December 1, 2014
Well, the city of Voskrasensky isn’t quite what I thought it would be, rather a little bit worse. It is a residential area so there is not anything interesting to look at. Only giant twenty story domes dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. You can compare it to urban sprawl in the United States. Large sub developments of houses will shoot out along the landscape over a relatively short period of time so there is little variation to the way they look. There are not interesting historical sites or old buildings to keep a wandering eye entertained. That is more or less the way Voskrasensky looks. It is a younger section of the city so most everything has been built in the last twenty years.
Center Kiev has a lot of history and each of the buildings maintain their own character. Many of the streets are cobblestone, and parks can be found with ease. As my new companion Elder W and I were contacting around the streets, I could not figure out to save my life where we were located. Everything looks the same and the fact that winter has come in, kicking off the leaves from the trees, does not help it much. I was pretty spoiled with Chernigov because the city is over seven hundred years old and has developed many interesting things to look at because of its age. From this point, I think that it is going to be a long winter if we cannot find anything to do besides contacting.
The saving grace of the area is the ward. Up to this point in my mission I have only served in branches, so being a part of the stake now comes with some major changes. The first one I noted is how well everything here functions. In our missionary coordination meeting, things ran exactly as they were supposed to. Even more so was the way the priesthood executive meeting went while I was there. It was very well organized, the people knew exactly how things should run and there were clear goals walking out. The bishop is very on top of things and his counselors give him the needed support.
It was difficult in Chernigov because most of the active members in the branch are members of less than three years. They all have a huge desire to step up and work, but they still need to learn a lot about their callings and the way things need to function. Elder A is currently serving there as the first counselor to the branch president, with no second counselor. So the main leadership of the branch is a recent convert of seven months and a twenty year old missionary, who is still learning Russian. The ward here is well beyond that point, which is quite refreshing.
Since being in Ukraine, I have learned well the challenges of a young church. I have had the opportunity to get to know a couple of members from Voskresensky, and most have a strong grasp as to what it means to be a member of the church. They sincerely love and care for one another which can be seen in the way they stay after all the meetings to talk about things.
In my past branches, people feel the rush to get out and back to the world. Church is more of a couple hours on Sunday, and maybe some time during the week if home or visiting teaching needs to be done. There is not near as much unity between the members, which can be observed easily in the way the Elders Quorum would get into arguments with each other over small details about doctrine every Sunday without fail. All the members in Ukraine are incredible people and often have sacrificed a lot to be in church considered to be a cult by most people here. They are just learning.
Being here has given me a large appreciation for the challenges that would have arisen among the members of the early church around Joseph Smith’s day. Once upon a time, I had this view that they worked together very well and any challenges they had were the results of nonmembers placing stresses on their community. How wrong that understanding really is, though. In reality, the people in that time would have had an incredibly difficult time even to organize the way a Sacrament Meeting should be conducted. In today’s world, everything is very clearly explained through manuals and other church training opportunities. Even when we live in a time when it is so easy to give correction to people over a phone and general communication a button away, people still find things over which to become confused and argue. To manage a large church in the days of Joseph Smith, or even Paul the apostle, is seemingly impossible to me. But by some miracle, it worked out.
This past week brought the opportunity to meet a family that has suffered a lot to be Christian. They lived in Iran with their friends and relatives, and at one point the father found a job for an American company. He learned English and started talking with one of the workers there who was a Christian. Through the following months, their conversations became deeper and more frequent, leading to this man taking the leap of accepting baptism into the Baptist church.
His family and he spent the next year or so attending an underground Baptist church, because practicing any religion besides Islam is illegal there. It came to a climax when the church of which he was a member was raided by police and all of the clergy was arrested, with several members. In fear of having the same result, he spent the next month lying low, while processing refuge applications to many different countries. Ukraine accepted his, so his family locked their front door, placed their two cars in their garage and left with very little things.
His family refuses to acknowledge his existence because of his conversion, and does not know that he now has a second child. The few times he has tried to call his mother, she would immediately hang up the phone without a word. During his time in Ukraine, he found the LDS church and felt so strong about the Book of Mormon that he and his family shortly accepted baptism. This man was well off in Iran, as he had two cars and his own house. His business was working on oil rigs, which has proved of little help living now in a country which does not produce oil. Learning Russian has been difficult, and finding a job almost impossible. He has gone from riches to rags, as he is now heavily reliant on church welfare. Even with all of these challenges, he keeps an optimistic tone about his future and maintains a confident assurance that everything to this point in his life has happened for a reason.
There have been many good lessons learned during my time here. I am now four days from having only eight months left on my mission. This has gone faster than I expected it to.
Enclosed are two photos of me leaving Chernigov, and the sunset with the current time of day.