Monday, April 18, 2016

My Testimony

I hope I can properly express the feelings of my heart in this letter. Deciding to come on my mission was a difficult decision. There were several events leading up to my decision, but I think there was one particular conversation when I decided, at that point I began to prepare. To my family's surprise I had received a call, and to all of our surprise I was being sent to a place called Estonia (later changed to Lithuania). As soon as I began my papers I was so excited and ready to go.

The MTC was a great experience. I am so glad I had the opportunity to be in the MTC during Thanksgiving and Christmas. There really was a special spirit there. I really enjoyed all of the devotionals and learned so much, but little did I know that this was just the beginning of huge spiritual growth I would gain throughout my mission. Finally the long awaited day after nine weeks arrived. As we began our long journey to Riga, we were anxious to leave the MTC and share the testimonies we had gained in the nine weeks we were there. I was excited for the next phase of my mission.

After a long travel, we finally arrived in Riga where we were able to meet President and Sister Harding. It was great to see their smiling faces, while our faces looked very weary from the travel. The next little bit was a blur as I struggled to keep my eyes open until finally we were able to sleep. The next day I was a little more alert as I prepared to meet my trainer and find out where my first area would be. Everything was still a little cloudy but I do remember that all of the sisters who were there to train looked so nice, and I thought to myself, "all of these sisters are going to be great trainers so it really doesn't matter which one I get." After we were assigned our new companion, Sister Hoskin and I headed on our way to my first area in Siauliai. That is where all of the experiences and learning would begin to take place that is now the sum total of who I am today.

From this point on I will write about the people I have met and the experiences I had with them and what I learned from the experiences and from the person. I will start with Sister Hoskin. Sister Hoskin was a great companion. One of the first lessons I learned was about how we all come from different backgrounds with different experiences. Sister Hoskin and I were similar in some ways, but different in many other ways. I found as I learned more about her and her family that she had a very different upbringing. I learned that we all have to be tolerant of how others think and act differently. Sometimes we forget that people have different families and different ways of thinking. Sister Hoskin was very good at loving others. We had one member who was difficult to love sometimes, but Sister Hoskin was always her friend and trying to serve her. Sister Hoskin also was very brave, she was so good at talking to people, and I really admired that every time she spoke with someone, whether they were interested or not, she was able to leave them with some kind of commitment, even if it was just to attend their own church more often. Another time she was brave was when we were out contacting in a more dangerous part of town and it was getting late and time to start walking toward home. There was a man on the corner and he said something that I didn't really understand, then he was kind of pulling something out of his coat. Then all of a sudden Sister Hoskin told me to just turn around and run. So I turn around and follow her across the street. We kept running until we were able to get home. We are not sure what he was pulling out, but Sister Hoskin suspected it was a gun. I am glad she knew what was going on, because I wasn't sure. Then even after that very scary experience she was still very calm. I am glad that she was following the spirit and knew that we should run. Sister Hoskin also helped me learn how to let go of some of the things I was holding back, so that I could become a more consecrated missionary.

My next companion was Sister Seaman. Sister Seaman was a great, very consecrated missionary. I learned what it meant to work hard. She really had righteous desires and wanted to work really hard always. I can see why she was chosen to be a leader early on in her mission. Sister Seaman was always happy and bubble and excited to see people. She had a quote that would stick with me for the rest of my mission, "what you focus on increases." I applied this quote in many different ways throughout my mission. I mostly applied it to my companions throughout my mission. I learned that although everyone has faults, they also have weaknesses and we can choose to let those weaknesses go and try and focus on the good they have within them, my view changes completely, but it can also go vice versa. If I focus on their bad qualities then all of a sudden I only see them as a terrible, annoying person. It helped me to see the good in all of my companions to remember that I also am not perfect and they can choose to focus on my faults as I might do to them and then we will just hate each other and never get along.

I had a very brief experience with Sister Penrose. Sister Penrose was also a hard worker. She was very humble about her language skills, I think she was better than she gave herself credit for. She was always so good at pushing me and helping me to get out of my comfort zone. During our brief time together we had an experience that drew us very close together. I am glad she was so calm and able to help me stay calm through that very scary experience.

I will be honest, when I found out I would be with Sister Neeley, I was a little nervous as I knew her least of all the sisters. I tried to put everything I had heard about her aside and tried to just get to know her, although I tried to do that, I think it still played a role in my relationship with her. There was a lot to learn from Sister Neeley, including some communication skills from our often long and frequent companionship inventories. I will say companionship inventories are definitely inspired and I am glad that we were able to discuss things open and honestly. I again saw how one's upbringing effects who they are today. Sister Neeley is also excellent at thinking deeply and at studying the scriptures, so those are definitely lessons I learned from her. I thought that these three transfers with her were my hardest, but I still had yet to experience my hardest time on the mission. Often though, the hardest times are also the times with the most learning, so I still had much learning to come. With Sister Neeley my time in Kauans came to an end, which I was sad because I absolutely love Kaunas and the people there, but I also knew that I couldn't become comfortable for too long. I left the city I love and came to Vilnius to start a new adventure with Sister Bestenlenher.

Sister Bestenlenher is great. She is definitely one of the bravest, and most dedicated people I know. She taught me a lot about diligence. This short time with her became the hardest time of my mission, not only because I had to become used to her speed and try to match it, but because this is the transfer I received the news about my nephew who had gotten cancer. I feel really bad because we had just barely become companions and, luckily, I knew her before, otherwise it would have been a lot harder. She was so good during that difficult time. I went into a depression. I knew that he would be okay, there were promises made to him and my family. I never thought that I could become depressed. I really didn't think it was a very real thing. I was just sad all of the time and I never felt like I would be happy again. I blamed my depression on the news, the weather, and the time of year, but I know now that although those things may have played a part I know that it was something that I needed to go through to grow closer to my Heavenly Father, and to know that He loves me. I needed to learn to rely on him more fully. I got a blessing from Elder Nuttall and it gave me comfort to know that Heavenly Father is so aware. I thought it would be a blessing of comfort, but it turned into a blessing of healing. Sister Bestenlenher was always so good and patient as I burst into tears over spilled milk or when I had no desire to work. I also learned how important communication skills are when it comes to making decisions. We both felt that we had a hard time working together because we were both experienced missionaries who have had different experiences, so we both had different opinions of how the work should be done. I still felt like I still had much to learn from Sister Bestenlenher, but all too quickly our time ended and I was transferred away to be with Sister Madison.

Sister Madison is, as all of my companions are, one of the best. She is not only hilarious as everyone know, but I also found out that she is also a very deep person. I was very impressed by her ability to see a problem and find a solution. I think that this was a gift from the Holy Ghost. All of the time she would see maybe a character flaw in herself and be able to pinpoint exactly what it was and what she needed to do to fix it. I really admire that about her and I do want to learn to emulate that. Our two transfers have been interesting together as we have both been preparing for our return home. Sister Madison is great at complimenting and building people up. She is always kind to remember or notice the little things. She is a great socializer and I am glad that I have been able to learn a thing or two from her about that because that is definitely an area where I lack.

Overall I can say that my mission has been a great experience and I cannot wait to share it with those I love. My mission was definitely one of the most challenging and joyful experiences I have ever had. I don't think I changed anyone's life, but I do know that I am returning a much better person because of it. I hope I was at least a little helpful in building up the church here in Lithuania. I have come to love the people here. I will end with my testimony. I know that Heavenly Father loves me and is aware of my situation. I know that Jesus Christ has felt my joy and my pain. I know that Joseph Smith restored this church, the only true and living church, back to the earth. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that we can receive real solutions to real problems in our lives. I know that we can pray and we will be comforted. I know that this church is led by Thomas S. Monson and that he is a prophet called by God. I know that my mission has been the one thing that could catapult me into progression. I know that my life will never be the same as before my mission. I know that commandments help us to receive blessings. I know that member missionary work is important. I can honestly say that I love my mission and I will never regret going.

Sister Brown

Homecoming! :)

We were told by another passenger that Brianna was on the last row of the plan, so we waited...and waited...! She finally came walking down the hall and she was already crying, and so was Mom. :) We all got some hugs and Jarom and Marisa joined us through Skype on Jen's phone. We are so glad she's home!! :D

Skyping Jarom and Marisa

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Last Week!!

April 11, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

I will keep this short since I will be seeing everyone in less than a week, I feel like I will have so much to share that everyone will be sick of hearing from me!

On Monday we went to a castle called Trakai. It was in a cute little quaint town on the outside of Vilnius, it was a great treat and we even had to get special permission to go. What a blessing! We were able to go with all of the other missionaries. Unfortunately, we could only see the outside as it is closed on Mondays. In the evening we were able to have Family Home Evening with a family in the branch. They are so nice to invite us over.

On Tuesday we had District Meeting where we were able to begin to watch General Conference in English. I really enjoyed the couple first talks and cannot wait to watch the rest when I get back!

On Wednesday Sister Madison went to Riga for some Mission Leadership training. Sister Bestenlenher, Sister Griffin and I were able to work on my letter that I need to write to President about my mission.

On Friday we had Zone Training in Kaunas. We thought we had our last Zone Training, but apparently, President Harding wanted another one this transfer and he wanted to come. We had a great training, it was fun to travel one last time with the district. On our way there we basically bought every seat on a bus except for like three seats. We have a lot of Vilnius missionaries. In the evening we were able to have another lesson with a different family in our area.

On Saturday and Sunday we watched General Conference in Lithuanian. On Saturday evening the Nuttall's (senior couple) wanted to take us out for dinner before we left, so we went to this really good little French restaurant. It was great, they are so kind and we even met these foreign people who were sitting at a table near by and they were speaking English. They were all young people who were here for an internship at the Embassies for their countries. Then we found out that two of them had stayed with Mormon families in America. It was pretty neat, hopefully they stop by while they are here for a little longer. I love you! I will see you all soon!

Sister Brown


Week 65

April 4, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

It was beautiful on Monday, so we planned to play soccer with the other missionaries and a few members. It was a lot of fun.

On Tuesday we had District Meeting, it was very reverent as we were preparing. Our mission has been focusing on reverence this transfer. I am beginning to see why reverence is so important and how it is more than just reverence before meetings, but also it is an attitude and kind of a way of life.

On Wednesday we had an opportunity to have interviews with President, it was great even though we will be seeing him in just a couple more weeks. I told him how I felt like I had just gotten here, and he told me that he felt that same way about our group of four sisters. After our interviews we had to wait for the sisters to meet us at the church for an exchange. After they arrived Sister Bestenlenher, Griffin and I had to hurry to our apartment to get a family proclamation for the Russian elders first English class that night so they could copy it. When we came back to the church the elders asked us to help in the English lesson since it was only two women, so we stayed to help them. After, we were finally able to go home and eat some dinner.

On Thursday I was able to go to Kaunas one last time to pick up Sister Madison. Our bus got in a little late so we decided we would meet the sisters at the church to exchange so they could be on time to English. I was so glad because I got to see a few of the members one last time. After we said our goodbyes we headed to the bus station and also had some dinner, where I had a panic attack over borsh (Russian soup), and then Sister Madison helped me figure out a plan for my life. I feel much better now.

On Friday I was able to pull a few jokes on Sister Madison, including the Vaseline on the door handle. It was great fun. Then we made muffins for the other missionaries to give to them for service for Elder Downs' birthday, which was the next day, but also for April Fool's Day. We put little papers in the muffins that said "April Fool's." The elders also asked us to come early to service and we had no idea why, we were a little nervous it was an April Fool's joke. They surprised us with these cool Russian cookies that they get from Belarus. Elder Downs shared his stash with us. They are special cookies called Konetiki, where you bite a little off the top and a little off the bottom and then suck some milk through it to soften the cookie, then you "slam" it into your mouth and it is delicious.

On Saturday we were able to help in a lesson with Valentina, who is now a recent convert. She is really wonderful.

On Sunday it was our last real Sunday, as next week will be General Conference here. I took a lot of pictures and shared a lot of little Del Sol rings with all of the children, which they absolutely loved. There was a woman who we met as we were getting off the bus to go to church, she is a member from Russia and was trying to find the church and she wasn't quite sure how to get to the church so she was looking around for someone in skirts and wasn't seeing anyone until she saw us with our Book of Mormons. She just jumped off the bus when we got off and introduced herself and asked us if we were going to church. She was able to find the church and then she bore testimony about it during Sacrament meeting, it was a cool experience.

Sister Brown

Week 64

March 28, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

On Monday we went to play a game at the church with the other missionaries. It was so much fun. We also got permission to save part of our preparation day for another day of the week so we could go to this KGB Museum that is not open on Mondays. We saved our grocery shopping for the end of our preparation day, and so after we finished playing at the church we went and bought groceries and headed home. We got home and then we realized as we have two huge bags of groceries that we forgot our keys at the church. We called some elders who were at the church and they were nice enough to bring us our keys.

On Tuesday we taught English and it got a little heated, as we were talking about the great apostasy.

On Wednesday we had to pick up Sister Madison's new living permit at the immigration office, and then we took dinner that we made to Sister Miles at the school she works at because she has been really sick lately. We then had a practice for the activity on Saturday.

On Thursday we were able to go to Kaunas for a Zone Training. It was our last Zone Training, so at the end we bore our departing testimonies. It was a really good Zone Training where we talked about Christ and our fears in missionary work. They even had a funeral for our fears, with a casket made out of cardboard by Elder Nelson. It was a great Zone Training which helped me feel spiritually filled and ready to bear my testimony. After, we traveled back to Vilnius and we had a lesson with a less active who is going to a cooking school. She taught us how to make some really good tiramisu. Our lesson was about the temple and Elder Nuttall just wen through the temple interview so she could know what she and her husband need to do so that they can enter. It was a really good lesson.

On Friday we went to service and then after went to the museum. The museum was really interesting and sad. Part of the museum was in the prison and even to the execution chamber. It was a good learning experience. 

On Saturday we had our Easter activity where we acted out a story that someone's friend wrote, who is from Poland. It went really well. I was a good/bad spirit. We actually had many more people than expected show up for it. There were some technical difficulties at the beginning, but after that it went pretty smoothly. It was overall a great experience.

On Sunday it was a wonderful Easter. I was able to translate or read the translation since they had it in English. They had the youth do the program, it was really great. We got to teach the Young Women's lesson and it went pretty well. I passed out Del Sol key chains today to all of the youth and a few of the adults. It was great, they all were filled with wonder. After church we decorated eggs, then in the evening we went to the Bender's, who invited us over for Easter dinner with all of the other missionaries. She was so sweet trying to make it like Easter in America, with some American candy.

It was a great week.

Sister Brown

Easter eggs.

Those elders are just "dumpled" over.

Squished peeps.

Easter activity.

Week 63

March 22, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

Monday we shopped all day for a dress that would be long enough for Sister Madison, she was trying to find a new one so she can look nice when she gets off the plan and sees her family. She ended up finding a really cute one at the very end, when she had almost given up hope. Longer dress are definitely harder to find here.

On Tuesday we had District Meeting where we talked about reverence, especially reverence after a meeting. In the evening, after English class, we had a planning session with a few of the young adults for an Easter activity. They have a lot of good ideas, it should be a good activity.

On Wednesday we went to an appointment with the dermatologist for Sister Madison's nose, then we went to immigration to renew our living permits. After, we went and got something to eat before we met the sisters at the bus station for an exchange. We tried this really good Armenian restaurant, it was delicious. They even had baklava, which is delicious and reminds me of some good memories in my childhood.

On Thursday I was able to take a trip to Kaunas to pick up Sister Madison from her exchange, but before Sister Hubert and I went and ate some lunch at this place called Ecotaco, which was delicious as well. After we got back to Vilnius we had another planning meeting for the activity.

On Friday we had service at the food bank. They even had a news anchor and camera there interviewing someone from the food bank. The camera even did some close up shots of the elders as they were sorting food, so they are basically famous here in Lithuania now. After, we went home and got ready because Sister Madison had a meeting on Skype with the other leaders. After their meeting we prepared for a movie activity where we ate nachos and watched "Meet the Mormons." It was good, but not as many people as we expected showed up.

On Saturday we had a practice for the Easter activity where we will be acting out a play with a narrator. It was a lot of fun, I am excited. I get to be a village person. In the evening we were able to participate in the activity for the Relief Society birthday. It was so good to see everyone share their talents and crafts they have made. We even sang as sister missionaries.

On Sunday I was expecting to translate, but I guess my week has been changed to Easter Sunday. I was freaking out because I am not very good at translating and that is a big Sunday. Later on I found out that they actually have a script in English for the Easter program, so it won't be as hard as I thought because I can just read along with them, so that was an answer to my prayers and I am so grateful.

Sister Brown

Green eggs for St. Patricks Day!

Winter wonderland in March, it looks like Christmas out there.


Week 62

March 15, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

Monday we were able to do a little souvenir shopping and we also went to see this little town called Uzupes, which is in Vilnius, it was really cute.

On Tuesday we had District Meeting where we talked about how understanding the people and their culture helps us with our missionary work. Also, it was Women's Day that they celebrate over here in Europe. I think we should definitely adopt the tradition. Everyone gives flowers to the women they know, there were a ton of flower vendors on the street. 

On Wednesday I was with Sister Bestenlenher and Sister Griffin while Sister Madison and Sister Jerman went up to Riga for a meeting. It was interesting contacting people on the street in a trio.

On Thursday I was able to teach English again with Sister Bestenlenher and Sister Griffin while Sister Madison and Sister Jerman had a Skype meeting with the other leaders. I really enjoy teaching English.

On Friday was another Independence Day here in Lithuania. We were supposed to have service at the food bank, but soon found out after we arrived that the food bank was not open on this holiday. After we found that out we went to a less active's house and since her calling is as a counselor in the Relief Society Presidency we had her help us make invitations for the Relief Society birthday party coming up. It was really good and she is pretty creative.

On Saturday we had a baptism here in Vilnius, her name is Valentina. She is really sweet and excited. It was kind of crazy though, as a youth activity was finishing a little late. There were people from all over Lithuania, so we had a full church. It was good to see everyone though. 

On Sunday the sun shined all day long, it really was a miracle, we even wore shoes instead of boots. It was beautiful.

Sister Brown