Well, this is my first official email from Ukraine! It's crazy that I'm here but I'm loving it! I have tons to tell you so I'll just start from Day 1!
So after many hours of flying we got to Donetsk and we arrived at the "airport" haha. It was like a shed, not really an airport. And in huge Russian letters on the top it said DONETSK in English, Russian, and Ukrainian. We walked in to customs and handed our passports to the workers. They accepted them and then let us get our luggage. Our luggage made it with us and wasn't lost! And then we met President and Sister Campero and the APs. President and his wife are amazing! They are so humble and loving. President knows exactly what needs to be done and he has excellent vision in how to move to the work forward. I'll get to that later. We drove from the airport to the mission office and then we went to the mission home after. The mission home is in a run down building on like the 6th floor or something. But the apartment is really nice and felt just like home. Our dinner was some meat/egg thing that Sister Campero cooked. It was pretty good. She is a really good cook! We stayed with the APs for the evening and then the next day had breakfast with President again then we walked around Donetsk until we had our transfer meeting. It was so crazy to be walking around because I've been in "spirit prison" for two and a half months haha and now I'm in Eastern Europe where I can read the signs and stuff but I have no idea what I read and no idea what people say to me! We went to the huge soccer stadium and went to a few WWII sites with tanks and stuff. It was pretty sweet. And then came our first transfer meeting! As you can see by the title of this email, I was assigned to Kharkov. My trainer was already in Kharkov though so I rode up with some other elders going there as well. Among some of them were Elder Moss and Elder Lewis so it was great to go up with them. They are both actually in Sumy though but they took a train after Kharkov to go there. The ride to Kharkov was five hours and it was miserable! No A/C, it was probably like 90 degrees, Russian rap music was playing and our driver, like most drivers, was insane behind the wheel haha. But it was a good first transfer experience. I got to the branch building in Kharkov and then met my trainer. His name is Elder Schoen and he's from Toronto, Canada. He's pretty sweet. He's been here for 18 months and he's going home in December so I will be killing him haha. That means I am his last companion before he leaves. We took a taxi to our apartment and then got in and unpacked a little then went to bed. My "bed" doesn't have a mattress, it's a very thin comforter thing haha. And the bed is made all out of wood so it's like sleeping on a wooden box! And I'm too tall for it haha but it's great, I'm so happy to finally be here and to be serving the Lord! So as my email title says, my area right now is called Cold Mountain. It is in Kharkov. It is pretty crazy because we have been "whitewashed" into the area which means that my trainer knows as much as I do about it so we're still trying to figure everything out. I will be here for at least three transfers so that will be until about January and then we'll see what happens after that. You will be pleased to know that Valera is the Branch President of my branch so I have met him already. I should probably call him President Miroshnichenko haha. He is pretty cool! I told him that Brother Eckersley was my teacher and he started going off about him haha. He was his favorite missionary. We live right next to his store that he owns and we bought some milk there. His son is our landlord and we also live right next to a senior couple, Brother and Sister Burr, so they give us a lot of food which is great!
Speaking of food, which you are probably wondering about, my first meal that I made myself in the apartment was two pieces of toast and two glasses of orange Fanta haha. We had zero food in the apartment because the sister missionaries that lived there before us didn't leave anything except for half a loaf of bread and some Fanta. So we went shopping and bought some stuff. I have eaten cereal for breakfast most days and it's like Frosted Flakes except not so much frost haha. But they're pretty good. And I absolutely love juice now! Ukraine has amazing juice. My favorite so far is grape-apple. So we have a lot of that. And for dinners I made an omelet and we made some verniki which is like ravioli with potatoes inside and then sour cream on top. It's pretty good. I had my first borsch with Pres. Miroshnichenko. It wasn't half bad haha, I'm sure I will grow to love it. I haven't had anything too crazy yet but I'm sure my time will come :) Let's see, in our branch there are about forty members. President Campero wants us to really work with the members and help them know how to do member missionary work. That's the only way that the work is really going to take off in Donetsk. There's no other way. So President came up with an idea called My Zion. It comes from mission in Spanish and splitting that up. Basically, this is our church, we're all members of it together, and this is our branch. And we each have our own Zion with friends and family that we want to hear the gospel. So we are really working with members to help them understand what they can do to do missionary work. However, they don't think they need to do missionary work because that's why we're here. So we've already had our Zone Conference which was Monday and Tuesday this week and President wants us to use the My Zion sheets when teaching members and also with investigators. And we need to show them that we're working together in the branch, not that we need help and not that we want their help. So that's basically what the work is going to be like in the mission. Of course we will still contact but the only way to move forward is with members. In the Armenia and Samara Russia Missions, they are having excellent results and doing amazing work because of the members. In Armenia the missionaries can't proselyte yet they average three baptisms per missionary per year. The reason is from the members. (Samara averages two) So whenever the Donetsk members catch this vision the work will start taking off. The goal is to have a stake in Donetsk by the end of President Campero's service. I hope that it happens!
Let's see, I've had a few lessons so far. One was with an invalid lady who couldn't walk. Her name is Milaniya Burdyk. I didn't understand hardly understand she said (I don't understand a lot of what anyone says haha) but it was a good lesson. We taught the Restoration to her. And she is moving this Friday so we're going to help her with that. Also, we taught a family on Sunday night, the Nadenenko Family. It is a couple and two boys. The sisters who were teaching them challenged them to teach the Restoration lesson to the missionaries so they taught us and we learned and taught them. It was good. It's frustrating because I don't understand like anything that people say but it'll come in time. Many missionaries that I've talked to that are about to go home say that they still don't understand everything that people say. They know enough to get around but not everything. Russian is hard stuff! But I'm going to work my best to learn as much as I can. The elders here are great. I have met Elder Rallison several times. He is my Zone Leader. He's pretty awesome! I didn't know that he plays the piano and has been playing for fourteen years. He plays all the hymns and then he writes music for firesides and stuff. He's got amazing talent. And he's always happy about everything. Today is his birthday and we're going to have a surprise party for him. It should be fun. Oh and before I forget, my P-day is on Mondays, so you'll want to send me your emails by midnight your time Sunday night so that I will have them. Because we had our Zone Conference Monday and Tuesday this week we are having our P-day today.
I'm glad you received the packages and stuff. Whenever you send me my first package, here's some things I’d like. Maybe you can start making a list. Send me one of my stationaries. (I didn't have room for them in my luggage) and some peanut butter would be great because they don't sell that here. And if you could find me a missionary journal of sorts that would be cool too. I am writing in a notebook right now but soon I will want a good hardback journal of sorts to write in. They don't sell journals here. I was going to buy one before I left the MTC but I ran out of time and I'm not sure I would've had space. That's all I can think of for now. But I'll tell you if there's more that comes to mind. I'm going to buy a coat and gloves pretty soon.
Well I need to finish this up. Things are going good, don't worry about me. I'm happy to finally be here and I know that Heavenly Father is watching after me and all of you as well. I love you all and please tell everyone else that asks about me that I love them too. Have a good week! I can't figure out how to send pictures haha so expect some next week.
Love, Elder Keown