After a crazy two weeks, I'm finally in my city! We flew in to Ulan-Ude early Friday morning (and saw Lake Baikal through the window). This is such an amazing city, and I'm so glad to be serving here with Sister Cavaness. She is the sweetest, and we're having so much fun together. This city is a city with miracles hidden in the dirt. The people here are so special.
We've met with this one family that I totally thought were members, but it wasn't until after the lesson that I learned that they haven't been baptized yet. I'll call them the Name Tag Family. (They have name tags hung up in their house of all the missionaries they've met, and they've been meeting with missionaries for about two years.) They read and come to church every week (according to what Sister Cavaness told me, although they weren't there yesterday), but the father just hasn't been ready to accept baptism, and the mom and rest of the family are kind of waiting on him because they want to be baptized together. So, we'll be focusing on them a lot. Sister Cavaness and I both feel like they're going to be baptized soon.
The church building here is gorgeous. It was the first building that was built by the church in Russia. The second I walked into the sacrament meeting room, I felt the spirit so strongly. It was almost as if I couldn't breathe. There are about twice as many people who come to church each week than there is in Nakhodka. It's interesting to think that Ulan-Ude was once as small as Nakhodka, but now it's so big. I know one day Nakhodka will be like Ulan-Ude is, and one day Ulan-Ude will be a ward that's part of a stake. (Maybe the Lake Baikal stake? Like how one day I'll get to go to the Lake Baikal temple dedication?) :)
The people here are more Asian-looking then in Nakhodka. There are people here called Boriats (бурият), and they're basically a Russian-Mongolian mix. I love talking with the people here. You can tell that God's been working on preparing these people to hear the Gospel. A lot of people here are Buddhist. It's the official religion of the Boriat people. Also, we don't really ride on buses like I did in Nakhodka. They have these tramways that are kind of like trolleys that we ride often, and there are also the little vans like they had in Nakhodka.
Also, on Tuesday, before we Sister Cavaness got back from her visa trip, Sister Woodland (serving in Irkutsk), Sister Clark (serving in Angarsk), and I were in Angarsk together. They have this service every week where they go and help out at a Hari-Krishna soup kitchen. Hari-Krishna is a religion that's kind of like Hinduism, but not. We acted basically as waiters, filling up jars with food for the people who would come in and refilling their plates. It was really interesting and kind of fun, but they have some rules that we had to follow that were part of their religion, like not serving a new person who comes in without washing our hands because we were "dirty." It's just inspiring to see people helping others, no matter what your religion is.
May 9th was Victory Day, where the Russians celebrate the end of World War II. It's a huge holiday, and there were soldiers and tanks and a parade (there's one big parade in Moscow they show on TV), orange and black ribbons, balloons, cotton candy... It's HUGE. Even though we were busy working, it was still fun to be here and enjoy the air of celebration.
Random Russian Facts:
Also, here in the West (relatively speaking), they have lots of shops that weren't in Nakhodka. We've eaten at Subway and Baskin Robbins, and they also have Cinnabon (which is in Vlad, but I never got to eat there) and Papa John's.
Lake Baikal is the largest, deepest, and oldest freshwater lake in the world. There's a seal that lives there called the Нерпа (Nerpa) seal, and there are lots of references to that seal in the cities (like stuffed animals and store names).
There's this green line on the sidewalks in Irkutsk that was installed for tourists that I want to go back and follow one day. It apparently guides tourists through the city and has different information placed along it.
Last bit of information: in two weeks, Elder Nelson (yep, that Elder Nelson) is coming to Irkutsk for a conference, and the missionaries are going to have two hours with him after sacrament meeting with all the members, and it's only the Siberian cities who get to be there. Talk about a huge blessing! We're counting down the days!
Hope you all had a wonderful week, and Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mothers out there (including mine). :)