We finally did it! We finally made it to Baikal! Everybody here asks us, "Have you seen Baikal? Have you been on Baikal?" Now we can proudly answer that yes, yes we have. It took two hours of taxi riding to get there and another two hours home, but it was beautiful. The weather was cooler than it is in Ulan-Ude, but it was very pleasant. We had a nice snack of water and cookies, collected some souvenir rocks, and took LOTS of pictures. Although we couldn't go swimming or stay for a very long time, it was a wonderful experience, and I hope I get to go back one day.
I forgot to mention that last Sunday we were asked to teach Sunday School, and we pretty much winged the lesson because we didn't have time to read about the topic in the handbook, but we tied it into Plan of Salvation (which we teach all the time), so it ended up going all right. One of the wonderful blessings of being a missionary: pop lessons, talks, and testimonies!
Now that I am officially past my 9 month mark, I took some time to ponder how I've changed and the things I've learned since starting my mission. One noticeable difference is that now when I don't understand Russian, I can tell people that I don't understand instead of just staring at them with a blank face. Sometimes I'm actually surprised when I find that I had a telephone conversation and understand almost everything that was said and didn't need to throw the phone at my companion to help me out. I definitely need to keep studying because I've got a long way to go, but I've also come a long way. I even had a member tell me that I said something perfectly without an accent! (Granted, it was only one word [вот, pronounced vot, and pretty much means "behold"], but still!)
The sister training leaders (Sister Hawley and Sister Hill) came and did splits. Sister Hawley actually served here, so it was nice to be able to pull off of her wisdom and meet with people that she knows. Sister Hill is going home with Sister Cavaness, so it was nice to see and serve with her again. She's a wonderful missionary.
We now have three baptismal dates, and that's a huge blessing. The Ukrainian family is still progressing in leaps and bounds. They were at church yesterday (except for the two girls because one was sick from an infection in her hand), and they also helped at the branch cleanup. (Lots of branch members helped to deep-clean the church, and there were Russian "shish-ka-bobs" afterward.) Another woman who lived in China for a long time and was Buddhist but recently was baptized into the Russian Orthodox church is also meeting with us, and her date is for August 22nd. She's doing lots of studying, but she's way nice and invited us over to her house to eat pozi. We're still seeing lots of miracles here every day! Flip even asked for her Book of Mormon back!!! The work is wonderful!
We've been way busy because Sister Cavaness wants to say goodbye to a lot of people (this is her last week on the mission!), so we have lots of meetings set up for this week. We'll also be in Irkutsk for zone conference and to meet our new mission president for the first time. I hope you all have as great of a week as we will!
Pictures: Lake Baikal!!!We drove by a cow standing in the road. I'm very proud that I caught this perfectly timed picture.More Baikal...And Sister Cavaness and I drank cream sodas one night with our novelty straws. Those mustaches aren't missionary appropriate, so don't worry, we shaved them the next morning.
P.S. Ashlin's first companion, Sister Watts, is engaged!