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The Sweet and the Sour — And Potatoes!

At the branch here in Billa Tserkva, there are several families who do not live within the city. Rather, their dwellings are organized in villages scattered throughout the countryside. This style of living is very common, and even the native missionary in our district was born in a village before her family moved to the larger city of Donetsk. Because of where these members are located, it is often difficult to find time in which we can go out to visit them. Often the challenge comes in either they are not available or we are not. But this week we were finally able to set up with one of the couples, R and G, and go over with the sisters in our district.


To help people travel from their villages to the city, private companies have set up bus routes. The buses they use are like nothing which you would come across in the U.S. They all run off of natural gas and as such have large groups of gas cylinders lining the roof. The sound they make is extremely loud and iconic. It is one which I can spot out immediately. They have a low frequency that is similar to the sound of a tractor. Each of the busses has been operating for years, which means that mechanical malfunctions are not uncommon. In order for our driver to start up the engine, he had to open up the front and use a wrench for something. It started up slowly, as though it was an old lawn mower, but once it was going, it did not seem like the thing would stop. Our drive took a little over an hour and the weather outside had gone below freezing the night before, which meant that our old bus was cold inside as well. Fortunately, I sat in the seat over the engine, so after twenty minutes or so, my place was warm.


Because of the temperature outside, R decided that our clothes were not sufficient enough and walked up to her attic where she found some better protection. The sweater I was given was without a doubt the warmest I have ever had. It was old and very dirty, but the effectiveness with which it keeps in body heat redeemed all of its shortcomings. She then gave me this very old military jacket on which the zipper was broken, and the solution was to sew in buttons so that it would stay together. Both articles of clothing were really old, but they have done the best job yet in keeping me warm. Ukrainian people really know how to make warm clothing. Afterward, I mentioned to G how much I enjoyed them and his response was to give each to me. I tried to say that it was not necessary, but he was persistent and no was not much of an answer. I accepted and deep inside was glad because they were awesome. Elder D was even given this rainbow sweater of which the condition was on par with my own, and also in harmony with my experience, he was happy to accept because how good it was.


We were able to help our R and G by the means of their little farm which they operate behind their house. All four of us missionaries, along with our two hosts, walked out into their field and began to plant potatoes. We worked in teams of two where one person digs a small hole while the other throws in old potatoes. Then the next hole is dug right behind so that the dirt from the second can be used to fill in the first. It was a very efficient way of working and we had all of the field done in less than two hours. It was relaxing work overall.


Afterward, G looked at what we had managed to get done and said with a defined sense of satisfaction, “That is good, it is time to rest.” We all went back into the house and as soon as we entered, the sisters were pulled into the kitchen to help cook. As we tried to do likewise, G said that it was time for us to rest and led us into their living room. Elder D and I sat around their table, but as G came back he said to us, “What are you doing? I said that it is time to rest.” We then did as he said and I laid on the floor next to the heater while Elder D laid across the couch. The third time G came back, he comment was short and to the point, “Correct.” After some time, everyone came into the room and brought in the food. We had borsch, bread, pickled tomatoes, and small doughnuts filled with either crushed lentils or jam. It was a really good meal and ended with R giving us a spiritual thought instead of the other way around.


This week my companion had to make two trips to Kiev. One was on Monday for our zone meeting, and the other on Thursday for exchanges with the zone leaders. It takes at least two hours of travel time to get from Billa to Center Kiev where we needed to meet. It is always fun to be able to see the big city, but doing this travel twice in a single week is just too inconvenient because of how much time it requires us to be out of our area. They were both good experiences and I was able to buy a scarf commemorating those who died at Maidon during the revolution.


Sunday was like most days except for one point where I was talked to S the American. He is currently writing a talk and I thought his words would be interesting to share. His dad worked in a candy shop for a portion of his life and there developed the confectioner’s trade. As S would grow up, his dad would frequently put his skill to work and make balls of candied corn for his family. Over time Stan eventually learned the secrets himself and began to make his own. But as he left home for the military and college, the time to make the candy was nowhere, and through the years he eventually forgot exactly what the trick was. At one point after his military service was ended, he decided to try the old recipe which his dad taught him. He did not have the details written down anywhere so everything needed to be brought back from the recesses of time.


When the food was finished, it just did not turn out the same as his dad would prepare. With several more attempts, S still could not find what it was that was needed. The next time he and his dad met, the question was brought up as to what was done wrong. As his dad looked back at him the answer was short, “vinegar”. You see, in order to make the sweet balls of corn distinct, they needed the contrast offered by the sour and bitter vinegar. In life, we find a reflection of this situation. Sometimes in order to know what is sweet, you must first know what is sour. The trials of life lend opportunities of growth which allow us not only to develop our own character, but to help us better appreciate the good that we do have. As with the candy recipe, without both moments of happiness (the sweet) and moments of sorrow (the sour), we will not be able to receive the fullest that life has to offer.


The other bit of news to share comes back to General Conference over the weekend. I won’t be able to watch it until this Sunday so this news was reported by the assistants. President Klebingat has been called and sustained to serve in the First Quorum of the Seventy. I don’t know when his duties will start, so I may have a new mission president in the coming weeks.


Not a bad week.




Elder Hancock


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