August 24, 2014
My trainer Elder K served in Chernigov just before he started training me in Odessa. During his time here, he found a twenty-eight year old man named W from Palestine. After Elder K left, W continued to meet with the missionaries and eventually became a member of the church. I would like to take some time today to share his story.
W grew up as a Muslim in the Gaza Strip. At a young age his sister was murdered because she was a rape victim. This and other events led W to doubt his faith in his religion, leading to a point where he was ready to throw it away all together. It was at this point that he began talking to a friend who is a Christian. It should be understood that although there is a Christian presence in this area of the world, they are still heavily persecuted by the much larger Muslim population, and because of this, conversion from Muslim to Christianity is seen as being very bad.
Through their conversations, W decided to change his religion. To quote him from a conversation I personally had with him, “I want to believe in God, but Muslims are just not a religion. They do not love. They do not understand.” I found the process of conversion for him to be interesting because of how secret they needed to be about everything. He met with a few people for lunch and they conducted somewhat of an interview to see if he was serious about his desire, or moving forward with the goal of uncovering their operations. They gave him an MP3 player which was rigged to play the Bible, and quickly switch to music with the touch of a couple of buttons in case someone came close to them. He was baptized in secret and went about worshiping without the knowledge of his family.
Things came to a tipping point when his brother found about what he had done. They broke into a fist fight, ending with W running away. In fear of what his family would do to him, he packed a small bag with his documents and fled the country to Jordan. There he applied for asylum to several different countries and was accepted by Ukraine, which is how he ended here. Since his coming, he has been trying to receive a visa to the United States with little success, and seems to be stuck where he is.
When his visa for Ukraine came close to expiring, he applied to have it extended and found someone from his country to translate to the government workers. They decided that he did not need to remain here and were going to export him. W discovered that his translator was in contact with W’s family and had been lying to the officials in order to send him back to Palestine. He was able to find someone else and managed to get everything worked out the week that he was going to leave. Since then, he has done his best to find work and currently moves watermelons eleven hours a day, seven days a week for eighteen griven in a day; or one dollar and fifty cents.
Throughout my time here, I have frequently met with him and our meeting this week impressed me that I should share this in my weekly letter. We visited him with a senior missionary couple who came to do apartment inspections, and W shared his experiences with them. Currently, he is working in order to save up enough money so that he can buy winter clothes to get him through the next months. It has been humbling to come to know W and he has grown into a great support for me. He is strong in what he believes, and even though has many reasons to blame the world, holds to his faith and takes every day at the pace which it comes.
Also during the course of our week, Elder H and I were able to see an interesting turn around in our successes. It has been very difficult to find people to teach during this transfer. I cannot say that it has been because of a lack of effort, rather that things just seem to be going the opposite of what we would want. It came to a point on Friday night that Elder H suggested that he and I should fast the next day. At this prospect, I became a little disappointed. It was not something that seemed very enjoyable to me, but saying no is like choosing to take the low road in things. Begrudgingly, I agreed and we went the next day without food or water until four P.M. For whatever reason, this time fasting was very difficult for me. From the get go of waking up, I was already thirsty and then, of all days, the other elders in our district offered to buy us lunch at a restaurant. Not really convenient timing, to say the least.
Fortunately, our efforts seemed to bring some pay off. During the day, I put a focus on sending out texts about our English club to people who have given us their number in the past, and we were able to see several new people come that day. At the end of the practice, Elder A gave a spiritual thought, and one of the new people to come walked up to me afterward and commented on how much he enjoyed it. I invited him to be with us at church the next day, and much to my surprise, he came. We talked afterward and this person said that he enjoyed everything. He agreed to my invitation to listen to our missionary lessons, and we are going to work with him from this point forward. Also on Sunday, two members brought a friend of theirs to church. After the third hour, I spoke with him a bit and he also accepted my invitation. Finally, as we were walking away from the building, a man approached us with his girlfriend, saying that he had attended our services in the past. He wants to meet with us and gave his phone number. We went from not a whole lot happening to three new solid potential investigators in one day.
Also in church I was asked to give the final talk for Sacrament Meeting. My subject was on study of the scriptures. In a separate email is a copy of the original text, the translation by one of the branch members, and the translation back to English as given by Google. I thought it would be interesting to include.
Overall, this has been an enjoyable week with some unexpected developments. Life is good.