care of the first things first. 

Passed Away:
Sadly, this last week one of the bed-ridden members from my last ward passed away. He was around 50 years old and has had a rough life. He has been half paralyzed, divorced, his kids have left the country, bed-ridden and because of the circumstances, obese past the point where he can't move much for the last 30 years. He had gone through it all. Surgery after surgery and they could never get him past the point of lying on his back in his bed. I was in my last area for roughly 9 months and we helped him move beds, clean him off, and while I was there he read through the whole Book of Mormon for the first time as we read with him weekly and he started to read on his own! Puts life into perspective. How would my attitude have changed if I knew that it was his last Christmas/Easter/Spring? One thought came to me that comforted me. One of my last companions loved Tabasco sauce so we found and bought a bottle and he forgot about it and shortly after left the area. One day I saw the bottle in the fridge and I got the feeling that we should bring it to Genadi for some reason. So we did just that. He loved spicy things and added it to nearly everything he ate from that moment on and it was always on his bed stand. Genadi is now is a better place and I can guarantee that I won't recognize him at first.. although, I hope that I will see him holding a bottle of Tabasco. 

Spiritually Reborn:
Two Sunday nights ago I had one of the most open prayers with God that I have ever had. Hard to explain and hard to say that this one prayer was any better than prayers that we offer every day.. but I had tons of little things adding up all around me throughout the week and things that I heard and read and I simply just asked God if I could just finally baptize someone. I know that I have given him everything and all my sins to truly know Him these last two years. I have been part of baptisms, companions have baptized, ward members have baptized and I have left areas where investigators have gotten baptized later on after I left. I felt ashamed for what I asked right after and I knew that I should have been more grateful in knowing that every phase of the work is just as important as the next, but that was replaced with the biggest feeling of peace and certainty shortly after. The next morning, I got a call from the Elders in my last area saying that Фарид was going to get baptized and that he had asked that I come back and baptize him! I had worked with him and his parents for the longest time there. The parents are still waiting for documents concerning their marriage, but Farid decided that he was done waiting and made the decision on his own to get baptized and told the Elders the next morning during a lesson. The Elders did a great job preparing the talks and service. Elder Durtschi and Houston are two of my favorite friends in the mission and to go back to my home area and see all of the members and the family that we taught for so long was a treat in and of itself. Tons of members had helped in getting the family to this point including the Bishop, Masha, Artur, Brother Kixno, the Demchenko family, and the list goes on and on. 

I had some 1 on 1 time with him before the baptism and was able to have a real heart to heart. He was so excited and knew he had made a big decision. June 10 had now become his "Second Birthday" as he put it. As we walked into the font and got positioned, I just took about 10 or so seconds with my eyes closed and told Farid before to just take in the moment before and after he was submersed. No need in rushing anything in such a moment. Those 10 seconds of silence where of gratitude and the most amazing feeling of love for the Savior. I repeated the baptismal prayer very slowly and I can't say that I have ever felt the Power of the Priesthood so strongly. During that prayer, the only important thing in the world was that I was a worthy Priesthood holder who has never been closer to God in my life. I am at a point where I am starting to scratch the surface of understanding the Power of the Priesthood and my previous ignorance &/or indifference had been wiped away. Priorities have switched on in my head over the mission. Live every day as if you are going to meet the Savior or preform an ordinance in His name in the next 5 minutes. All of this was going through my head during the prayer and when I said, "Amen" dunked him and gave him the biggest hug after when he came back up out of the water. The Mom, Dad, and Farid all bore their testimonies after and it was a special day to be a missionary.

Hope you all have a great week! 

Elder Devashrayee

Monday, June 5, 2017

Accidental Call.... 6-5-17

Lots of events this last week. Going to start off with the miracle that happened Monday night.
We set up a lesson with a less-active for Monday night and right before we were about to head out he called and told us that it would not work out. Right after the call with him ended a random grandma called us and asked when we were coming over. We had no idea who she was but decided to ask for her address and head over. She happened to be baptized about 5 years ago and had fallen away. She accidentally pressed a button on her phone and saw our contact and thought to herself, "Hmmm. I haven't seen them in a while." She had a number of difficult surgeries and stopped coming to church after. She was very grateful to see us and had us meet all 5 of her children. She was the only one who got baptized and her family has tons of potential. Most importantly, she has two twins that are both 17 and they would make amazing future missionaries. We were able to go back and help her pull off wallpaper later in the week and we are really pushing forward to work with this family.

We had our last interviews with President Packer and it was pretty sad. We see him weekly, but 1-on-1 time with people like him is priceless. Here are a couple of things that I came away with from him:
1. When I asked, "What was the most important thing you could tell me to do after the mission." He said, "Hold to the Living Prophets." He gave me a million reasons of why but maybe that can be up to you to take a second to ponder and discuss that either as a family, in your studies, or as we all see the direction that the earth is currently headed in.
2. If we want to know how to find, teach and baptize families... we must study out why families are important, know how to show others the blessings that come from a family that lives by the gospel, and be ready to be able to teach a house full of little kids that can't sit still for 3 seconds without being entertained. The Lord uses what we have and if we prepare ourselves for these moments, He will send families in our direction. I have spent a lot of time studying the Family Proclamation to the World lately in order to be ready and focused on baptizing a family. One of the biggest blessings that I can promise is Peace. (3 Nephi 22:13)
3. He thanked me for every testimony that I have born, for every door that I have knocked, for every sick grandma I have blessed, for every time I have taught someone the Gospel, for every time I have gotten yelled at on the street, for every companionship I have ever been apart of, for every area that I have cared for and the list goes on and on. It really helped me see the last 2 years in the bigger picture and as he talked hundreds of memories came rushing back and it was a special moment to look back and see what the Lord has allowed me to do in assisting in the work.

We teach an English class at a government building in the Center of Kyiv and thanks to those relationships we were able to participate in "Kid's Day" and hold carnival type games for about 400 underprivileged kids from small villages surrounding Kyiv. It went really well.

I was asked to participate in the "Mission Band". We had a guitarist, pianist, violinist, and even a drummer. I was the one who held the microphone to the mouth of the Elder playing the guitar hahaha. When we sang "500 Miles" I made sure to wedge a spot in the background singers in honor of Grandpa (Elder) Pohlman with that being his favorite song and sang loud and proud. We also held an American party for all of the English people that come and it was a blast. Lots of fun activities this last week. 
Singing 500 Miles

I have always heard about reading the Book of Mormon and underlining every time a mention is made of Christ and am on plan to finish before the 30th of June when the new mission president comes who is a professor of the Book of Mormon and Russian.
Hope you all have a great week!
Elder Devashrayee