October 7, 2013
In country now. The trip over was interesting. It started on Oct. 1, with a wake up at 3:30 a.m. to catch the shuttle. It took us to the Front Runner, which we rode to downtown and then took Trax out to the airport. Very hectic. There were seventeen missionaries in our travel group, all going to Kyiv Ukraine. A lot of bags to deal with. While waiting for our plane, I picked up my last meal in America, Cafe Rio, which was way relieving because one comment I frequently made in the MTC was how much I missed the pork salad.
It ended up turning out that we did not have a direct flight to Amsterdam. Our travel plans misled us. We had a two hour layover in Minneapolis. While there, I talked to a retired Canadian couple who were on their way for a month long trip to Italy. The man had a pin on his hat that represented Canadian Remembrance Day. From what I was able to understand, it is similar to Veteran’s Day in the U.S. We then had a small conversation about Amish people and then I talked to them about family history and gave them a referral card to familysearch.org.
The plane trip to Europe was long. I did all I could to try to stay awake to a certain time. That allowed me to fall asleep at 10:30 p.m. in Ukraine, which I was able to do. But when it hit– that moment I was no longer tired, and just had to read to keep myself busy. The T.V.s in the back of every chair made it difficult because I just wanted to put on a movie. I finally pulled up the map of the world on them that shows where your plane is along the rout, and would occasionally glance up to see where we were. It moved very slowly.
While changing planes in Amsterdam, we met a missionary on his way back home from serving in Kyiv. Pretty interesting to see someone at the end of their two years heading back, when we were just getting started. On the last plane to Kyiv, I was able to fall asleep before we took off and stayed passed out for most of the flight. At one point the stewardess came by offering drinks and I accidently ordered a Heineken, mistaking it for a ginger ale in my drowsy haze. Fortunately, I figured it out pretty quick and cancelled my order.
Going through customs in Ukraine was fun. My companion lost his bag so we had to go fill out the paper work to have it returned to him. We were fortunate because there was a sister in our group who is from Russia, so she was able to translate and make the process bearable. As I scanned my passport to enter the country, the military person checking me through looked at my name tag, read the name of the church, and then looked to his coworker asking what the heck we were doing there.
I told him we were missionaries, to which his reply was to shake his head and say to move on. A bit of a new experience considering in Utah everyone knows who the Mormons are. I saw a truck that construction workers were using to fix part of the airport. It looked like it was probably thirty plus years old, and had a very Soviet Union feel about it.
We arrived to the mission office and had a basic intro meeting with our stake president, his assistants, and the senior couple assigned there. Dinner was good and afterward they sent us to the hotel we were staying at, which was incredibly nice. I took a good thirty minute shower to rinse off the twenty hours of travel filth that built up.
The next day, we met our trainers and had some more meetings with President Klebingat. Mine is Elder K from Portland, Oregon. He is a pretty cool person from what I can tell, and is very mellow. President Klebingat said he is one of the best at the language. I am lucky to have scored him. We have been assigned to Center Odessa and are opening up a brand new area. It is a cool challenge, but our first couple of days have been trying, because there is no area book to work off of, and no direction to go at first.
We spent one more night at the hotel to finish training the next day, and then were sent out into the land. To get to Odessa, we had to take an overnight train leaving at 10:00 p.m. which meant we had to spend the day working in Kyiv. We joined up with two other companionships and did some “creative finding”, as our mission has called it. We walked around with a sign that had a smiley face and the word for smile on it and would yell at everyone to smile. One elder had a guitar and played music to get more attention. It opened up a lot of people for conversations, at which point we would invite them to the “English”, which is a free class offered at the church to teach people English. Not at all what I expected to do my first day, but am happy we were doing it. From what I have gathered, the emphasis of the mission has gone away from contacting or tracting, and gone toward creative finding methods. It was relieving, because contacting was not something I wanted to do.
The overnight train to Odessa was awful. There were four elders in a small room and the heater was on, so it was over a hundred degrees in there. One of the more unpleasant nights of sleep in my life. By the morning, there was a pool of liquid at the base of the window because of the condensated moisture in the air from breathing and sweat. All in all, I probably ended up with 2-3 hours of sleep that night.
Odessa is a pretty cool city. Cobblestone roads and very European looking. They have this really delicious croissant that is filled with Nutella in the stores. Apparently it can only be purchased in Odessa, so my trainer is focusing and making sure we have one every day. His passion about it is pretty funny.
Our biggest challenge right now is the lack of an area book. All we can do is contacting and creative finding to fill up our time. Fortunately, we have been given some help from a member. On Sunday, one of them gave us a referral which I hear is very rare around here. Hopefully something good will come of it. Last night while out creative finding, my companion stopped and talked to some who said, “I know who you are, I like your church, I just don’t know if it is true.” Pretty cool thing for a missionary to hear. We picked up his phone number and are going to get him a Book of Mormon tonight.
Missionary work is way tough. More so than what I expected. I am lucky to have a companion that is so good at the language. Life continues, as does the work.
P.S. One more thing that I think is funny. The movie “Hancock” must be really popular here because when a lot of people read my name, they always say something along the lines of, “Superhero!” or “Will Smith”. My favorite comment was from a member who said, “Hancock, the superhero missionary that will baptize all of Odessa.”