March 23, 2015
This week turned out to be good except for one little bit that I will explain from the get go. Elder W and I found out that the sausage which we have been buying for the past four months is actually 100% horse meat. He was reading the container and noticed that one of the main words is similar to the word for colt. We called a member because the packaging is written in Ukrainian, and she confirmed to us that it is, in fact, all horse.
I personally don’t like to let these kinds of things bother me, but as I sat there staring at the piece of meat, I could not help but visualize a fully grown horse. Cows, sheep, bison, pigs, and chicken all look delicious. A horse on the other hand, does not. This thought irked me so much that I could not bring myself to take another bite. Rather, I just put down the piece of meat and just stared at it. I am pretty shocked about how I have reacted to the whole thing.
On Wednesday Elder L and I, while on exchanges, did service for a man who is an acrobat for an international Russian circus. His name is V. Before I came into this area, Elder W and his previous companion had met with him a couple of times. During the course of the past four months we have been calling to see how things are going and see if he would still be interested. The problem was in how much time he spends out of the country. Each time we would call he would say “I am right now in ‘X’ country and will be back in two weeks”, X being where ever in the world he is, including Jakarta, Malaysia, Japan, and many other places.
It turned out though, that when we called him this last Sunday, he would be in Kiev during the week and had plans to continue construction on his home, which is just about a block away from where our church is located. I asked him if he would want some help, to which he gave the unexpected reply of “Yes”. We became way excited because this literally was our first real opportunity to do service since arriving here.
Working with V was a really enjoyable time. We dug and moved wheel barrows of dirt the entire time, so that he can bring in good soil for his future back yard. One of the challenges we faced was that the ground was covered in a layer of big rocks and concrete. When the Soviets overtook Ukraine, they forced the farmers onto large collective farms called “kolkhozes”. Instead of each farmer having a smaller bit of land and growing a variety of food, a group of farmers would work on a larger piece of land and focus on only one type of food. The area where V’s house is being built is the location of an old kolkhoz of cows, thus they poured this rock floor for one reason or the other. Fortunately, it was easy to pull apart. Time and water had done most of the work, so we just had to give each section a couple hits with a sledge hammer and it crumbled apart well.
V told us many stories from working in the circus. One included him and his partner when they were located in a large city in Ukraine. While walking around the city and waiting for the show to start, they met two girls who assumed correctly that they were not from the city. The girls mentioned that a world famous circus was in town and that V and his friend should attend. They agreed to go with the two girls and bought tickets with them. They had seats that were closer to the front and sat in the crowd while their colleagues gave them odd stares.
His partner started to fake being upset and stood up to go to the bathroom. After waiting a couple of minutes, V said to the two girls that he should go check on his friend, and met him around the corner. They ran to the dressing room and became ready for their performance. They came out into the ring and started their routine. It went on with V throwing his partner in the air and pulling off some article of the partner’s clothing each time he would catch and quickly throw him again. His partner went down to a Speedo, at which point V caught him and then very casually walked over to the two girls in the audience and placed his partner on their laps. It was then that the two girls realized who the two performers were. Apparently, one of them fell madly in love for V, which became difficult as he himself was not interested. There are many other stories which I would love to explain if only time and space would permit.
The real kicker for the week started last Sunday when we received a text from the Elders in Obolon that G, with whom we have been working for four months, had met with the bishop there and set a baptismal date for Saturday. This is the third concrete date set with her so I had my fingers crossed. Not an issue as to whether or not she is ready, it just has been consistent up to this point for it not to work out, so a big part of me expected the same. As the week moved on though, and no comment about a cancellation came, I started to freak out a little. On Thursday night I called the Obolon elders to see why everything seemed to be working out and they said that it was going to happen. The nervousness was intensified all the more by the fact that she asked that I baptize her.
Saturday turned out to be a very busy day. The stake organizes twice a year for the young men to go on day splits with the missionaries. This required us to make a trip into the middle of the city that morning to pick up our temporary companion. After a meeting with the mission president and stake president, we then traveled to the next area where the baptism was planned to take place.
The whole time I was waiting for the phone call saying that something was going to fall through. All of that went away though, when we walked up to the building and standing outside a full hour before it was to begin, was G herself. It was interesting because when she and her husband moved to the new branch, everyone there was against her getting baptized. They have had many people go inactive and did not want a repeat of the past. Last Sunday though, everything changed there.
While talking to the missionaries, they said it was a complete miracle. Without much explanation, the entire branch seemed to turn around and even organized the whole thing themselves. Many of them showed up to the service and were very supportive. This branch has somewhat of a history of being very judging of other people. I did not see any of that though, while we met with them. The service started on time and before I knew it, G and I were walking down the hallway to the font. Fortunately, it only took one time to get it right and everything just worked out exactly as it should. I am still in shock about the whole thing.
After the baptism, we traveled back to our area in the corner of Kiev to work until four o’clock with our youth. He is from a more middle class area of the city and was afraid to death to be where we live. When we would ask him the question, “Should we talk with this person?” While pointing to some completely normal looking individual, he would reply, “Are you kidding me? He probably has a hidden knife and will be ready to stab us for our money!” I guess I have been in this area for so long that nothing really fazes me, but for him the ghetto might as well been walking through a mine field. After some time, we returned to drop off our mini missionary, grab some dinner, and return back to our area. All in all, we spent probably five hours of the day on transport.
For comments about the other activities from the week, I am referring to the words of my companion which he sent home.
“Not all our contacts were bad, though. We had some really good ones, precisely, one guy named G, and another named S. G’s contact went as such: it was 8:30 at night, and we were contacting down a long and lonely stretch of road, when we saw, approaching in the distance, a kind of punkish looking young man, that looks like somewhere in his family tree, he had Armenian ancestry. We didn’t have anybody else to talk to, so we asked him if he’d like to hear a message about Christ.
Raising an eyebrow, he asked “now?” We said “well, why not?” He shrugged, and invited us to walk with him into the darker inner areas of the city block to find a bench to sit on and talk. Apprehensive, and ready to use our Books of Mormon as defensive weapons if need arose, we began the winding trek between apartment buildings. To our pleasant surprise, we were not mugged, and we spent 45 minutes giving a complete first lesson to very willing ears. Turns out, that G is a really cool guy, goes to an Evangelical church, and is really happily interested in learning more about his “brothers in Christ”. He understands the need for the priesthood, but I’m not sure he understands that not having it disqualifies other churches as “true” churches of Christ. He’s a good guy, didn’t give us his number, but was pretty happy to take and read the Book of Mormon.”
Honestly this is one of the better weeks of my time here.