November 3, 2014
Latvia and Ukraine compare to each other in one simple way: everything is the same, but things in Latvia are generally nicer than Ukraine. If you want to be picky you can quickly find differences between the cultures such as differences in design of cultural clothing. Latvia, for whatever reason, has a huge obsession with pagan culture, and they might use less mayonnaise on their food. Overall though, everything there fits a general outline that is observed in Ukraine.
All of the streets in Latvia generally are well kept up, which was weird at first because Ukraine just doesn’t make that as much of a priority. The majority of people were able to speak English and most who I would contact immediately replied speaking my language, and public transportation there is really nice (their tram system has a GPS and screen inside the newer trains that show in real time your location on a map of the city. That was a very nice feature.)
The food there is more or less what Ukraine offers, except for this one dish that is a flattened filet of chicken with tomato and cheese cooked on top. The people there are just as nice as in Ukraine, as one person walked entirely out of his way with us to find an address. Latvian sounds incredibly weird, and a couple of times someone would start talking to me in Russian, but it took a minute for me to click onto that, as their accents were so heavy. The language seems like German and Ukrainian had some kind of a weird child. During my time there, I was able to meet a lot of good missionaries and interesting people. Their mission is very hard working and frankly, one to look up to, as all of the missionaries seemed very focused in what they are doing. The four days were over way too fast and before I knew it, we were back on the plane to Ukraine.
During my stay in Latvia, I was able to use my work in Ukraine to help the missionaries serving there. An investigator with whom we have been working for the past seven months told me that she has a friend living in Riga. She said that me going there would be a great opportunity for her to send a gift with me, and I agreed to be her courier. She gave me a piece of paper which had written all of her friend’s contact information. He was a little shocked to hear the voice of some American saying his name and I asked him if he knew why I was calling. He said that it was not clear to him, so I explained for what purpose that call was, and he became really enthusiastic to talk. We set up a time to meet for Wednesday, and met at the church. Sitting down, we talked about general topics including why he is living in Latvia rather than Ukraine, interests, and careers. Then the conversation, for one reason or the other, led to him telling my how he became a believing person.
It is quite a funny story so I will give the details. While living in Ukraine, he had to take an overnight train into some other city. Sitting in the same compartment that he had ordered was a woman who represented some faith. They started to chat and it came out that he himself was a very strong atheist. He said that nothing would ever change him of his views and he loved the Soviet Union, to which the woman replied, “Well, let’s see.” Through the course of the night she took every point of doctrine of Soviet ideas and showed him how they are all just derivatives of the Ten Commandments and Bible. By the morning he was left in shock as she departed from the train, and over the next couple of days started to believe very heavily in God.
After telling his conversion story, he asked specifically how our church differs from other religions. This question gets asked to me a lot, and time has told me that one of the better ways to answer it is the following. “I have a short lesson about our church that will take up fifteen minutes. We can begin and end with a prayer and in it you will learn the most important parts of our message. At the end I will then ask you that same question and I want you to tell me what differences there are.” It caught his attention pretty well and he agreed.
The two elders with whom I was living were both Latvian speaking and did not understand much, if any, of the conversation to this point. Just about this time, the Russian speaking zone leaders walked in, so I invited them to sit down in place of the Latvians, to which request they agreed. Over the next twenty minutes we talked about the Restoration, and in the end he agreed to keep meeting with the missionaries. Everything in that situation worked our perfectly. Our conversation led to an easy point to talk about the church, he was more than happy to hear what we have to say, and the Russian speaking missionaries walked in at the perfect time, making it easy to pass him over to their hands. It was very cool to be able to do something to help the missionary work for them, even while being there as a guest, and I felt very good walking out of the church that night.
Coming back to Ukraine, I was given a nice welcoming present, as all of the missionaries serving in and around Kiev were invited to a three hour training session conducted by Elder Tad R. Callister. He focused on teaching us how to become better teachers, and showed creative processes to use, which helps focus on important points in a lesson and content to back up those points. Much to my disappointment, he is much shorter in real life than I expected him to be. At General Conference he seemed like six-five or taller, but shaking his hand he was just about my same height. Overall, it was still a good training session, but I just cannot get over that fact that he isn’t the giant that I expected him to be.
My week capped off with the announcement to me that one of my favorite missionaries, Elder Y, was not given an extended visa and is getting kicked out of the country back to Russia. He is very good at seeing the needs of other people and talking things over. He also at this point holds the branch in Chernigov together, as all but one of the leaders here have only been members of the church for just over a year. We met together at the Branch President’s house for a dinner of borsch, carrot salad, and mashed potatoes, as a last time thing for Elder Y. It is too bad to see him leave, and there is a lot of good which he does here.
That more or less sums up the duration of my week as there isn’t really time or topics about which to keep writing.