December 22, 2014
Ukraine has been having unusually warm weather lately. This past week has been filled with a lot of rain. Despite the fact that it is late December and at a point that should be well on its way into winter weather, we have been rather warm. The result of this is that there is no snow. A lot of puddles, but no snow. I myself am torn in my feelings about it. On the one hand, I had really hoped to experience record cold temperatures during my stay here. But if trends keep as they have been, that will stay in the realm of wishful thinking. On the other hand, fate has led a good portion of our time to be spent contacting people on the streets for several hours a day. To say the least, the warm weather has been a much appreciated change of things.
This all comes at a much needed time for Ukraine as well. The entire country is heavily dependent on natural gas supplied by Russia. They use it to boil water, which is pumped through buildings for heating, a good majority of appliances are powered by it, and even many of the cars and buses do not run on gasoline, but natural gas. This time last year, gas was so cheap that my old branch president would leave the burners on his stove on all day to heat his house. I asked him how much it cost a month to do that and he said it was about three dollars. With the tension between the Red Empire and Eastern Europe’s bread basket, Russia cut off natural gas sales to Ukraine. This has led to a very large increase in the cost of everything here. Coupled with the fact that the value of the local currency, the grivina, has decreased by half over the past year, people here are struggling to live.
To help cut costs, the cities have started cutting power to buildings during certain parts of the day, mostly during the night time. They also turn off hot water to buildings during times when people are not likely to be home. To say the least, everyone has been very cold and if the temperatures were to be what they have in the past, then things would be incredibly difficult to live. My companion and I are lucky because the apartment in which we live has heated tiles which make up for the lack of everything else.
Another challenge that comes to missionary work during the winter is found in the length of days. Yesterday was winter solstice, placing the time of sunset at just a little bit before 4:00 P.M. When everything is pitch black by 5:00, there are only two types of people wandering the streets. Those with a clear destination and arrival time in mind, and drunk people. Yesterday was filled with the latter of the two. One person was standing on the other side of the crosswalk adjacent to us when he noticed our missionary tags. His response was to throw up his arms with excitement and then forward to shake my hand as we walked toward him. Against my better judgment, I agreed to talk, but realized the mistake only five seconds after he started talking. I asked him simply, “You’re drunk aren’t you?” To which he replied very enthusiastically “Yes!”
This man could barely hold a thought together and frequently switched between Russian and the handful of English phrases he knows, chief among these being the f-word. I am at a point in my mission where I have learned that the best way to get out of these occurrences is by simply walking away. The majority of the time it works as the drunk person, like a kid in a candy shop, will get distracted by a tree, as a child would act upon finding an open barrel of Skittles.
This person, on the other hand, had a lot more persistence than I expected. He followed us for more than a city block, asking us to explain what we have to say to everyone. I gave him a business card saying that we would be happy to talk some other time, but it did not satisfy his curiosity. It came to a point that we realized the only way to get rid of him, would be to think out of the box. I told Elder Wimmer to walk a little bit faster and in pace next to me. I told him to slowly start leaning left in tandem with me and then back to the right. The idea is that he needed to use us as a reference to keep his balance, and having us leaned sideways would eventually cause him to fall over. Unfortunately, he did not fall over, but what did happen is that it because too difficult to keep his balance and talk at the same time and he eventually gave up all together. We continued on walking home, having triumphantly outwitted another drunk person.
Earlier that same evening came a very interesting conversation that was a first in my mission. We created a list of addresses of past investigators from earlier missionaries. One of these brought us to a large apartment building located on the very edge of Kiev. We used the intercom system to call his apartment. As soon as he understood who we were, he said that he would be coming right down. This is generally not the type of response that comes, so I was actually very excited. This man came out and started speaking in English to us. It was not too understandable so we quickly switched to Russian. He explained with great difficulty that he had epilepsy and that he is not able to leave his apartment for health reasons.
Our conversation started off very well and seemed promising, but then it took a turn that went from odd to very weird. He mentioned that he frequently talks to God. There is nothing odd in that, as people here are incredibly spiritual and will often say things like that describing prayer. But as we talked some more, I understood that he sincerely thinks that he speaks face to face with God. He went on to say that at five years old he went blind in his right eye and then received sight again sometime later. His healing brought with the power to see the future and he explained that he knows everything that is going to happen in nine months’ time.
I asked him if he would be interested in us coming back to talk about our message, to which he said, “I am only interested in talking with God.” I asked him to explain, and he said that he could already talk to God face to face and did not need us for anything. Furthermore, he could know everything that we had to say through his supernal conversations. I understood very well at that point that it would not be beneficial to either party for us to return. We said our goodbyes and parted ways.
In spite of all of the odd events this week, we were able to have some good success. One of our investigators has agreed to be baptized on February 28th. She is currently in an unofficial marriage with a man with whom she has a child, so they need to get married before that happens. I have genuine hope that everything will work out for them. I cannot say for sure because there are a lot of variables to consider, but as of right now it looks good.
Overall, not a bad week.