March 9, 2015
This week I was able to serve on a twenty-four hour exchange with an elder from Kazakhstan, Elder K. It acted as an unexpected window into another culture. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to serve with a native companion, which surprises me because they almost make up half of the mission. The first thing that surprised me was him talking about his public schooling. As a result of World War II, the country took steps to have their citizens better prepared to pick up a firearm and defend the country.
One of these is a school program called “Beginners War Preparation”. In school they would learn the basics of fighting and survival skills. A part of this is that every school there has a fully functional AK-47 assault rifle and RPK 74 machine gun. They take turns teaching the students how to completely disassemble and operate the gun. The requirements are that they need to be able to disable both blind folded in less than thirty seconds. It is a little different than the family and consumer science classes which are conducted in U.S. schools.
The second surprise should not have been much of a surprise, but came with disappointment none the less. Elder K believes very strongly in the squazniak. I have written about this many times before but will give a refresher. Basically, any draft that touches the back of your neck will make you sick. Many believe that it is even a living organism.
After finishing all of our activities for the day and heading to bed, I went to open the window because it was pretty warm in our apartment. Elder K turned to me and asked if I believed in squazniak. “Of course not,” I replied. He said that he did and needed the window to be closed while we slept. I protested some, to which he asked with a very worried voice that we just keep the window closed. He was deathly afraid of the prospect of keeping it open. We slept that night with it closed and all of the heaters in the apartment on so it was not too cold for him. It ended up not being too bad, but the next night when Elder W was back, the window was cracked open as usual.
The day following exchanges brought both success and frustration which came from working on the written records of past missionaries. Anyone who has given their number to a missionary has their contact information written down in a blue binder called an area book. Every apartment has one, and it is a record of the meetings and work of every missionary who has ever come through.
Regardless of the fact that we slept with the window closed, Elder K woke up the next day sick. We left early in the morning so Elder Kudibergan could go sleep and recover in his own apartment in Brovary. I brought the area book from my apartment so that I would have something to do in theirs.
For several hours I sat down at a desk with a cell phone and made calls to old numbers written in the book. Some of the pages of sheets were well organized and I was able to find several people who still want to meet with us. Dealing with others was a nightmare, though. I called one number which had been written down with very little information just over a year ago. A woman answered and was more than happy to talk. I asked her why she stopped meeting with the missionaries, to which she replied that it was because she was baptized into the church. I asked when that was, and she replied ten years ago. I asked in what city she lives, to which she said the name of one which is more than fifteen hours away from Kiev and in a completely different mission than us. We talked for seven minutes about the church in the area and she got a good laugh out of the phone call. I just could not understand how some missionary picked up her number in the first place and then decided to write it down on a piece of paper entitled “Potential Investigators”. This happened a couple more times on the same page, except that these members actually lived in Kiev. They all thought it was funny to be asked if they would still be interested in continuing to meet with missionaries. Fortunately though, I was able to set up four lessons over the next week from it.
One of the numbers which I called from our list was willing to meet, but turned out to not be what I had expected. He said that we could meet on Friday during the day and that he knew exactly where our church was located. We waited at the planned time and he did not show up. After a half hour we called, and he said that he was still coming, but a little late. After waiting the extra time he still did not show. We called him back and he said that he came but the doors were closed. There are two sets of main doors to our church building so we assumed that he had just approached the other. He agreed to come back but never showed up as we waited by the other set of doors.
I called again and just asked if he was even at the right address. He gave a street name that I did not recognize and then said the city in which he was located, Cherkassy. A small city that is three hours outside of Kiev. Why his name was written on our lists is beyond me. Fortunately, the missionaries serving in that area happened to be at the church and are now conducting lessons with him. Even though it did not really help us in our area, it was cool to unexpectedly help some other missionaries.
That is about all I can say about the last seven days.