April 14, 2014
Well… Ukraine got crazier… Before I jump into the political atmosphere here I will talk about the biggest development for the missionaries in the last seven days. Namely, that our mission has almost doubled in size. There is no doubt that many of you have seen in the news that all of the missionaries serving in the Doneskt Mission have been evacuated to other parts of Ukraine. Well those “other parts” were all within the Kiev Ukraine mission. So this week on Friday, Elder D and I had to make a trip to the temple site in order to accept our new refugees from the east. A total of eighty-five elders and sisters have been adopted into our areas and four of those made their way to Billa Tserkva, two elders and two sisters. This puts the current number of people serving in our branch at ten. But that is nothing compared to the largest branch in Kiev which has the privilege of hosting twenty-six missionaries. In only a couple of days we have begun facing the challenges of having ten workers when the size of the branch is only seventy-five active members. I personally chuckle when I think about parts of Utah where there is only companionship assigned to a whole stake. But we are focused and are slowly adapting to a new work flow which accommodates all parties.
Fortunately, the four new missionaries serving in Billa each have easy personalities with which to work. The highlight among them is Elder Y. He actually hails from Kiev and was originally assigned to serve in the Novosibirsk Mission in Russia. There he worked for under a year and a half, before Russia’s new visa policies for Ukrainians were initiated, which reassigned him to the Doneskt area only four weeks ago. In a short amount of time he has made it even closer to home and is gradually making it back to the branch from where he left. As we talked on the bus from Kiev to Billa, Elder Y’s thought on the situation came out, showing a funny opinion: “I am happy for this opportunity to serve around Kiev. This is my home. I want more temples, more stakes, more wards. I want to help build the church here. Would suck if I return to Doneskt.”
This is the exact opposite of Sister L who is from Doneskt herself. When they are together I have been trying to keep my recorder rolling so that their conversations are not lost. They generally follow a trend where Elder Y talks about how beautiful the Ukrainian language is and this part of the country. Then Sister L comes back defending Russian and her area back east. Being able to listen to the two of them talk back and forth has been one of the highlights of the past three days.
A little bit of background information is worth giving before explaining the current events. The Doneskt area holds a strong Soviet mentality. Many of the people there will say that they actually live in Russia if you ask them. It is the complete opposite of what western Ukraine is like. A large majority of people living there would jump at any opportunity to rejoin the mother land, and that is exactly what is happening. Since Russia seized Crimea, people in the east have become more and more anxious of the prospect of joining with them. So much so that over the past week or two, many crowds of people have stormed the government buildings and raised Russian flags.
Yesterday, Sunday, the missionaries serving in my old area of Center Odessa were ordered inside because of a large riot of three thousand people going through the city. With this, many riots have broken out which escalated to the point that the Mission President there felt that it was prudent to evacuate all of his missionaries. This was done just in time.
Billa Tserkva and Kiev are calm at this point. I have talked with several people who were living around Doneskt, and came here within the last week or so for safety. Fortunately, nothing is going to happen in this area, so my safety will be okay.
With all of these new events, I was still able to do missionary work this week. The new assistants in our mission have set out a goal to help everyone become “doers”. They put forth a weekly newsletter called “Just Do It” in which is contained stories of missionaries who went out and tried new ideas for finding throughout the week. Our district has a goal to make it on the newsletter and so this week we set out to do this. As we were coming up with ideas with which we could move forward, one of the missionaries suggested that we play Ping-Pong in the center of Billa Tserkva. Everyone quickly jumped on it and the next question to answer was a matter of when to start. Elder D suggested that we go for it the very next day which was in line with the “Just Do It” attitude. So that is exactly what our district did.
It started off by moving the table from the church to the center of town. There were no members available to drive it over, so instead, our solution was to walk it over ourselves. We rolled the table through the streets with a white board on which was written, “We are playing tennis in center, come with us.” Along the way we would show the sign to cars and try to talk to people whom we passed by. A downside is that rolling the table a long way over the sidewalks and streets here are rough on the wheels.
Once we made it to center, the table was set up in a very visible place with a lot of foot traffic. We placed the white board out in front of the table where it could easily been seen and then wrote on the ground in front, “mormon.org/ukr”. It started off with just us missionaries playing along against each other. With time, a couple of people walked up and asked what we were doing there. As others began to notice this, more and more people wanted to know why all these guys wearing white shirts and ties were there. A couple of people agreed to play and before too long a small group formed around us. It was a good opportunity to talk with everyone in a comfortable setting. Several people stayed and played for a long time. The sisters bought candy which was then used as prizes to the winners. By the time we finished up, many people had stopped by to ask why we were there or better yet play a round.
There is a lot of uncertainty at this moment about the future of my work in Ukraine. But I myself have a confidence that everything will come to a resolution at some point, and the duration of my missionary work will be spent in this country. This next week should be a decisive one.
Note: Due to laws in the region, we are not able to post photos of anyone except Elder Hancock, so faces have been blotted, or photos removed from blog.