July 20, 2015
My two transfers before this one were full of big events which kept every single week interesting. This transfer has been very mellow and I expected to finish my mission as such. Elder H even commented on how easy going things are and how odd it is. This week sped up the current, moving toward the end of my mission though as a very unexpected and large rock popped up in the stream.
To explain, I need to start with our investigator. Teaching Africans has been one of the most unexpected experiences of my mission. Not because I am in Ukraine and they are from Africa. Rather, I expected to find many here. The big thing comes in how different they are in culture from the West. I figured that they, for the most part, speak English and as such, the differences really could not go that deep. I was completely wrong. As far as I can see, Africa and America may as well be located on two different worlds. I would say that we speak the same language, but the Nigerians and others that I have met put so many of their own spins on things that I feel like it is completely different.
Well, one of our investigators, E, is from Cameroon, which means that not only is he African, but he also speaks French as his native language. Tack on the fact that he neither speaks Russian nor English well. Teaching him has been a real adventure. Of the two languages, he knows Russian better, and we have been able to talk by taking out all the grammar and using seemingly archaic word usage. In our lessons we have been using a mixture of Google Translate, French church pamphlets which we had to print out because the mission office does not have any, and a Prezi presentation which I made to illustrate the Plan of Salvation. It is an adventure as we move through the presentation. The progression is something like the following.
His responses as we cover the material:
Point one: “I agree.”
Point two: “Agree.”
Point three: “WHAT!?!? How is that even possible? I don’t understand!”
Trying to communicate in these moments becomes very difficult, as speaking in Russian without understanding grammar principles is about as useful as picking up objects and using hand signals to describe them.
It came to a point that Elder H and I decided that we just cannot teach him on our own. There are two people in our mission who speak French. One is from Switzerland but not the French speaking part, so when we had them talk over the phone, E said that he is barely understandable. The other option is one missionary, Elder Ev, who himself is from Africa and speaks French well. The challenge is that he is a recent convert who found the church while studying in Donetsk before the war broke out there. As such, his doctrinal understanding of the church still needs a lot of work, and Elder H and I don’t feel too comfortable letting him go free on a lesson without us being able to understand what they are talking about.
After talking for some time, we decided the best option would be to find some missionary working in a visitor’s center somewhere that speaks French and can teach him through Skype. When we called President Packer to ask for permission to set up something like this, he did not entirely agree with our views and insisted that we just have Elder Ev teach. We decided to just go with it and see what happens.
While we were trying to get a hold of both E and Elder Ev to Skype later that day, another phone call came in from President Packer. This call brought a tweak to what he suggested earlier. Elder Evalde has to come up from Odessa to Kiev for a week for immunizations. President Packer decided that the easiest thing to do was to just have him stay in our area and teach E face to face. Now, this is where I have been greatly affected by this whole thing. With him coming up to Odessa, there is left an empty space where he served and an extra space in my area. This means that as he is coming up, I am going down.
Yes, this morning at 4:30 a.m., we woke up to catch our bus to the sea side city which will be my living place for the next week to a week and a half. It is a very unexpected surprise which I am more than happy to receive. While waiting for my transfer information last transfer, I said that my number one choice would be to end my mission back in Odessa with Elder R and that the worst option would be to go to Brovary. Well I am kind of getting them both (except for the Elder R part, though I did see him today). At this time, I am writing my emails at the internet club which I used at the beginning of my mission. It is interesting to contrast how much I knew then with how much I know now. Mostly with the number of Russian swear words which are used in abundance by the twelve year olds playing the game “World of Tanks”.
My next week will be spent in an area of Odessa called Cheremushki with a native from Billa Tserkva with whom I became friends while serving there. This is basically the closest a missionary gets to a vacation except for visa trips. Meanwhile, Elder H has the opportunity to sit in on many gospel conversations in French, just hoping that they are being taught correctly.
In other news, on Sunday I gave a talk in church that actually went very well. I focused on missionary work; specifically that no effort is ever wasted. To do this, I shared an example from the Book of Mormon and one from my own mission. The Book of Mormon example was about Abinadi, who after much diligent work of preaching to people was put to death by fire. Just before the end, he was able to see one convert, Alma, who was then run out of town for trying to defend him. I focused on what he may have been thinking in that moment. Many years of work come to an end with your own death, and the only bit of success was last seen running into a forest being chased by a bunch of soldiers. Personally, I would be discouraged in that moment. But in the end of things, that one person went on to continue his work, and the church saw incalculable growth in the end. Abinadi did not live to see the results of his work, just as many of us will not see the real depth of our own.
Other than that, everything is good. Two more weeks to go and I will be sitting in my closing interview with President Packer.