May 12, 2014
With each new week the church takes more and more steps in preparing for the worst case scenario in Ukraine. This week they officially reassigned all of the missionaries from Donetsk to finish out the durations of their missions in their home countries. This came as a shock to all of us. On Tuesday we met together for a zone conference and the news that a decision had been made came to the general authority, Elder Bennett, visiting with us only a half hour before the conference began. Instead of taking some time to make an official announcement to the mission as a whole, President Klebingat and Elder Bennett decided to tell us in person, and then immediately held a conference call with the rest of the missionaries not present. All of the Donetsk missionaries were shocked to say the least. It was a rough moment for all of them.
From that point, both President Klebingat and Elder Bennett decided to drop their prepared material and instead focus the meeting on strengthening everyone. There was much time spent talking about how this change was meant to happen and that everything would work out for the better. A calm and reassuring spirit came over everyone present and by the time we were finished, not a single person had a bitter attitude. At its worst, they were just sad to say goodbye to Ukraine. This information came to us on Tuesday and all the missionaries were in the airport by Friday morning.
It is tough to guess what my fate will be here. Overall, I am optimistic that things will come to a resolution which will allow me to finish my time in this country for which I have a great love. But reality seems to be pushing a different direction. Elections for the president who will replace the ousted Yanakovich are going to happen on the 24th of May. That should be a decisive moment in determining my future here.
With all of the uncertainty in the political atmosphere, I surprisingly have been able to find success in my efforts here. We have been able to find a couple people who are interested in meeting with us. They come from a broad range of backgrounds and have varied interest in the church. The first worth mentioning is F. He is living in Ukraine from Sri Lanka. He speaks absolutely no Russian and barely can communicate in English. As Elder A and I tried to teach the Restoration to him, it became clear how little he understood because his answers had nothing to do with what we asked. It gave some understanding as to how natives must feel when they ask a question and I clearly did not know what they said, but trying to not let it show, just saying something anyway. As we told our mission coordination leader about F, he just looked at us and said, “Where the heck did you find someone like this? And what is he doing in Ukraine?” To say the least, we are not sure how to go about teaching him. But we did manage to find a copy of The Book of Mormon in the Tamil language which is what he speaks.
We are trying a different route with two other people with whom we are trying to meet. The idea came from the work Elder D and I did in Billa Tserkva. One of the police officers with whom we weight lifted has agreed to start taking the missionary lessons. But he only did that after we spent a month becoming friends with one another by working out and boxing together. So that has been some of my focus here. One person, O, is interested in Ping-Pong so we have been meeting up with him once a week to play for an hour. It is a good opportunity to talk casually and really build up a good friendship. With the second person, Roman, we have been meeting up and playing tennis together. Overall, I think that it is a good way to do missionary work. Member referrals are by far the exception rather than the rule, so I am trying to figure out news ways to find people.
As sad as the Donetsk missionary exodus was, it did show me a pretty funny situation. When missionaries come into the country they face the challenge of getting their luggage underweight for the airline. I myself just barely made it. While they are here, they gradually buy more and more stuff, and when it comes to the end of their mission, they ditch everything missionary related and go home with their souvenirs. Well this was Elder F’s plan who was living in the same apartment as me here in Chernigov. He has bought three large fur hats and a gigantic wolf fur coat which came down below his knees. And many other things which he could take back to the U.S. no problem, if it was the end of his service. But at this point he still has another six months and is now in the Redlands California mission. So getting rid of his missionary clothes was not an option. It was entertaining to say the least as I watched him sort through what he decided were essentials. There was quite a bit he threw away and I even managed to swipe an old Soviet Union military messenger bag for free. If I am evacuated I have not idea as to what I am going to do because my bags barely made weight coming into the country, and there have been a great number of things I have bought so far. It will be inconvenient to say the least.
Thing have been surprising but overall good over the past week. Chernigov is a very nice city and up to this point has proven itself.