Monday, September 27, 2010

С Любовью от Литвы! (With Love from Lithuania)‏

Hello all,

The work is still moving along, sometimes not as fast as I would like it to, but I'm learning to look at things in the Lord's timetable. The weather here this week was really nice, we had about 3 days of sunshine which was great. This morning we were able to head out to Trakai Castle this morning as a district which was sooooo awesome. I'll attach some pictures.

I think I kind of mentioned earlier that most of our time here is spent contacting people on the streets. It's something that I'm getting better and better at, and it is definitely way helpful for my Russian. We're usually able to find people that speak Russian, and if they don't, they usually know enough English to communicate. I think only like 6% of Lithuania is actually Russian (compared to like 36% in Latvia, and 45% in Estonia) but there are a ton of Polish people here, and quite a few from Belarus- And they all speak Russian. All of the food labels and stuff here are in Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian. If you're lucky, there's some in Russian and English too. I'm finally feeling comfortable with the culture changes (I'm totally buying a European man-purse and bringing it back to the states) except for the smoking. Everyone here smokes, it's ridiculous. Apparently I'll just become accustomed to that over time haha. I had a cool experience at church yesterday, I sat next to a member in the ward from England who lives quite a ways away, so he only comes every other week. He asked me if I could translate for him and I told him i'd only been here for 3 weeks but that I would try. I was able to translate everything the two speakers said, it was so awesome! Granted, it was all Gospel-related lingo, but still, I didn't realize I could understand that much. I have definitely been able to see the hand of the Lord in my progress with the Language. Our one investigator (Yolanta) who's ready for Baptism is going to take her mom to court so we can get the legal documents we need. The other investigators we have have been kind of flaky in meeting with us, but we have a couple more that are really solid.

This past week in my studies I've been really focusing on the Atonement, both the cleansing and enabling power that it can bring. I don't think that I could ever run out of material there. It is something that I don't think I've ever understood very well (I don't think there's anyone who fully understands it) but as I learn more and more about it, my calling as a missionary becomes more and more important to me. Everyone out there needs to hear this message. Sorry, there wasn't anything super exciting here this week. Now that I've been here for 3 weeks, I'm hoping (actually expecting) to get some letters or Dear Elders this week. The zone leaders are heading up to Riga on Wednesday and they'll bring the mail back. Thanks for your love and prayers!

-Elder Atkinson

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Recognizing the Spirit, is like the butter on my grilled cheese sandwich" -Elder Gearhart‏

Hey family and friends,
This past week was full of some really new and interesting events. President and Sister Dance were down here this week for training, and it was waaaaaay good. We talked a lot about the importance of the Spirit in all aspects of the work. That was pretty much all we did on Wednesday and Thursday. Oh! I was able to give my first Priesthood blessing on Thursday night, and it was all in Russian! Way intense, I hadn't even done one in English before, so it was a really powerful and spiritual experience. It was for one of the members here, Genadi. He was crossing the street, and a car came by and clipped his arm, so his elbow was pretty messed up. We had called him earlier that morning to ask him if he would sit in on a lesson with us that night. Even though he was in a ton of pain, and couldn't move his arm, he still came, and taught with us. He's the man.
Friday morning, Elder Mock and I went out to a town called Pabrade (no idea how to spell it in English) about 50 km north of Vilnius.I think it's pretty safe to say that we were the first missionaries to ever set foot there. We drove up with the Senior couple here in Lithuania (the Morrell's) to meet with this refugee family of 6. They are originally from Georgia (the country) but moved to Russia for work. The father started a business there, but was threatened by the mafia, so they fled the country and left absolutely everything behind. We showed up to the refugee center, and there was barbed-wire all around the gate, pretty serious stuff. The family came out and we translated for Elder Morrell to see what they wanted. It turns out they're members, and they showed us their temple recommends, and all they were looking for was help in getting down to Vilnius every week for church. Elder Morrell just whipped out his wallet and gave them money. And they showed up to church on Sunday. It was a very interesting and complicated situation, but it's very humbling to see that even with the situation they're in, all they want is to come to church.
Saturday I was on exchanges with Elder Dellinger. He's been here for 22 months now, and had is language switched from Lithuanian to Russian about 3 transfers in, so he can speak both now, it's pretty cool. We went and did service from like 10 to 6 on Saturday with some of the members. We thought that we were just going to go out into the forest to pick mushrooms (don't ask, picking mushrooms in the forest is a pretty big deal here) but whent we showed up we found out that we were going to gather firewood. So we spent the next several hours cutting down trees with chainsaws and such, and then tossing logs into this huge WWll truck. It's way hard to explain, and I still can't even believe it happened, haha. It was so sweet though! Elder Mock was way jealous, cause he said they don't get a lot of opportunities to do service here. I'll E-mail some pictures next week (we're emailing from the U.S. Embassy right now, and they confiscated my camera haha).
The work is still going along at the same pace. We weren't able to find any more investigators, but the few that we have are still making some good steps towards Baptism. And we still have a few contacts that are really promising, so I've got plenty of work to do =)
Well hopefully all is going well, thanks for your prayers and love
-Elder Atkinson

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Hip-Hop let me do that. Hip-Hop is my God" -the high kid we contacted last week‏

Hello there family and friends,

Wow, it's hard to believe another week has gone by. Everything is still going very well here, and I'm learning to love it more and more each day. We spent our entire Preparation Day (today) cleaning our apartment. Seriously, it took like 8 hours. But, it had to be done; when I first got here, it was pretty disgusting, haha and I had no time to clean it. It didn't really help that my companion didn't mind the mess at all. Earlier this week the senior couple here in Lithuania came and did an apartment inspection, and we pretty much failed. The word even got to Sister Dance (the mission President's wife) so she called and said they're going to come and inspect it on Thursday. So my companion finally gave in and cleaned with me, haha. We're doing a day and a half training session on Wednesday and Thursday with President Dance for the missionaries here in Vilnius, so I guess they'll drop by or something.
A little bit more about Lithuania: so the first week I was here, it was a little chilly, and rained pretty much everyday. It's warmed up a little bit since then, but supposedly it's going to get cold soon. We do about half of our contacting in Russian, and half of it in English. Everyone 30 or younger speaks English, and everyone knows a little bit of Russian. All of the signs and everything in the stores in Lithuanian though, so I'm pretty much guessing at everything I read. The Russian is getting better and better, especially when me and Elder Mock try to talk as much as we can. I can only understand about 20% of what goes on at church, haha, so it's a little rough. But the word is that the members in the Russian Branch here in Vilnius are the best in the Baltics, and so far, I'd have to say that I agree. There are 6 Russian Missionaries, and 6 Lithuanian Missionaries here in Vilnius. Me and my companion live in Center Vilnius on Gedimino, which is like the main walking and shopping street. It's nice, cause it's pretty central to everything and there are always a lot of people to talk to.
Haha, so last night when we were coming home, there were cars all over the streets, and EVERYBODY was honking their horns and going crazy. There were people on like every street corner holding hands and singing songs haha. I'm guessing Lithuania won their game in the FIBA tourney last night. They are so crazy about basketball here, it's nuts. Whenever people find out that we're from America, they always ask about basketball, I love it.
The work is coming along quite nicely, it's been another big adjustment, but like I said- I'm learning more and more how to love it. So the baptism that was going to happen on Saturday was canceled. It turns out that there are a bunch of legal issues that came up. She isn't legally married, only married through the Russian Orthodox church. In order to get the legal marriage document, she needs passport, which for some reason, is under the legal custody of her mother (the two of them don't have the best relationship, so that's going to be hard to get). Crazy story with way more complications. It's tough, cause she's so ready to be baptized, but we know that it will happen eventually.
We were able to find a few more people to teach this week, through contacting and harvesting (here in the Baltics, we don't knock, we harvest). It is so awesome to see the hand of the Lord in putting prepared people in our path. Something really awesome happened Sunday night: We were out talking to everyone on the street and we ran into these two college students. They spoke English, so I was able to get more involved. They seemed to take a little interest, and we pulled them back to our office to teach them the First Lesson. I can't believe how prepared one of them was. Holy cow it was amazing. He said that he had favored the protestant churches, but didn't really know which one was true, and he was asking questions about how he could find the right one. When we introduced the Book of Mormon, he was like "I want this book, where can I get this book?". We gave him one, and he committed to read it, and he gave a beautiful prayer at the end of the lesson. Ah, so good, so we are definitely going to keep up with him. Also, there's another cool story that happened on Saturday when we were out Harvesting. We knocked on a door and they didn't really seem to be interested at all, but I kept talking (in my broken Russian) and the guy named Stas (Russian names are different, so I'm doing my best to spell it) let us in. We were only able to talk for like 15 minutes, but he was all over the Book of Mormon and told us he would finish it in just 10 days. Cool yeah?
It's people like this that help me keep in mind why I'm really here. I know that if I can keep exercising the faith, Heavenly Father will put as many people into my path as I am ready for.
So Dear Elders are proabably going to be easiest way to contact me, cause they just get sent to the mission office and only take like 12 days or something. I was gonna just add that if anybody wants to send letters or packages, it's just best to send it to the Mission Office, cause we never know how long it'll take to get here, or how long I'll be in a certain area. Here's the address:

Elder Austin P. Atkinson
Baltic Mission
Cesu Iela 31-2K2

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, God Bless
-Elder Austin P. Atkinson

Monday, September 6, 2010

Austin Update

Austin didn't have time to write a general e-mail this week but he wanted me to send on a little information.

"I'm serving in Vilnius, Lithuania this transfer (there are only 6 Russian speaking missionaries in Lithuania, so I wasn't expecting it at all). My trainer is Elder Mock, from Houston, Texas and he's way legit. We have a baptism this Saturday, which is exciting. There hasn't been a baptism here in our branch since February, so again, it's pretty exciting. Church was good yesterday, I didn't understand a lot (cause it's all in Russian) but I got to bear my testimony."

MTC Photos


1. What happened to the MTC sign?
2. MTC companions Elders Atkinson and Thomas.
3. This is where we are going (Elders Atkinson, Huber, Palmer and Thomas).
4. MTC District.
5. MTC Zone.

Pictures From a Foreign Land

The first picture is of Austin at the Riga, Latvia airport. The next is of sunset in Downtown Riga (Austin hung out a window at the Mission Home to take it). Austin with President and Sister Dance is third. The last one is Austin in his first area Vilnius, Lithuania.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Letter From President Dance

Dear Family,

Your missionary made it to the Baltic Mission safe and sound. Attached is a picture taken at the Riga Airport just after they landed. They all look great and arrived without incident. They spent a few hours this afternoon talking with people on the street and sharing their testimonies. We had dinner and a testimony meeting at the mission home and then put them all to bed. They will have training on Wednesday plus have a chance to talk with more people on the streets about the gospel. Then on Thursday morning they will meet their new companion and be off to their new area.

Sometime in the next several days we will have the mission office send you the details of where your missionary is serving and some information about the mission as well as all our contact information. You can expect your missionary to email you next Monday on his/her preparation day. If there is an emergency in the meantime please feel free to call me at my cell phone. The direct dial number from the US is 011-371-2928-7605

Thank you for your trust and confidence in sending your missionary to us. We love them and are excited to work with them in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Warmest Regards,

President and Sister Dance

Baltic Mission