March 10, 2014
Almost all of the missionaries who come to Billa Tserkva agree that it is one of the worst cities in the Kiev Ukraine Mission. There is really nothing pretty about the town. Soviet looking domes dot the horizon with frequent pockets of run down residential housing. But there is one thing in Billa that no other city can boast of. The Billa second hands. They are stores in which the owner buys tons of old clothing in bulk and then puts it up on sale for a higher price. There is nothing special about that, you could find one of these stores in any city in the world. But Billa is different for a number of important reasons. First, they do not sell items by individual price. Rather, you gather together everything and then it is purchased in bulk by weight. I was able to buy three ties for a dollar.
The second and most important reason why Billa stands out is that people here don’t really know good brands of clothing. So it is always possible to walk in and find genuine name brand pants and jeans. For example, last Monday I went to a store with the other elders in the district. In there was a pair of Juicy Couture jeans in perfect condition and were not fakes. They were sitting there untouched. Because of the pay by weight policy, they would only be two or three dollars. Two of the ties which I purchased for a dollar, were hand made from Italy. Elder K was able to find two shirts from Hugo Boss and only paid a dollar-fifty for them. The second hand here is one small thing which redeems a lot about the city.
On Monday night, we decided to stop by the Moldavian family to see how they are doing. We prepared a nice lesson about acting on faith which we were very excited to share. As soon as we walked into their apartment though, the pastor from the Charismatic church which they attend was in the room playing his guitar. Immediately, Elder D and I looked at one another and knew that the lesson we had planned would not be a much use. The pastor began talking to us about who God is and their beliefs. Before we could get a word out he was quoting Bible verses and telling us about the true nature of religion. Fortunately, that did not last too long and we did eventually get their attention. We tried to teach the lesson we had prepared, but everyone’s attention was on the pastor so it was not of much worth to try.
Instead, we wrapped up and focused getting to know them better. We asked the pastor to play us some music, by which he was more than happy to oblige us. All of the family began singing the songs from the Charismatic church. The aunt who breast fed in front of us stood up and started praying to the rhythm of the music. Honestly speaking, I can really see the appeal of their church. The music they were playing had a good energy to it and both Elder D and I enjoyed listening to it quite a lot. It turned into a very fun visit. The family absolutely loved having us over and were quick to invite us back for another visit. Honestly, I think staying there did some good because they then came to church on Sunday…though they were quick to leave after Sacrament Meeting in order to catch the services at the other church.
We had an experience trying to work with the poorly formed address system of Ukraine on Wednesday. We started calling people out of our area book to see if they were interested in meeting. One person I talked to said that he wanted us to stop by him at his work. We promptly set an appointment for the next day and received his address. It was located on Tarashanskaya 193. When we came to the address, we found the first building named Tarashanskaya 193, but no one inside knew who the person we were trying to find was. Discouraged by this a little bit, we decided to look at the building next door. To our surprise this also had the address Tarashanskaya 193. But as the same case no one inside knew the person.
We walked to the next building which again shared the same address. And then the next one. As it turned out, there were about ten buildings in a row all with the same address. They were not connected in any way and there was no clear reason why there would be no variety to the naming. After we had walked past the buildings all labeled Tarashanskaya 193, the next number was Tarashanskaya 235. This is just one of the many examples about how frustrating it can be to find people here. Elder D made me laugh by saying that it is probably a joke in Billa, that if you want to lose someone, you just tell them you work at Tarashanskaya 193.
This week we also had two very good lessons with separate people. The first was with E and L, about whom I spoke a couple weeks ago. They were the couple where the husband is from Switzerland and only speaks English and German, and the wife is from Ukraine and only speaks Russian and German. We asked for a member from the branch who knows English well to be our member present. When we arrived, L was not present so we took it as an opportunity to sit down and talk with E. He showed us the model of the house he is planning on building on the outskirts of western Billa and gave us more insight to his history.
As all Swiss young men do, he served in the military and showed us a photo of himself jumping out of a plane. He has apparently done a total of four hundred and thirty two jumps. It was cool to see more into his background and the events which led him to Ukraine. As soon as L arrived, we began teaching. It was about the Plan of Salvation, which they both seemed to enjoy and agree with not all, but some of the points detailed therein. Our member present did a great job in his role and was able to explain things well where our vocabulary was not enough.
As was the case last time, teaching to each of them in a separate language while they then talked to each other in German was a fun experience. I think this was one of the reasons why they wanted us to come back, because they found it interesting. At the end, E prayed and said vocally that he would sincerely look into the church. It was a very enjoyable experience to everyone present and our member there absolutely loved that we brought him.
The very next day we went with the same member out to a village to teach his mother in law. She and her husband operate a small farm with an assortment of geese, chickens, turkeys, and even four cows with two calves. One thing which I noticed that frightened me a little bit was one of the dogs on a chain outside. It was tied to a small anchor in the ground. The chain was probably six feet long or so, and the dog had formed a perfect circle of trampled ground from walking around the post. I don’t think that it has been off the chain for its entire life. This is apparently common for Ukraine. The mother in law made us some dinner of livers from assorted birds, pickles, pickled tomatoes, and some mashed potatoes. It was a very typical meal. Everything was quite good, but the pickled tomatoes are still one item that I have had trouble getting used to.
After eating, we taught her and the lesson went well. The member has already taught her everything which the missionaries discuss so it was mostly focused on talking about the importance of baptism. She expressed her desire to do so, but the distance from the church limits how often she will be able to come. And because of this she is not sure if she can. We talked about the importance of effort, but that in some situations, the circumstances just do not allow for everything to work out as well as we wish. I think she will have a date before too long.
As far as the political climate here is concerned, everything has been locked in a stalemate. Russia continues to reinforce troops in Crimea, while Ukraine does so as well. One of the days, we watched a caravan of military vehicles drive past the church on their way to Kiev. They had tanks on transports and artillery pieces covered with tarps. It does not seem like the situation will escalate. The people of Ukraine do not want to begin a war, but they will be more than willing to step up and defend themselves if needed. I am still safe. Missionary work has been tougher because people often want to talk about the situation here rather than religion. Things are improving though.
Life is still good.