Several asked what kind of cake I had. It was one with the pudding/frosting/something layer between two cake layers. It was good. Yes, we do our own cooking, but I didn't make that cake. We have a fridge, which is totally full on Wednesday and almost completely empty by the next Wednesday. It's funny to me. Anyway, we do not get invited out to eat much. Our washing machine is in our apartment. Right by our "stove." In fact, we usually put our washed dishes on it to dry. They have a little carpeting (and what we have is that thin stuff) and we do have a wallpaper lining along the top of the room.
Woman's Day is interesting. Basically, women get flowers and their man to spend time with them. It's kinda like mother's day, only...I don't know. I just saw a lot of couples out that day and a lot of flowers in people's hands.
There are about 90 members of the church in Rīga, and we rent the second floor of a business building for our church. In Jelgava, we are just renting an apartment so far. I feel very much like I imagine the pioneers of the old west felt, where all things are new and they are struggling to make a place in the world for themselves. I realize that every member here is a pioneer, as they are among the first members here. And definitely the first in their families! It's amazing for me to see.
Elder Doane, my companion, does not speak Russian. He speaks Latvian, English, a very little Russian, and the local Gypsy language (he studied it and actually taught a few gypsy families!). But he understands about half the Russian that's spoken to him, which is fortunate (that's in the miracle-laden letter to my mission president below).
Really quick random note: We got a huge snowstorm yesterday, which was interesting and kept our contacting to almost nothing. And we also had the hot water turned off at our apartment. That amazing towel heating pipe? It's cooling off and will soon be dead. That is a little sad to me. But, this week was very, very powerful to me. So, enough with the small talk. Here are the miracles!
What follows is the weekly letter I sent to the mission president, so here goes:
"I have shed many tears since last Wednesday. I almost convinced one of our 4 active members here in Jelgava to leave the church forever when I met with him last week. I made an understandable mistake while speaking, and he was less than excited by it. That filled me with a terror of talking with people for much of that week. But come Wednesday night, Elder Dons had had enough. He talked with me about it, and we decided I was going to be done with my fear. It was over. I was just going to talk, and go. Well, last week (Monday to Monday) had few good contacts, and very little of the Spirit for me. It was really unbelievably difficult.
But after that change of mind for me, that paradigm shift, everything is 100% opposite. Oh, sure, things are still hard. But it doesn't get to me. The Spirit races through me with every testimony I give on the streets of the atonement of the Lord, and the hand of God is tangible. Quickly how that's gone: Using only that Atonement-based contact, talking to people about repentance through baptism right on the street, I got phone numbers from almost everyone I talked to in Riga during a zone leadership meeting (I'm not a leader here, so I wasn't in the meeting. So, I went out with my old MTC companion Elder Brown contacting in Riga!), and they were all nodding to everything I said.
Starting on Thursday, Elder Doane and I have begun to pray that we will find one person who is interested that we can talk to right then on the street and teach. Every single day since then, it has happened. Every day. My language skills, since I abandoned my fear, have skyrocketed. I put my faith in the Lord that I will understand enough of what they say to me to respond appropriately. I now understand over 50% of everything everyone says to me (when I listen closely). I am also able to speak so much better! Sometimes, I catch myself thinking up stories in my head--in Latvian! That alone would be a miracle. But, that's not all that's been happening.
We had an investigator show up to church. He has some issues with the Book of Mormon. As it turns out, the S. family (the family we have been teaching that has recently been avoiding us) has a 27-year-old daughter who read only the parts of the Book of Mormon about war. So, she thinks the book is about war. Well, the day after this man, E., met us, she gave him her Book of Mormon and a Gospel Principles book. He said the same thing. We then talked with him a little while, and he promised he would read 3rd Nephi (which is almost 100% about Christ), and he told us that he knows God put our paths together. He missed two buses before he met us. He has never missed a bus before in his life before then. He firmly believes he met us for a reason. That was amazing to hear!
Then, the man we talked to on Sunday is full Russian. He barely understands Latvian, but he is eager to learn, and likes what we say. We had talked to a Russian kid earlier, and grabbed some pamphlets and things in Russian for this kid. But, we have not seen that kid since. We did, however, have the Russian materials to give to L., that Russian fellow. He's read everything we have given him, and seems like he'll be baptized.
Ready for some more little miracles? We were waiting with a member to meet with L. (this member speaks Russian), and before we filled in this member with what we've talked about and what we wanted to talk about with L., we prayed. The member prayed that we will find people to baptize so that he will have a larger church family (because his biological family is often very hard for him to live with). Right after we closed the prayer, we got a call from a man we talked to on the street 2 weeks ago about baptism. He told us he needs to start his life anew, and he needs our help becoming better. Out of the blue. An interesting side note: I have prayed every night that the people we talk to will think about our message, and that the spirit will constantly work on them so that they are softened for when we next meet. This was in accordance with the faith that God really would do that.
More? OK, people are giving us their phone numbers right and left. When we are teaching somebody, I get distinct impressions to talk about certain things. When I do, I see a change come over them and their eyes change. They really begin to think.
How 'bout another? Our inactive family is another. It's a mother and son who live together. A friend of theirs died, and they allowed their faith to die with him. We've been calling and visiting and praying for them since they left, only a week and a half after their baptism. Well, one of the Elders that baptized them was finally able to set up a meeting. As we met and began talking about spiritual things, the mother was very nervous and uncomfortable at first. The son was fine with it. By the end of the meeting, a visible change had fallen over the mother. She was comfortable, the darkness I felt around her at the beginning was gone. The spirit was straining to fill her, if only she would allow it. They both committed to read and pray daily, and I left amazed at God's power.
There are yet many more small miracles that occurred, but I will stop for now. Just know that once I truly gave in to my faith, and with confidence approach the Lord and those with whom I speak, the miracles have rolled over me much like the waves of the ocean would a surfer. Continuous and powerful. This is God's work. He has everything prepared. Why would you walk a trail covered in overgrowth when right beside you is a paved road?"
And that, my friends, is life here now. Thank you for your prayers, and for all that you do for me. I love you all!!