May 5, 2014
Overall, I am very sad to leave Billa Tserkva. It is without a doubt one of the most weird places in the whole world. They did not speak a real language– the city was as boring and soviet as they come –but the people were just very nice and always willing to talk. My last three days as I prepared to pack and shore up the relationships I had made went all too fast. But it was good and came with several good experiences such as the following:
Several weeks ago, Elder K contacted a man on the street, B, and started talking about boxing. This person turned out to be a police officer and wanted to meet with Elder K in order to get some practice. Every single time we have met with B it has been at the police headquarters in the center of the city. We are not allowed to wear our proselyting clothes, name tags, or speak Russian as we walk through the compound. He meets us out front and then guides us through to the gym. While there, we have mostly done weight lifting with him, but this last Tuesday, he took us somewhere else and we practiced boxing with one another. It was one of those moments where it really became apparent to me as to how weird some of the situations which missionaries get themselves into can be. Here Elder K and I were, two twenty year old American boys getting boxing lessons from a police officer inside their compound which was situated right next to a prison. The whole time speaking Russian and being in Ukraine. This was a cool moment of self-reflection. Toward the end, B wanted to show me some of the take down moves which he has learned in his work. So he would have me attack him and then he would counter by twisting my arm, throwing me to the ground, and placing his knee on my back. It was very fun, but at some points kind of hurt because of how much he was getting into it. He then showed us a couple of different punches we could throw in a fight which would take an attacker down with ease. Leaving through the gates, I couldn’t help but laugh at everything that had just happened.
On Tuesday all of the elders in the district went out to S’s house so that I could help him with some work and talk one last time. We all fenced an area which he is going to use for grazing sheep. The whole time I would ask him questions about the different militaries in the world and he would be able to give detailed and insightful answers based on his experience. After working, we came inside and had sloppy joes for which Elder D sacrificed three of his McCormick sloppy joe mix packets. It was nice to sit down around a table for the last time and talk with everyone there. I was able to get one last story from S which I recorded on my Dictaphone. On the way out of the village, we drove past D’s small house and at that moment, it really set in that this was the last time I was going to be there. Now I am out of Billa Tserkva and off to a different world.
When I came to Chernigov, my initial thought was, “The gift of tongues has finally started working. I can actually understand what people are saying to me.” It didn’t take long though, to realize that it was just because they were actually speaking Russian. Where as in Billa, they only thought they were speaking Russian. Geographically, Chernigov is very close to the great red nation. So many of the people here have personal ties to the mother land. One homeless person with whom I was able to speak told me that Chernigov is actually currently in Russia. And Ukraine as a whole is just a state of the larger country. At first I thought he was making some political comment about the potential of war here, but after talking some more, it became apparent that he really does think that he is currently in Russia. It was funny.
Chernigov is a medium sized city. Here in Ukraine, the best unit of measurement to illustrate population is to look at the number of McDonald’s locations. Billa Tserkva is a small city and does not have any locations. Chernigov is larger and is a one McDonald’s city. Others like Vinnitsa are two McDonald’s cities. Then there are Kiev and Odessa which are five+ McDonald’s. So my current place is nice. It is not too big, but also not horribly small. A lot of the buildings around Center are very old and have a nice European style to them. There are several fountains scattered around which give a little more character to the overall feel of the area. Things are looking good so far.
This week showed me a bit of a miracle. As I came to the city, the current area did not have any investigators. This has been the same case with the last three areas in which I have served. So it was kind of discouraging. But at the same time gave me a bit of adrenaline. Kind of like a situation where someone looks at what is coming and then just says to themselves, “I am not going to be dealing with this again.” So I really hit the ground hard trying to find people on the streets. The first day we contacted for four hours and in the end were able to receive one phone number. The second day is where things changed. At the end of the night, we had three hours left and went out to go finding. The first person was a guy from India who did not speak any Russian and barely any English. But he was interested in meeting with us and gave his number. From that point, we were able to hand out four copies of the Book of Mormon to people and received five numbers in total. It was a great turn around. One person even met with us the next day on Sunday, though the lesson did not go as well as we had hoped.
It has been a good start to my new area. The city is very cool and the people have been nice so far. I am excited to see how things are going to continue moving.