July 7, 2014
This past Monday marked a milestone of growing maturity as I turned twenty-one years old. To my surprise, this age actually has a minor set of privileges attached here in Ukraine. Most notably, that I can now purchase hard alcohol. People are allowed to buy beer when they are eighteen (or younger if you pay a little extra). But concentrated beverages such as Vodka are not allowed until later. I came to know this information on Monday morning when one of the members called and started singing happy birthday to me. She asked what my plans were and then explained with a facetious sense of humor that I should go to one of the night clubs to find some devooshkee (girls).
As far as the celebrating of my birthday in Chernigov, my personal plans were to go out to lunch for some nice food and then spend the rest of my preparation day sleeping. As it turned out, the members of my district had a different vision. We all had lunch together at this Ukrainian food place which sells some really delicious varenekee. It was nice and afterward I was ready to take the walk home and onto my bed. As I was walking out of the restaurant, my companion, Elder A, walked up behind me and threw a blindfold over my eyes. It was then that the other elders pushed me into a taxi which drove around in what seemed like circles for ten or so minutes. After we came to a stop, Elder A pulled me out of the car and started directing me around while the blind fold was still on. I had no idea what was happening, only that there were many people through which we were moving. At one point, Elder A suddenly pulled me back because a small child had run directly in front of me. After another ten minutes of this I started hearing the sounds of rides going on around me. They walked me over to one of these said rides and placed me on it. As it came to the top, they took off the blindfold and I was on a Ferris wheel overlooking the city of Chernigov. Overall, it was a good surprise. As we came off the ride, our district walked around together and played the different carnival games. It was a good time.
Also in other news, the missionaries and I had the opportunity to welcome in a new mission president this last week. My final thoughts about the Klebingats are all good. They are both highly functioning people and I was able to learn much from their examples. I will likely see them again at a zone conference because at the end of the month Elder Klebingat will assume his new calling as the second counselor in the area presidency of the Europe East Area.
Our mission was able to become acquainted with our new leader last Friday in his first zone conference. His name is President Packer and he is the grandson of Elder Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve. Before receiving his calling, President Packer worked for the Missionary Department, serving in various capacities. It is interesting to have someone with this kind of background, because he can give us a little more explanation behind why certain administerial decisions are made, and because he has spent much time touring other missions throughout the world.
The majority of the conference was used to help us develop our understanding of the Packer family as a whole. They prepared a slide show of their history and had each of their four children introduce themselves. President Packer then took some time to talk about his missionary experiences serving in the Russia St. Petersburg mission. Listening to him discuss the long term effects of his work there helped me build perspective as to what I am doing here.
For example, he shared with us a story in which he personally shared a Book of Mormon with someone on a train and then never saw him. That person read the entirety of the book and waited anxiously for the day that he would again see missionaries. When that day arrived, they started meeting right away and he shortly accepted baptism. Hearing experiences like this give me hope as to what I am doing here, because up to this point I have only been able to see one of my investigators accept baptism; and this person is gradually becoming inactive. Leaving the conference came with a rejuvenated feeling and desire to keep trying.
I have a couple other experiences from this week, but feel like I should share a different story about how a branch came together in a different city in Ukraine, Vinnitsa. It started with the first member of the city who was traveling through France before he even heard about the LDS church. While there, he met two missionaries who tried their best to teach him. He did not speak English or French and they did not speak Russian. Even with the challenges of the language, the missionaries were able to find him a copy of the Book of Mormon in Russian and as he read it, he decided to be baptized.
It was shortly after this that he returned to Ukraine and lost touch with the two missionaries. For the first several years of his membership in the church he lived in Vinnitsa and would make a three hour commute to attend church in Kiev. After some time he wanted to start up a branch in his own city. The problem was that the mission president would not let the missionaries proselyte there unless there was visible potential. After playing around with several ideas, this lonely member convinced ten of his friends to lie and say they were interested in knowing more about the church. This is how the managed to bring the missionaries to the city. The branch started with this one member and a set of missionaries with no real potential for new converts. They worked together and over time the city of one convert has grown to one-hundred and fifty. All this success started with the work of two French speaking missionaries who for all they know may have done nothing else their entire missions. Just kind of interesting.
That is all I have time for this week and hope that it is at least moderately entertaining to a couple of you.