May 25, 2015
A mission president, during the course of his service, has the opportunity to conduct a total of twelve zone conferences. This breaks down to four a year. Oddly enough though, in the eleven months that President Packer has been serving as our head, he has only planned one. The reason is because for the last eight months, each time around the time that we are due to hold a new one, a general authority has a scheduled trip into our boundaries, which commandeers the authority from President Packer, and into their hands. In this time, I have shaken hands with the following general authorities: Elder Bennet of the Europe East Area, Elder Callister of the Presidency of the Sunday School, Elder Porter of the Europe East Area, and this last week again with Elder Bennet and Elder Halstrom of the Presidency of the Seventies. It really is a privilege to have them come and teach us. A part of me though, feels bad for President Packer because in all of this time, he personally has not had much opportunity to train us.
No matter where I am in my mission there always are challenges in different forms. This conference showed me one that is coming as a result of being on a mission for so long. At the beginning of my mission, the language was a huge barrier, being thrown together with young missionaries, and many other things were large hurdles over which to jump. During this though, I was learning a lot from other missionaries and President Klebingat, and it seemed as though there was no limit to what I could know.
This conference was good and educational, but many parts were boring. Elder Halstrom talked about many of the topics which have been drilled into my head over and over again, and it was almost as though I could guess each word that would come out of his mouth. The younger missionaries were, of course, soaking up everything, as I did two years ago. I think this is just a principle of learning through life. There is a point where you have more or less learned all of the theory that you can, and it just comes to applying the knowledge.
Unfortunately, this only comes by a lot of monotonous repetition as our carnal nature is a lazy, one and we ultimately take a lot of time to really “get it”. A part of me was disappointed walking out of the meeting, because I had expected to feel that same sense of discovery that was so prominent at the beginning. Looking back though, I was able to develop my own lessons from it.
The next two highlights of the week touch one another, so I will give a brief introduction.
Once a year, the branch in Billa Tserkva holds a large picnic, to which they invite the mission president, missionaries from surrounding areas, and many non-members. The Americans bring an American football and the Ukrainians bring a soccer ball. Everyone together plays a game of each with a lunch in between. I just barely missed the cut off date of last year’s game, as I was transferred to Chernigov. This year however, as a result of my proximity to the road that leads to Billa, my companion and I made the roster. It turned out though, that Elder J has recently had a serious thumb injury and is not allowed to play any sports. Another companionship which was invited also has a missionary who cannot play due to injury, so Friday night we did this odd exchange where Elder J went to the temple with the healthy companion and afterward we switched, putting me with the healthy one, making us ready to travel to the game the next day.
The two things which I want to cover are the three hour exchange on which I served, and the game itself. For whatever reason, it made sense to approach it this way.
The injured elder is from Ukraine and has been serving on his mission for about nine months now. In the past six weeks he has been having a really tough time with motivation, and even at one point asked to go home early. While serving with him, I noticed some things that I think are worth sharing.
We were able to teach a lesson together and I can say that he is a great strength in our mission. He is friendly when he teaches, and although went too deep in certain topics, overall he stayed very close to the missionary lessons. The fact that he is a native made him leagues more effective than me in teaching, which was a very helpful note. I think overall he is someone who has a lot of very useful skills with regard to missionary work, which if focused correctly, can make him a heavy hitter. My concern is that he just does not seem to be in the work at all. I think that to best describe it is, he is being selfish. Looking only after his own needs and trying to justify them, to the point that they override his other responsibilities.
A good example of this is that I found out that he has not enjoyed serving with any of his companions since his trainer. His last one was Elder A, and I know for a fact that he is one of the easiest people with whom to get along. If anyone does not like it, they are either focusing too hard on his weaknesses, or it is frankly just their own problem. When I talked about some of his challenges, he did not really care about what I could say. In his mind, he has already decided about a lot of issues and will not budge. It is a real shame, because he has so much potential to do good work. All of that is going to waste though, because he will not stop thinking about himself. Since the exchange I have been really focusing on what I personally can do to help him.
The Billa game was just awesome. The past eight weeks have been really good to me as I have been able to visit this city three times. When I arrived, my heart skipped a beat because there were only twenty people there with about half of them being missionaries, and only one a non-member. The missionaries serving there said that the branch president and ward mission leader would not be able to make it because they had a scheduled game somewhere else in the city.
President Packer was scheduled to arrive with his entire family within the hour and under the current circumstances would not have been happy, based on the amount of missionary effort and time that went into it. I took one of the other elders and we stood by the stop at the end of the dirt road leading to our field and we invited every single person who walked by to come play with us. Person after person rejected our proposal. When the call came that the mission president was about to arrive, a part of me just gave up and said, “Oh this is going to suck.” He drove up to the end of the path and went on through with his family. We stayed behind to keep inviting people and all of my worries were put to rest when the branch president and his brother drove up with two cars full of non-members.
It was at this point that I felt okay to go the field, and we made it just five minutes after they started the football game. Personally, I have discovered that I have more of a talent for soccer than football and overall enjoy it more. One of the missionaries worked hard on defense and he took a ball right to the groin, which was delivered a meter away by a seasoned Ukrainian soccer player. He went right to the ground and they ended up scoring a goal anyway. Fortunately, he is all right now. It was a really fast three hours and before I knew it we were back on the bus to Kiev.