Saturday, July 7, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Wow! I can't believe that I have already been home for over 2 weeks!  Life has already swept me off my feet and I am crazy busy getting ready for my tryout into my program for my major, spending time with my family, meeting and spending time with new friends and catching up with former ones, etc, etc!

I will never forget my mission, however.  It was the best decision that I ever made to go, and the best most "exquisite" thing that I have ever done.  I chose the word exquisite because I feel a little bit like Alma.  His repentance process was the hardest most wonderful that he had ever done.  He says, "...there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains.  Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy."  My mission was the hardest, happiest, most frustrating, most rewarding, most trying, most stretching, most changing, craziest (seriously! there are a LOT of crazy people in Russia :) painful, joyous, and miraculously exquisite thing that I have ever done in my life!  I will never regret my decision to go and I know that my mission has changed my life! I am a new and different person. My mission has set me on a course of service and love of the Savior that I hope to develop and grow throughout the rest of my life!

Ariel (formerly Cectpa Cunningham :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

It was you! June 11, 2012

I love Russia!!

Let me just say that again... I LOVE RUSSIA!! And I really am going to miss all of the little things that you can only have and experience here.... the transportation, street vendors, weird drunk people (ok... that I may not miss very much) the sweet and amazing members with their amazing testimonies and miracle stories of coming to the church...

We went to visit Valentina (she's the older lady that I used to practice my Russian on when I first got here by always asking her how she had met the missionaries.)  It was SO funny!! When we went to her house she saw me and she was like, "It was you!!"  As we were walking in and for like 10 minutes after we got there she was blaming me and getting all mad at me for prank calling her.  We didn't understand what she was talking about at first but then she explained that I would apparently call and then hang up and then she would try to call me back and we wouldn't answer or we'd hang up on her.  She was like, "What is your name?"  I said, "K-ANINGHAM"   She was like, no, in Russian, so I said it again in Russian and then gave her my name-tag.  She looked at it and was just like, "hmph."  She then asked for our first names. I told her that I hadn't even been in Rostov for like a year!!  Well, she finally believed me that it wasn't me and then got over it and at church yesterday she was SO excited to see me!! haha!! It was so funny!

Sister Wood and I were on splits one day and we contacted into this really awesome lady.  She first told us that she didn't believe in God, but later in the conversation said that when she was having a hard time she would pray and she always got help to fix her problems!  It was so cool because as we talked I could feel the spirit really strong and felt the Holy Ghost helping us to be able to say all that we wanted to say.  It was just one of those times where you can really feel the gift of tongues because you can say everything right, or at least understandable.  I know that we needed to meet her that day and that she needed to hear what we had to say!!  We were able to give her a Book of Mormon and get her number.  We hope to meet with her this week and then pass her off to one of the other companionships when we leave.

After this cool experience we went to visit Natasha and Sergei.  It's SO cool to see them!!  I could just feel SO much love for them!! I can see how much their family has been strengthened and grown closer together after they were sealed in the temple a year ago!  They are SO amazing!  We challenged them to read their scriptures as a family everyday.  I will miss them SO much!

We had another other miracle this week.  We were looking for the run down house by the Don River that is filled with water from a hot spring.  (Don't worry... we didn't go swimming!  just wanted to see it! :)  We were having trouble finding it and so asked these two girls for directions.  One of the girls was going that way anyway and so started walking with us. It was kind of narrow side walks so I ended up walking with her as I had been the one to ask her for directions.  I started talking with her and she told me how had stopped believing in God when her brother had died but that she had had several dreams where she had seen him.  I told her how hard things often happen in our lives but that God has timing for all things and that our lives are the time and experiences that we need.  I told her that her brother is still alive and she said that she would be interested to meet and we could tell her more about God's plan and where her brother is!  She gave us her number and we are hoping to meet with her this week too!  

We also were stopped by this guy named Konstantine asking for the time.  We were on a way to an appointment and he started talking with us.  We couldn't tell if he was creepy or normal or what and then he bluntly told us, "This isn't about sex, I'm interested to know more about who you are." (yes... Russian men are that forward... the other day when I was contacting with Sister Whitaker and Wood we were walking and this guy was looking over at us so we asked him if he was interested to know more about God and then he asked us if we would have sex and we said no and then he walked away.... ya :)  We got his number and I called him last night and when he answered I told him that it was the sister missionaries.  He answered, "I know, I already put your number in my phone." haha  We invited him to FHE and he asked if he could bring a friend... so we'll see if he comes today!

Well, we're off to go and meet with some missionaries and Emi, Vitya, and Irina!! (they came all the way up to Rostov from K-dar to see me before I leave to go home!! :)  We're going to go to the Zoo!! I hope that we will have a wonderful and exciting last week where we can find some more people and help them accept the gospel!  I love you all so much!

Cectpa Cunningham

My entire mission..

Monday, June 4, 2012

I will call you an hour ago June 4, 2012


Wow!! Back in Rostov!! It's SUPER crazy!!  I'm just WAY glad that we don't live in the same apartment that we lived in when I first got to Russia. This one is a lot happier!  Besides our water heater braking and not getting fixed for FOREVER and having to turn on the hot water with a rusty pliers... it's GREAT!!! :)  Right before we got to our apartment early Wednesday morning, one of the elders had been showering and the hot water had broken and water  had gone everywhere. They got it all cleaned up before we got there... but we still had to get it fixed.

We called Sister Nechiporova and she sent over a man from one of the branches.  He was late and got there at like 9:45 p.m.!  Then he came the next day and tried to fix it but when he turned the hot water on it exploded, so he had to call another man who came that night for like 3 minutes, said he understood and then left.  Then finally.... the third day someone came and got it all fixed!!!  It was SO funny as the man Armen would try to speak English with us.  He was asking me all these names of things in English... and I'm like... 'i don't know... I'm not a plumber!"  And then he would hold up something and say, "Example number 1." and then holding up the next thing say, "Example number 2."  My favorite was when he was leaving and said to me, "I will call you an hour ago..." haha!

It's been fun as I got to go on splits with the other Center Sisters, Sister Whitaker and her new companion fresh from the MTC Sister Wood! We did English Club together and Sister Wood and I got to be bankers and decide how much money the groups would get for a loan.  We would joke around and for example, when the rock band asked for a loan we bargained for free season tickets before we would give them the loan. The funny thing is... it probably wasn't that funny in Russia because that's what they actually would do! :)

Saturday night we had a great meeting with Olga and her daughter Liza. Do you remember them?  I had taught her husband Alexander when I first got to Russia.  The one who wasn't ever able to quit drinking!  I called her to get the number of bus that we needed to take to her house and when we got there was like, "I remembered you!!!"  It was SO good! We talked about the love of God and she told the most amazing story about when she met the  missionaries.  They had knocked on her door once when her husband wasn't home, then another time when just
her husband was there, and another when her husband was in the shower.  They wanted her number but she was going to change one of the numbers so that it didn't work, but for some reason she wrote her number right.  As she was walking away the words came into her head, "I come and knock at your door, but you don't even want to open it and let me in."  It was SO cool!!  I love her so much! She gave me the biggest hug on Sunday when we saw her!

The other sisters went for Sister Tunney's last Sunday in Severney so I went on splits with the Center Sisters and went to our branch. It was SO good to see everyone and even OLYA was there from America visiting!!!! She's getting married soon and so her fiance will be there next Sunday!  It was SO awesome to see everyone again! And actually be able to talk to them!  I got put in primary for one of the hours and got to work with Natasha.  I can't believe how big her kids have gotten!  Well, i wish you all a FANTASTIC week!!!

love you!
Cectpa Cunningham

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Transfer to Where I began!!! May 29, 2012

My Dear Family!!

We had quite a week! There was an open house at the church this Saturday!!  There were several glitches with organization, but overall it went really well. One of the members is an artist and she painted a super awesome rendition of the Plan of Salvation that we put on the wall.  We made a pyramid of Book of  Mormons, and had a family history part.  After that there was dancing and games!  We were in charge of the Plan of Salvation and Book of Mormon part. And we also planned the dancing and games! :)  There was a man who had just walked by and saw the announcement on the side of church building and came!! He also came to church the next day!

We got the call on Friday night and I will be returning to the same area where I started my mission!  And I'm going to be serving with Sister LeBaron and Tunney!!  It will be SO great to see all of the people that I served with before!!  And now I'll actually be able to talk with them!! :) Well, as much as I can understand and say now!!

After church Sister Ivanova had planned a surprise for me!  all of the members gathered together, sang one of my favorite songs and then we had a little meeting where some of them got up and just shared their feelings about missionary work, missionaries, and their gratefulness that I had served there.  President Einer said that I had the biggest smile in the whole district!! It was SO sweet and they had put together this little book with letters to me!!  Sister Ulya said that I need to take the love of Russia back to America!

The best part of this week was Sunday night.  We went over to the Lesitzen's house.  They are the ones with 5 daughters! I love their girls SO much!  We had a lesson where we read about how when Nephi was commanded to go back and preach to the wicked city that he'd just been kicked out of, he found another way to get into the city.  We talked about how God sometimes asks us to do things that are hard also, but that he wants us to be creative and find ways that we can keep those commandments. We then made American pancakes and the only rule was that they couldn't be normal circles.  We had suns, snowmen, turtles, mickey mouses, hearts, etc.  You couldn't really tell what they all were, but it was SO fun and yummy!  We then thought of creative ways for the girls to study the scriptures so that we can enjoy studying them and be creative!  It was SO amazing to be with them and hard to say goodbye!  Lena (the mom) sewed me a pink heart pillow that said "love" on it!  I will miss them!  As we left Vika looked at me and said in a very stern voice, "Just remember Sister Cunningham, you promised that you'd come back!"  I love those girls!

So, a funny story to end.  We went to the rinok today and I was trying on sunglasses.  We'd met our favorite Brat Dmitrii (the one who had a stroke several years ago and he rarely makes any facial expressions and can stare anyone down with the creepiest stare for like 10 minutes at a time!  I have him trained though... ok... a side funny story.  I had a surprise talk on Sunday--aka i got told 5 minutes before church that i was talking--and so I was sitting on the stand.  I looked at brat dmitrii during the meeting and gave him a thumbs up. barely lifting his arm up he threw me a thumbs up back!  I've always trained him with a peace sign and the alien hand sign thing...).  He'd wanted us to go with him to go and meet someone, but we had other things to do.  Well, as I'm trying on sunglasses he just comes up behind me and stares at my reflection with the sunglasses and told me if they looked good on me or not!! he kept this up for about 5 minutes and probably scared away any other customers because they were scared he'd stare at them too, but he helped me know which sunglasses looked good on me!! haha!!  I love him SO much! And I'm going to miss him! Tonight at FHE we're going to do a little play together for our lesson, he just doesn't know it yet!!  Well, I love you all SO much!! have a FABULOUS week!!!

Cectpa Cunningham

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On the Farm May 22, 2012

WOW!! Hello Family!!
This week was definitely a service week! Last week we had met this lady on the street from Moscow. She had come to V-grad because her grandmother had fallen and needed help. It turns out that no one had visited this grandmother for about 3 years and she SHOULD NOT have been living alone. So when Natasha got here the house was a wreck and she had her son with her.

Well, we said we could help and went a couple times this week.  It was the NASTIEST thing that I have ever seen!! Oh my goodness!! There were cockroaches EVERYWHERE and in EVERYTHING!!  The junk, clothes, left over food, dirty dishes, papers, shoes, everything just strewn everywhere and filling up the apartment so that we couldn't even open the door all the way!!!  We have had lots of practice walking to the dumpster! Thank goodness for the babushka roller things to carry the garbage on!!  The kitchen... oh my goodness! I really just don't even know how to describe it!! but to say in short.. it was a dirty adventure! And how her grandmother has lived in that for so long is a mystery... cobwebs and bugs.... anyway

On Thursday we had the BIGGEST miracle of ALL!!  Akhmed and his family are AMAZING president!  They are the most spiritual people.  It is just so interesting  how the light of Christ can lead a person through their life to learn truth and lead them to the truth.  Natasha and Akhmed have definitely been lead and taught by the light of Christ. They basically believe all that we believe, but just aren't baptized.

We had a huge miracle this week.  We had set up an appointment to meet with a lady who came to English Club and wanted to know more about what we believe.  We met an hour before English club, and when we got to the church Akhmed was also there.  So, we invited him to come on the lesson with us.  The spirit was really strong as we talked about families, the plan of salvation, and some of the commandments.  She had wanted to know how we live differently than others of other faiths.  Akhmed said that he had been coming back from center with his son and something had told him to come to the church at 5.  He said that he realized that he had known about the missionaries for like 15 years and never actually heard all that they believe.  He loves everything that he knows already and wants to learn more.  Then, after English club we played a game where you ask a question and then throw a stuffed animal to someone in the circle and they need to answer the question that you asked. Then the person that answered the question asks a new question and throws the stuffed animal to someone else. Akhmed asked Brat Dmitri why he had decided to become a member of the church. We can never trust Brat Dmitri's answers very much!! I just crossed my fingers and prayed that he wouldn't say anything too obscure and weird!  Brat Dmitri said because he thought the pratislavian church was like a bazaar.  Then Brat Dmitri asked "Why aren't you a member?" and threw it back to Akhmed.  Akhmed thought for a little bit and then said that you could say he is now on the path to becoming a member!!  We have met with he and his wife and their small son and they are absolutely amazing people. I hope that they will continue on the path to be baptized.  Natasha came to church with their son Mark (Akhmed was sick and couldn't come) and I think that they both really enjoyed it.  I think Natasha really enjoyed being able to talk and discuss gospel principles.  I know  that they may not be in Volgagrad much longer, but we'll make sure that wherever they go will meet with the missionaries again.  They are SO amazing and all the meetings we have with them we only talk about 1 or 2 principles because they really understand and expound themselves!!
The light of Christ has truly led them and taught them and so they already know the truth pretty much, but just hadn't found the Church!! yet.... :)  They are SUCH a blessing to us!! Every time after we meet Akhmed says that he feels better!!

On Saturday we spent the morning out on the farm!! A family in our branch was planting tomatoes and we got to help!! my back is soar from all the bending over and i got SO sunburned, but you can say that i am now a professional tomato planter!! haha :)  IT was SO beautiful out where their fields are with a stream we had to cross and everything!

The Lesitzen's daughter Alona got baptized this week! And she had asked me to talk at her baptism!!  It was SO fun! and so cute!! She's a doll!  i couldn't help but laugh because at church one of their daughter's Tanya ran up to me and said, "Sister Cunningham, do you know how to tie a tie?" I said, "yes." Well, their mom doesn't know how to and their dad doesn't either. So she ran away grabbed the tie and had me tie it.  She'd run off to give it to her dad.  I walked over around the corner to see the people coming in and their was President Lesitzen putting on the tie I'd just tied.  He looked at me smiling and said, "Thanks sister!"  I couldn't help but laugh as I
looked at him sitting on the stand knowing that I had tied his tie!! haha!! Thanks for teaching me dad! :)
We hope to meet with Akhmed and Natasha a lot before they leave for St. Petersburg. We also have some potential new investigators!! hope it will be an exciting week!! i love you all!!

Cectpa Cunningham

Monday, May 14, 2012

Talent Night! May 14, 2012


It was SO amazing to see all yesterday!! Skype is an amazing thing! I can't tell you how refreshing and WONDERFUL it was to see all of your faces and hear your voices!!  Emmett and Emerson have gotten SO big I can't believe it!!  I love you all SO much!!  Thank you for lifting my spirits!

It was a bit of a tiring week considering that we didn't have a very restful p-day because we were PARTYING!!  It was SO worth it though!  On Thursday we went out to visit one of our members. I had talked with her the night before on the telephone and a close family friend had just passed away. She said that she didn't want to see anyone or talk to anyone.  We decided to just take a card over and some cookies just so that she knew we cared. She invited us in and we talked for about an hour. She said after that she hadn't wanted to see anyone but that she was SO glad that we had come and we'd helped her a lot!  That's always nice to hear!

The other big event this week was the TALENT SHOW!  On our way in to center I started talking to this lady on the marshrutka.  We just started talking about how hot it was and then about our families. I told her that we believed that families could be together forever and talked a bit about God's plan for us.  She said that that all sounded awesome but that no one could really know that that was true. So then we talked about prophets etc. It was SO awesome! I just love being able to talk to the people here! So many of them just are SO wonderful! I know that many people we talk to we will never see again, but I'm always SO grateful when there is a chance to have a good talk with someone and hope that someday sometime they will remember what we talked about and the next time they meet the missionaries decided to listen!

The Talent Show was BOMB!!  The Lesitzeni girls, Natasha, Sister Ivanova, and I all practiced long and hard for 2 line dances! The best bit was that we got to get dressed up all crazy!  Elder Goodmen even consented to break dance as part of one of them!  Our talent shows are really laid back so spur of the moment Elder Jacobson, Goodmen, and I performed our Book of Mormon stories missionary song we'd written for President and performed at Zone Conference for President! We also taught the whole audience the Electric Slide!  

Today for P-day we went out to some kind of little forest park.  Unfortunately we'd both ignored the thought to bring mosquito repellent, so we got eaten alive, but we had a fun time just walking in the forest by a stream and taking pictures. Reminded me SO much of Wisconsin!!!  Have a WONDERFUL WEEK!! I SURE LOVE YOU ALL!!


Cectpa Cunningham

 Talent Show

The Zone.

 me inside this house in the forest we found today.

 The River

 The Bridge

 Trying to be a statue

 Yes, it's me! in the foliage!

 us and the bear. Sister Ivanova's nickname for me is Medved (meaning bear! :)

 with a flower.. .haha

 kind of a scary picture of myself.... but i just love Russia SO much that I can't help it!!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Victory Day ~ May 9, 2012

Hello Family!!!

What an amazing week!!!  We had such a great shashliek grill on Monday!!!  And then got all sun tired and sick from being outside for too long, but it was ALL worth it!!  We had wanted to meet with Vasya and his family this week, but the little 13 year old didn't want to come in from playing out side.  We bet him that if I made a soccer goal on him that he'd have to come inside... well, I didn't make the goal... he scored on me. The moral of the story is... don't bet!!! :)

Raisa Einer, the branch president's wife, came to church for the first time in years!  We've been working with her for a while and it was SO great to finally see her come to church!  She said that she was going to come last week but then she never came.  We had wanted to pick her up, but she said no. She said she didn't want us to come as early as we had planned to come that Sunday morning, so we made her a smoothie and brought it over on our way to church, hoping that that would insure that she would could. She was already all dressed and ready to go. She did come and when she walked into the chapel everyone was so happy and surprised to see her!! It was SUCH a miracle!!  She wouldn't even let the sister meet with her very long ago and now she just came to church for the first time!!!  It was such a blessing!

This week we had a meeting with Natalya and her family. We played a game where we would ask a question and whoever we threw the ball to had to answer it (sound kind of like our favorite game Corrie and Sterling?).  Natalya told a story about dreaming to become a doctor. She went to the specialty school which was WAY far away, so she got home really late. Her mom said something really rude to her which implied she'd gotten home late because she was with a guy. She cried all night realizing she'd have no one to support her in her dream so she unenrolled from the school the next day.  She also talked about the times in her life when they have had nothing to eat and just trying to survive, just trying to have enough money to buy some food.  I had talked about my family and how important it was to spend time together and talk. After coming home I just cried.  I have been so blessed with such a wonderful family to be around me and support me.  The Russian people here have so little and sacrifice so much!!

On our way back from visiting Sister Zemsova on Sunday we were walking and ran into a man that Sister Whitaker and I had met a while ago.  He came to English club once and then we hadn't seen him again.  His name is Akhmed.  He was with his son and told us that he had been thinking about us earlier and wanted to invite us over.  He took us to his house that very moment and we met his wife and mother in law.  I am always just so amazed at the Lord's timing.  He set everything up so that we would run into him on that street.  We went over again to his house on splits with the elders.  He talked with us in English for a while and said that he likes everything about our church. His wife had company, so we didn't get long to talk with her, but they had made like 7 different types of salad and fed us!!  Everyone gathered to eat and we all just talked and ate (the best part :) and Akhmed showed us pictures of Croatia, where he used to live.  They are SUCH  neat family and want us to come back!!! They are moving to America soon, but I hope to meet with them before they go.  They already are so tight knit and just wonderful. they are super special!  At the end of our meeting as we walked out I gave him a plan of salvation pamphlet and said that we'd like to meet and talk more about God's plan for his family. He said we'll have to talk to his wife about that as she thinks about that a lot!  They always give us juice or something because he knows we don't drink tea!  they are SO cool!!!!

We had SUCH an amazing p-day today too!!!  We had our p-day today because it's VICTORY DAY!!  We got to wear p-day clothes ALL DAY and the best part was that EMI WAS HERE FROM K-DAR!!!  We went to the parade in the morning... we waited to get free hats, but there weren't any.. and there were so many people there that we couldn't see the parade, but Nikita just held my camera over the crowd and took pictures and then we could see what was going on!! I was on splits with EMI all day and it was THE BEST THING EVER!!!  Oh how I love her! It was SO good to be with her again and see how well she is doing! We then all headed up to Mamaev Korgan which was PACKED with people!  definitely got even more sunburned, but it is going as a perfect day! Being able to be with my favorite people ever! I'll try to send pictures next week!!

love you!

Sister Cunningham