Thursday, December 24, 2009

The members of the Church in the Baltics

I've been thinking a great deal about these good people who learn of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, gain a testimony of its truthfulness, commit to baptism, and then remain steadfast and immoveable. We have many young adults who are searching for God and want a better life than they or their parents have. Many of them face strong opposition from their parents, but they persevere, believing firmly that what they have chosen is to follow Jesus Christ.

As I have mentioned, the general citizenship here walks down the street without looking up or from side to side, looking like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

On the other hand, as I associate with the members of the Church, they are happy and industrious and have hope.

One thing they do very well is attend the Temple. The closest temples are in Helsinki Finland and Stockholm Sweden. Either one requires a plane flight or a ferry ride, plus bus/train rides. The Saints here are so committed to the Temple that they take a week at a time, 3 or 4 times a year, to go. They take their children and take turns tending each other's children, so everyone has the opportunity to attend the Temple sessions. The youth do baptisms for the dead. And they feel such joy. Given the fact that their standard of living is far below the norm in America, they are making financial sacrifices, as well as the sacrifice of time.

And the Lord does bless them!

It has caused me to understand more fully what the early Saints endured for their faith in the Lord. How grateful I am for them.

The Baltic winter hit!

Sister Humphrey and I chickened out and didn't go to the Messiah. The temperature had dropped to -14 C and there is no heat in the Dome Cathedral. From my experience last year, I knew I would just sit and chatter through the entire performance. So, we missed out. Elder and Sister Gubler toughed it out and said it was wonderful. They are warmer blooded than I am.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santa Lucia last night and the Mesijah (Messiah) on Wednesday

The senior missionaries in Riga got together last evening for dinner at a new (to us) restaurant. I had wok chicken and veggies which were quite good. Our embassy friend Mischa joined us and ordered a raspberry white chocolate pie. She took one bit and then passed it around (she was headed for a party at the Marine house where there would be lots of food and besides she's lost a total of 70 lbs in about the last year and is trying to be careful about what she eats (she ate a plate of steamed veggies). Anyway, the pie was soooo good, with fresh raspberries.

Mischa went her way and the rest of us walked over to Olde Towne and looked at their Christmas booths for an hour or so. We then went to the Domas Cathedral for Santa Lucia by the Swedish choir. A 2nd choir took part, also. They are bank workers (Nordea Banka) who got together about 6 months ago to form a choir. They were very good. The highlight for me, though, was the wonderful Latvian soprano Inessa Galante. She sang at the Santa Lucia performance last year, also. She has one of the most beautiful, rich voices. And, I just discovered that you can listen to her by googling Inessa Galante, which will lead you to some performances on YouTube.

After the concert, we all walked about 20 minutes to the apartment of the S&I (formerly CES) couple, Elder and Sister Carson, for dessert. They had a variety of things for us to sample. Fortunately for me, they were all chocolate except for a cherry torte. Then we walked about 5 minutes to the bus stop, and another 5 minutes from the bus stop to our apartment. We get lots of exercise here!

On Wednesday, we will be going to the Mesijah (Messiah) also in the Domas Cathedral. Last year I nearly froze in the Cathedral but last night it was warmer, plus I was probably dressed better for the cold, plus until yesterday it has been quite mild here so the Cathedral felt warmer when we went inside. It's supposed to be colder this week, so we'll see how cold it is for The Messiah.

Elder Gubler has been our social secretary, unofficially, and has kept us informed about the concerts. He and Sister Gubler leave for home on Friday, so we'll see how much more culture I enjoy before I leave in May.

December 13 and it snowed!

After dinner today we came over to the office to email. I opened the window of my office and took these pictures. The one on the left shows the lights at the opening of the underground parking entrance. The one on the right is directly across from our building. During the weekday, there are Christmas lights among the shrubs. The lighted sign (with blue background) is a new business that sells windows. The one to the right of it is advertising friezetava (beauty salon) pedkurs and manikurs. I memorized the friezetava early on here. I always thought it humorous that a beauty salon would advertise "frizzy" hair. Of course, in Latvian it means something else.

We awoke to snow this morning and it continued to snow very lightly all morning. The temperature is hovering at 32 F or zero C. I'm finally getting use to psyching myself up that zero here is not sooo cold.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another First in Riga

Last night, Elder and Sister Gubler, Elder and Sister Jacques, Sister Humphrey and I attended my first ballet: Swan Lake. It was beautifully costumed and performed. It was performed in the Opera House (where, a year ago, I attended the opera). I posted pictures of it at that time. It is a very traditional, ornate opera house like I've seen in the movies over the years.

Our seats were in the balcony and we had an unobstructed view of the stage. I always wanted to be graceful and never achieved it, and it was wonderful to watch the dancers so very graceful and skilled.

We had all attended the baptism of a 14 year old girl and her 8 or 9 year old brother, then went to dinner at Del Popolo's (an Italian Restaurant). The baptism was well-attended. Actually, the parents of the children are members and an older brother passes the sacrament. I had assumed these two children were baptized so was surprised when they announced that they would be baptized.

The girl, Alisa, seemed more mature this morning. I think being baptized was something she had given much thought to.

Del Popolo's has become my favorite restaurant in Riga. I've now been there 3 times. Last evening I ordered a spinach, grapefruit and homemade cheese salad that was really beautiful and delicious. The homemade cheese was cottage cheese. There was no dressing on it except perhaps the spinach leaves had been coated in olive oil. I also ordered a homemade pasta with chicken and nuts that had a delicious sauce.

Not surprisingly, it was served with the little swirl of chocolate syrup on the bottom of the bowl but, fortunately, just to the side, so it didn't "contaminate" the pasta.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Arms linked in friendship

One thing I have observed in this past year that is quite an endearing thing. We see women of all ages, and mixed ages, walking along with arms linked in friendship, visiting as they go. The comment was made that the older women may do it as a support as they walk on the uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets here. We see teenagers, young women with mother or grandmother, and older women and it's a very friendly, warm thing to witness. It's especially a contrast to the somber people who walk along, looking ahead, not seeming to be aware that anyone else is around.

My 2nd Thanksgiving in Riga

This one is of some of the kitchen help. Sister Gubler at the stove, Sister Humphrey turning toward the camera and Elder Carson reaching for something--probably crackers and cheese--he really enjoyed that.

A year ago, I arrived the afternoon before Thanksgiving. The next evening President & Sister Dance, the other senior missionaries and I went out to dinner (not turkey nor anything like an American Thanksgiving dinner) and then to the opera.

This year was quite different. The senior missionaries in Riga worked together to provide soup and bread/crackers/dessert for the missionaries serving in Riga and Imanta. Each district came at a designated time. The 3 couples, Sister Humphrey and I each made a pot of soup and we ended up having to made a 5th pot. They came hungry. It was so enjoyable to see them gathered together and to visit with them.
Aren't they a great-looking bunch of young people! Turns out it was Elder Hatch's birthday and his 2 companions (they are all 3 Assistants to the President since last transfer) made him a birthday cake and brought it for all to enjoy. I'm told it was delicious but, since it was chocolate, I have to take the word of others.
After we bid goodbye to the last group of Elders, we walked home, picked up the rolls I had made last Saturday (and put in the freezer) and the cranberries we made the night before, and caught a bus for the apartment of Mischa Brewer. She is the young LDS woman who works for the U.S. Embassy. She has a large apartment and had invited about 15 people for a traditional turkey dinner. Included was the new secretary to the new Ambassador and a Latvian couple (she is LDS), as well as the senior missionaries. It was a relaxing and enjoyable evening with lots of good food.
One of the items on the menu was new to me, but a tradition for some others. Homemade noodles, boiled in turkey broth (from the neck of the bird). It is served as a gravy over the potatoes. They were tasty but I don't think I will adopt that tradition.
Just over a year now in Riga and I have so very much for which to be thankful. I wondered why I was called to serve, at this time of my life, and in a foreign land, but I have seen the blessings of the Lord in great abundance. Mostly, I feel His love for me and have come to know why I needed to be here at this time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another great Zone Conference

Monday we had a zone conference with our Area Authority, Elder Senkans. He and his wife were the first two Latvians baptized. They were a young married couple with a toddler when the missionaries approached Guido Senkans, who was a student in Russia. They offered him a copy of the Book of Mormon and told him it was from God. He decided to put it to the test. He set out to find faults in it, thinking that if it is from God, it will not have errors, but if man wrote it, it will. Obviously, he found that it is from God and he and his wife were baptized. They are a great support for the work of the Lord here in the Baltic States.

Some years later, Elder Senkans was asked to translate the Book of Mormon into the Latvian language. He is a very intelligent, well-educated man who taught us missionaries with power and authority, and with great humility. He taught, from the Scriptures, about Light and Truth. Truth is eternal and cannot be changed. I am thankful for Truth and for the sure knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Light of the world and is the Savior and Redeemer of mankind--individually. I am thankful for that knowledge.

8 Degrees Celsius means no heat!

At least that's what we thought on Wednesday of this week. It was one of the several Independence Day celebrations in Latvia (when you have been occupied several times and then gain your independence, you celebrate each anniversary). 18 November is one of the biggest anniversaries and everything was shut down, as far as businesses. The mission office is in a large office complex and we were the only ones working on Wednesday.

So, when we realized there was no heat in the office, we attributed it to the holiday, and looked with dread to the Christmas/New Year week+ celebration. When there was no heat the next day, nor the morning of the next, we decided that the powers that be felt it was warm enough outside to shut the heat off. Thankfully, Friday afternoon, the heat was turned back on. A couple of the missionaries came in Friday morning and said the city was probably just testing the equipment, or working on it. Hopefully, they were right and we will have heat from on until 15 April--when no matter what the temperature is, the heat is turned off for 6 months.

I surely do look forward to being in my own home again, and being able to regulate my thermometer. Until then, I am thankful for warmer temperatures outside and for heat whenever we get it.

No couple coming!!!

Well, it's 4 weeks before Elder and Sister Gubler leave and there is no couple assigned to replace them. We continue to pray for that to change, but it is likely to be at least February before they are replaced. Sooooo, Elder Gubler is teaching Sister Humphrey everything he knows about mission finance and Sister Gubler is teaching me everything she does--so many and varied things. Of course, that's all in addition to the things we are already doing. We are preparing for long days and no Preparation Days.

It is amazing, though, how the Lord does bless us to be able to increase our abilities and better learn to prioritize and work smarter.

So, if you are a couple and are looking to have wonderful experiences in a new country, put in your papers! You are needed. As I have said before, missionary couples are so needed and really do have amazing opportunities.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dinner with the Dances

Last evening, Sister Humphrey and I were invited to go out to dinner with President and Sister Dance. They took us into Olde Towne, to a very old restaurant in a 14th Century German wine cellar--that's what it was built and used for. The waiters were dressed like serfs. The lighting was by candle, which made for nice ambience, but difficult to read the menu. The menu was interesting itself, written in English and other languages, with comments about various items that had been the favorite of this King or Monarch, or such. They offered such things as fawn, pigeon (we've wondered why they haven't found a use for the hundreds of pigeons in Riga), rabbit and deer. I ordered baked vegetables which were very tasty.

The waiter brought a burlap-wrapped bundle for each of us after we had ordered. They were tied with a piece of burlap and contained two delicious biscuits.

The tables, benches and chairs were made of large, old planks of wood. The walls were 3' deep (you could see through openings). We had to walk down to the restaurant from the street level with, again, only candlelight. Fortunately, there was a railing on one side. The stairs were deep and high and curved down to the cellar.

We had a really enjoyable visit with the Dances. One of the perks of being the office missionaries.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don's Donulis

A few weeks ago, as we walked to Church, we noticed a new business going in across the street. It had a sign "Don's Donulis" and the "o's" in both words were donuts. That was our first clue that a donut shop was going to open (we're really sharp that way). We watched with interest as they painted inside and brought bright pink chairs and tables in. Finally it opened.

On the way to zone conference, Sister Gubler, Sister Humphrey and I stopped in and, to my delight, they offer Berliners (in Walla Walla we called them Bismarcks). In case you aren't familiar with Bismarcks they are raised donuts without the holes and filled with jams or cream or pudding, etc. Anyway, my husband introduced them to me many years ago and they are very tasty. And these tasted more like American pastries than anything I've tasted here. And after 11 months of Latvian fare, American anything is a treat.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Latvian cranberries

We found a package of cranberries at the store on Friday. Not Ocean Spray, but Latvian. They come in a different package and amount than Ocean Spray, so I had to guess how much water and sugar to add. Turns out I added a little too much water, but just the right amount of sugar.

So, today I fixed some dressing and baked it under chicken breasts and, with the cranberries, had a bit of a taste of Thanksgiving dinner.

We've been invited for Thanksgiving dinner to the home of a young woman who works for the U.S. Embassy. There will be a good group of people and I'm so looking forward to turkey and all the trimmings. Mischa (the Embassy employee) has already bought the turkey--she has access to such things through her work. Turkeys are not common in Latvia and, if you find one, they are very expensive.

I will bake rolls and make cranberries. Mischa also has a can of pumpkin from America so will make pumpkin pie. My mouth is watering.

Three baptisms in one day!

Yesterday we had the wonderful opportunity to witness the baptism by immersion of 3 choice people. The first is a 28 year old mother of 4 children. The 2nd was her oldest child, a 9 year old son, and the 3rd was a man in his 50s, whose daughter has been a faithful member of the Church for 5 or more years.

The woman and her children have been attending Church for about 4 years but circumstances in her life prevented her from being baptized sooner. She was radiant as she came up out of the water. It was obvious, too, that her young son felt the Spirit was he was baptized.

The 50 year old man is a miracle. His 24 year old daughter was baptized 5 or so years ago and has been very actively involved, teaching Sunday School, and doing about anything else needed in the Imanta Branch. Her parents were divorced and her mother has since passed away. Her father was an alcoholic with a job nor a place to live. From time to time he would come to Zane's apartment and "crash" for a few days. After years of loving him and helping him, he was able to overcome his addictions and began attending Church. She was so filled with joy yesterday to witness the baptism of her father. Love is the greatest power.

Once again, as happens each time I witness a baptism, the Holy Ghost bore sweet and powerful testimony to me that this is the work of the Lord and there is nothing that will bless the lives of people more than knowing our Savior Jesus Christ and our relationship to Him.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I may just receive the Pulitzer Prize after all

After writing the article for the Church News, Sister Jegina (the Director of Public Affairs for the Church in Latvia) asked me to write an article for the Liahona about the Relief Society women's conference that was held in Liepaja 3 weeks ago. I did attend it but didn't know I would be asked to write about it, so hadn't taken notes or pictures--and it was 3 weeks ago!

I searched my memory and came up with a rough draft and sent it off to Sister Jegina. We'll see what comes of it.

My first trip into Lithuania

Elder and Sister Gubler had friends from Cedar City UT (their hometown) visiting last weekend and they invited Sister Humphrey and me to go along with them on Saturday to Lithuania to see the Hill of Crosses. Lithuania is a very Catholic country and the people erected this hill full of hundreds of crosses to declare to the Russian and German invaders that they are Christian. The Russians bulldozed it at least once during their occupation and the people re-built it. I admire their determination to declare their Christianity. There are literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of crosses of all kinds, and a couple of statues of Christ. The crosses and statues mostly portray him on the Cross, although one did not. There is also a larger than life statue of the Virgin Mary. Interestingly there is Star of David also, commemorating the genocide of the Jews by the Germans.
After spending a little time at the Hill of Crosses, we drove into Siauliai (pronounced Shall-lay, kind of), to a very modern mall. Sister Humphrey found a restroom that had very blue lighting (we'd seen the same thing in Estonia). We wonder if it's to hide the dirt?
We all had lunch in a restaurant and our table looked out on an ice rink. There was a hockey game going first, and later just free skating.
The food was probably the best I've had since my arrival 11 months ago. It was a nice piece of chicken breast with a pesto sauce, served with a carrot/cabbage salad and a very small bowl of potatoes that tasted very good, but I don't know how they were prepared. Afterwards, we went to an Italian ice place in the mall to "cleanse our palate"--at least that was the excuse. The Italian ice is very good.
And then back to Riga in time to watch the Saturday morning session of General Conference (at 7p.m. here).
It's a very good thing the Gublers were with us because neither Sister Humphrey nor I had even thought about the fact that Latvian money wouldn't be any good to us in Lithuania. Elder Gubler had thought of that and took some Lits. The friends from Cedar City (Wayne and Maria Smith) treated us all to lunch--using a credit card. So, we got along fine without Lithuanian money.
We were disappointed that we weren't stopped at the border. We had been told that you HAVE to have your passport on you to cross into Lithuania. In fact, one of our missionaries didn't and wasn't allowed into Lithuania. But, we just drove right through--so no stamps on our passports.

Add "teacher" to my responsibilities

On Tuesday afternoon, President Dance sat down in my office and asked how I would feel about teaching English class evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays through this transfer (5 weeks)--starting that evening. He said we could just go down and observe Elder Long that evening and then start on Thursday.

Sister Gubler overheard and said she and Elder Gubler would do it on Tuesdays and we could do it on Thursdays. Since we were out of fruit in the apartment and had planned to go to the store that evening, I was happy to let them do that.

Thursday evening we walked to the Church and taught 8 people. It went okay. There were 3 first-timers but the others had been there before. They are very nice and desirous of learning. We teach the highest level because they can understand English on some level. We can't teach the lower levels because we can't speak Latvian.

Anyway, the lessons are very well-planned and simply outlined. We teach 45 minutes and then have 15 minutes for a prayer and spiritual thought. The time goes very quickly. The students have assignments and do group learning--lots of opportunities for them to speak English and increase their vocabulary.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sharing the Book of Mormon in Estonia

Elder and Sister Carson, the CES missionaries, and Sister Pehrson who, with her husband, is serving in Estonia, spent a couple of days last week driving through small towns in Estonia. They went into the library of each town and offered a copy of the Book of Mormon in Estonian and in Russian to each library. They said each one was very pleased to receive the copies for their shelves. President Ezra Taft Benson challenged us to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon, and it's happening.

Latvian National Anthem

Last evening at the dedication of the Liepaja chapel, they began the service by standing and singing the Latvian National Anthem, "God Save Latvia." I hadn't heard it sung before and it was a moving experience. They sang it in Latvian even though many of the people are Russian-speaking. I thought, as they were singing, of the feelings I have when we sing our National Anthem. They have suffered so much to have the freedom to even sing that song. It's a lovely song/tune--don't know what the words say, but I imagine they are very moving.

The amazing linguistic ability of members here

Yesterday in Liepaja, in the Relief Society conference, we had Latvian and Russian speakers. Sister Dance was on the stand and had a young sister translating for her and we had a young sister translating for us. These young women didn't miss a beat, translating from Latvian to English and then from Russian to English. This is quite common here and I am continually in awe of their ability. Especially given the fact that the Russian alphabet is very different than the Latvian or English alphabet.

6 year old magician

Friday, Sister Humphrey and I boarded a bus to Alfa Rimi's to grocery shop. The bus was crowded and I ended up standing in front of a seat with a young boy. We hadn't gone too far, when he scooted to the side and gestured for me to sit and he got up and went across the aisle where his parents were sitting. He sat on his dad's lap and began by just looking at me and smiling. Then it was peek-a-boo, and then he began his magic tricks.

He had a bus pass (size of a playing card and the same thickness). He would hide it in his sleeve, or in his jacket and then show me his empty hands. Soon he was doing the hand gestures of a magician and saying abra cadabra (or whatever the Latvian equivalent is). Then he crumbled up the pass and would put his hands behind his back and then bring his fists out and I would point to one and he would show me the empty hand (once the hand with the pass in it).

He had such an endearing smile and the ride was so enjoyable for me, and for him. We arrived at Alfa Rimi and I waved goodbye to him. He smiled and waved back. It didn't matter that we didn't speak the same language. I hope the bus pass was used up because I don't think they will be able to scan it again.

Another full and interesting week

If you look hard, you can see the brass placque identifying the Church on the brick wall. The branch met in an apartment in that building prior to the new meetinghouse. Such a difference and the members are so pleased to be in the new building. We went on a walking tour of Liepaja in the afternoon. The weather was beautiful. Liepaja, as is all of Latvia, is a very, very old city.

This is the Liepaja meetinghouse that was dedicated yesterday. We began the day with a 3 hour bus ride to Liepaja, which is the 3rd largest city in Riga and, in my opionion, a much nicer, cleaner city. The meetinghouse is the 2nd Church-owned building in Latvia (the other branches meet in rented facilities). This was the group from the bus walking toward the building.

This is Sister Humphrey and me in side the foyer. It's a beautiful new building. Being the vain women that we are, Sister Humphrey and I were each critical of the way we look. She has lost perhaps 20 lbs. since arriving 6 months ago and said she looks "fat" and I have lost about 8 lbs. in the 10 months since I left, and I look like I've gained in my stomach--it's just the sweater!

This is Verners Ceimer, the young man who baptized Andris last Saturday. I visited with him as we were on a walking tour of Liepaja yesterday and he said it was his "name" day and he had forgotten to bring his camera. I told him I would be happy to take a picture of him and this is it. He's a very sharp young man and is planning to go on a mission. He was just baptized last month, so has to wait till next August. He goes out with the missionaries in Jelgava and loves it.

The photo below is of Verners and Andris, and Elder Thompson, Elder Wendelboe, and Elder Argyle.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Two new "opportunities"

This week presented me with two first-time experiences: Helping to write an article for the Church News; and teaching English class.

President Dance called me on Tuesday evening to say we needed to write an article for the Church News about the visit of Elder L. Tom Perry, the first Apostle to visit Latvia since it was dedicated for the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ 16 years ago. He laughingly said he didn't want me to sleep that night. He outlined a couple of things--the focus was to be on Latvia, not the Baltics. As I prayed about it that evening and the next morning, several thoughts came to mind.

I began gathering information Wednesday morning and sent a very rough draft to President Dance that day. He pronounced it "phenomenal." I think the "phenomenal" might have been that I could put something together that quickly, more than the actual text. He tweaked it a bit, adding some things from his perspective, having spent time with Elder and Sister Perry, Elder and Sister Rasband and Elder and Sister Paul.

We gathered photos and testimonies and submitted it today to the Area Presidency. President Schwitzer called President Dance to ask for "authors." He named Inara Jegina, the Director of Public Affairs in Latvia, and me! So, perhaps I will be "famous." Or perhaps they won't run the article!

Sister Jegina is also the District RS president in Latvia. Her part was to contact some people and translat the testimony of two members from Russian to English. So many talented linguists here.

The 2nd opportunity, to substitute-teach the English class last evening came because the CES senior missionary who has been teaching it was out of town. He contacted me Wednesday afternoon and said he would email the lesson plan by Thursday morning. And he did--10 pages or so. But it was a very good outline and he had an activity planned. Homynyms was the subject--and yes, I had to be reminded what they are.

Sister Humphrey and I had little time to really prepare. In addition to the lesson (45 minutes) we were to present a spiritual thought at the end for 15 minutes. As I prayed about it Thursday morning, I felt impressed that we should teach about the Holy Ghost. I spent a few minutes before leaving for the office, looking up some scriptures.

The class consisted of only 4 students, each of whom speaks far better English than I speak either Russian or Latvian. They each had a different reason for wanting to learn English. A young woman is looking at educational opportunities, perhaps in England. A young man wants to enjoy cultural opportunities that are available in English. A grandma wants to be able to communicate with her little grandson who lives in England, and the 4th, an older (yes, older than me, probably) woman who wants to be able to understand the TV and internet that are in English.

The class was very interactive, naturally, and it was just a neat experience for Sister Humphrey and me. The spiritual thought went well, too.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Swimmers at Jurmala, you are on your own!

I'm sorry I don't know how to turn the pictures.
This is another view of the changing rooms on the beach.
The top sign says the is for swimming and then has the phone number for the lifeguard. It's in Latvian so we asked one of the brothers to translate for us. When he did, we ask how that works--if you see someone drowning, you call and the lifeguard comes--when? He said "about 10 minutes" and smiled. Life in Latvia is very different.
Notice the sand--it's so white and soft and fine. It's a beautiful place. Just don't go swimming!

Baptism in the Baltic Sea

Saturday morning we boarded a train to Jurmala where we met up with 4 Elders. The baptismal candidate took 4 of us in his van and Elder Senkans (the Area Seventy in our area) took the other 2, to the beach.

The candidate is 43 years old, a Jewish man. We were told his name is Lazarus, but it's actually Lazar (like Lazar wolf in Fiddler on the Roof). He's a very friendly, outgoing man who had studied the Koran and rejected Judaism because Christ is not in their scriptures. He had a dream one night that the Mormons are his family. He somehow found Elder Senkans' name, contacted him, and was referred to the missionaries who taught him.
The weather that morning was the coldest it's been in months--I had worn my coat, expecting that the wind would be blowing and it would be cold on the beach. But, it wasn't. The wind didn't blow and the sun was shining bright. The water was still cold, but didn't deter Lazar, Elder Senkans, or the Elders who also had to go out so they could witness the baptism.
The baptism took place and Lazar was exuberant. They came back to shore, changed clothes, and we gathered in a circle on the sand and the elders and Lazar each shared their testimony (in Russian--so we didn't share ours). It was a very touching experience.

We walked out onto the beach and Lazar walked over to a picnic table and we realized he was going to change his clothes there, so Sister Humphrey and I discreetly had our backs to him. There are changing "rooms" available all over, and that's where Elder Senkans and the Elders changed. The white object is the changing room--there are 3 separate "rooms."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Record number of baptisms! And the challenge to improve!

The month of August saw 16 people enter the waters of baptism in the Baltic Mission. That may not sound like a lot, but it's the most who have been baptized in one month since President and Sister Dance arrived in July 2008.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Elder L. Tom Perry was here last week. In zone conference yesterday, President Dance said Elder Perry asked him how many baptisms we have per companionship. President Dance told him and he responded that it should be five times that many.

President Dance told us that he did the math and it comes out that we need to have 34 baptisms per country per month. That's a real stretch. How grateful, and touched, I was when one of our young zone leaders stood up and said he believed as Nephi (1 Nephi 3:7) that we must go and do as the Lord (through His Apostle) has commanded and the Lord will bless us to be able to accomplish this goal. With that kind of faith (and President Dance had taught us that day that faith is a power) it will be exciting to see the increase in baptisms.

My first encounter with a Latvian drunk!

Thursday after work, Sister Humphrey and I were waiting outside of our apartment building for a bus to go grocery shopping. We saw this man staggering across the street, dodging cars going both ways. He came right up to us, cigarette in his mouth, asking for a light, in Latvian (or was it Russian?). We told him we spoke English--didn't matter. We told him we didn't have anything to light his cigarette with (hand gestures,etc.). He persisted. After a few minutes, he turned, threw his cigarette down and walked out into the street, putting his finger to his head, like he was going to shoot himself. A bus came and he got out of the street, picked the cigarette up and came up to us again. There were other people there, but no men. He didn't try to get a light from anyone else. And no one came to our rescue.

He finally hit/slapped Sister Humphrey's arm (like a spoiled child who is not getting his own way). I finally said, pointing to my name tag: "Missionaries. Jezus Kristus. Ne tabakas (no tobacco)."

It was interesting when I said "Jezus Kristus," he straightened up for a moment, but then bent over again and continued demanding a light. Finally, he turned and walked onto a bus that had just pulled up. Fortunately, it was not our bus.

It was an interesting experience. There are drunken men on the streets, on the bus, all the time but in more than 9 months, that was the first time one had approached me. He was frothing at the mouth and so out of his head that there was no possibility of reasoning with him.

There is a little basement restaurant right there and a woman who works there witnessed it from the beginning. She called a man out, who made a phone call (we assumed to the police), but who made no attempt to offer help. After the man got on the bus, another man came up the stairs from that restaurant, as though to offer help and we told him the man was gone.

That's probably the first time there was not a man in sight during probably 5 minutes of dealing with that man. No man walked by, got off the bus, or came to wait for the bus. And the women seemed to be completely oblivious to our situation. Of course, shouldn't be surprised about that as they walk with their faces either looking at the ground, or looking straight ahead as though they see no one.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Sister Dance called Thursday evening the 27th of August (the event was on the 29th) to let me know that the two sisters (Milda and Zelta) who were going to prepare a real Latvian luncheon for the visiting Authorities would come to the mission office sometime Friday (she didn't know a time frame) and asked me to take them to the Mission Home (she and Pres. Dance would be with the guests touring Riga) and let them put the food into the fridge and show them around the kitchen, etc.

I called the Latvian sister (Inara) who arranged for the luncheon and who speaks excellent English, to learn when these two sisters would be coming to the office but she didn't know. I asked Elder Brown to call the sisters (neither of whom speak English) and see when I should expect them. He said they were on their way. I walked out to the street to wait for them. They came walking down the sidewalk and greeted me warmly (they are from the Branch we attended before moving). I tried to find out where their car was parked so I could take them to the Mission Home. They couldn't understand me at all, and I couldn't understand them. Milda finally called Elder Brown (one of the Assistants who speaks Latvian) and Elder Roberts came and picked the 3 of us up.

Even though Inara is native Latvian, there was complete misunderstanding. Milda and Velta thought they were coming to the office to see the kitchen and where the luncheon would be held, and to have someone take them grocery shopping! There is no kitchen in the office. The luncheon was being held at the Mission Home. Even if I could speak some Latvian, it wouldn't have helped as these two sisters speak a mile a minute. Even Elder Brown had some difficulty in communicating with them.

Sister Dance had understood from Inara that Milda and Velta would do the shopping and bring the food with them.

So, Elder and Sister Gubler were enlisted to take the Mission van and Milda and Velta shopping. Elder Brown and Elder Roberts and I drove to the World Trade Center to check on things there.

Sister Gubler reported that Milda and Velta had their shopping list and knew exactly where to go (in the Tirgus--open market) to purchase each of their items.

Of course, the luncheon turned out well and was appreciated by the guests.

A visit by an Apostle of the Lord

Saturday, 29 August, was a real treat for the missionaries and members here in the Baltics. Elder L. Tom Perry (of the Quorum of the Twleve) and his wife, Elder Ronald Rasband (Senior President of the Presidency of the Seventy) and his wife, and Elder Wolfgang Paul (our Area President) and his wife, were all here in Riga.

For the first time, at least since President and Sister Dance's arrival a year ago, every missionary in the Baltic Mission was gathered in one room to see and hear these General Authorities. To begin with, the Brethren and their wives stood at the back of the room and each of us were able to go through the line and shake their hands. What warm and loving people each one of them are.

Then we listened for two hours to wonderful counsel and direction and inspiration. Each of the Brethren spoke under the direction of the Spirit. I took copious notes, some of which I will share with my 3 grandsons who are preparing for missions within the next 2 years.

There was a bit of last-minute flurry for the office staff. President and Sister Dance were, of course, in charge of the visit by these guests. Things had been planned out carefully in advance but, as almost always happens, there are things that are thought of as the event nears.

First of all was a phone call from President Dance (from Estonia where he was hosting a Mission Presidents' Seminar), asking me to find a way to put up a "privacy" or "modesty" panel on the stage in front of the guests. We found out there are no such things in Riga. We had thought we could find some stanchions (spelling?) and drape some fabric over them. President Dance had been very specific about not wanting tables used (something about the Communist Congress having met in that building, sitting behind tables--didn't want that feeling).

We made calls to the U.S. Embassy among others, and nothing! We went to the World Trade Center to see what they might have. The man there was very helpful and understood what we were looking for, but said they didn't have anything. What they did have was a dozen or so narrow tables, about 3 feet high, dark faux wood, with a rectangular panel (of the same dark faux wood) on the front side that went to the floor and and to within a couple of inches of either side. We lined up 7 of them, with two rows of 6 chairs each set back from them and it looked very nice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pictures of Sigulda

The view from the tower was amazing--can't really appreciate it from the picture.

This is the tower (10-11 stories high) and that's Elder Gubler hanging Sister Gubler's green bag out the window. Later she, Sister Humphrey and I all walked the spiral stairs up there. The picture of Sister Humphrey is proof that we made it to the top (note the view from the opening). I took the picture --that's the only proof I have that I made it to the top, too. Sorry I don't know how to rotate the pictures.

As I mentioned in another entry, on the way to Sigulda I discovered my camera battery was dead, so these are pictures from Sister Humphrey's camera. There are times I feel like I've stepped back in time.

We had seen this wedding party earlier in the day and they showed up at the castle. I think the photographer had pre-arranged things. The groom had to sing a song so they could pass by the serfs.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The new office

Below is Elder Gubler's office; in the middle is President Dance's office; and Sister Humphrey is sitting at her "temporary" desk. She will share the space with the Assistants when they come into the office.

This is my office, from the doorway, and the picture to the left is the view from my chair (facing as it is in the picture below). I always seem to take the picture when my desk is cluttered.

Below is the view as you walk through the front door: Sister Gubler's desk.

There is a long hallway down to my office, that of Elder Gubler and President Dance. And a workroom with a table where we eat our lunch and have our morning devotional. We don't have a kitchen here, but do have a fridge, microwave and a toaster (holdovers from the other office). Each of us have large windows on one wall of our office and the office is situated in such a way that the sun doesn't ever shine directly into the windows--kind of glances off of them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My half-way mark

Monday, August 10, marks 9 months since I entered the MTC. On one hand it seems forever ago, and on the other hand, it's amazing that it's gone so quickly.

I realized this week that I have become accustomed to not understanding anything people around me are saying (for instance, on a crowded bus), and not being able to read a newspaper or magazine someone is reading, or on the newsstand. I wonder how it will be after 9 more months, to be in America, and able to understand everything and read everything.

I'm sure there will be some culture shock on that end, as there has been on this end. It's interesting how adaptable we are, though.

The Last Train to Sigulda!

Does that sound like a movie title? Today is Preparation Day and we did take the last train to Sigulda this morning, and the last train to Riga this afternoon. We went with Elder and Sister Gubler and it was such an enjoyable day.

Sigulda is an hour's train ride (we're not talking Bullet train here) from Riga. It is a tourist town with a large castle from the 13th Century (The Livonian's). There is also another castle where, while we were there, one wedding party was leaving and another one coming. Behind the castle is the ruins of a very old castle and church.

The train is from the 1960s Elder Gubler thought and it meanders down the tracks, stopping at every little bump in the road to pick up passengers (or let passengers off). The tracks go through forests with a few country homes and gardens along the way. When I read about Riga before coming here, I read that the people go to their country homes in the summers to take care of the gardens. I thought they must be wealthy to have country homes. What I've found is that families live in domes (apartment buildings) and own little shantys/homes in poor condition, with a bit of property on which they have fruit trees and grow gardens. Their gardens look very well-cared for.

The train reminded me of World War II trains--two seats facing two seats. The Gublers sat down facing us, but Sister Gubler couldn't handle the heat (sun coming in the window) so found a seat across the aisle and back a row. That left her empty seat and the first stop along the way, a young man (35-40?) got on with his wife, 12 year old son and 4 year old daughter. The wife and daughter sat behind me, the son sat across from me, and the man sat next to Elder Gubler. As he took his seat, we were all pleased to hear him speaking English. He is from Florida! His wife is Russian, from Latvia. They met in 2000 in Finland and have just bought a home in Riga. We had a nice visit with him until they got off one or two stops before Sigulda.

He works on cruise ships in electronic technology. He was pleasant and interesting to visit with.
They were on their way to a Latvian Equestrian Show.

We arrived in Sigulda just in time for lunch, and found a little bakery/cafe. For dessert, we sisters each bought what looked like a sweet roll with berries or currants on top. It was very good, but tart. Turns out it was cranberries on top. They just don't add much sugar to their desserts.

We then headed up the road towards the first castle. Sigulda is a quiet little town, very green and pretty. We could hear singing as we approached the castle and found, behind the castle and the ruins was an amphitheater where some high school-age youth were practicing dances to be performed this evening. They were very good and it was so enjoyable to watch them. If we hadn't had to come back this evening, I would have enjoyed seeing the performance. They would be in native costume for the performance.

We hopped onto a golf cart/tourist vehicle and rode to the other castle. Before arriving there, we stopped at the largest cave in the Baltics. As Sister Gubler said, if this is the largest one in the Baltics, they would be blown away by the Timpanogos. It's not very deep and people have carefully carved names and dates all over the walls--not like graffiti, but like sweethearts used to carve their names on tree trunks.

This 2nd castle has a tower that is approximately 10-11 stories high (speaking of American buildings) and we climbed to the top! It has winding staircases, quite narrow, brick stairs and walls. At each level we could look out through narrow places where Livonians warriors would have watched for the enemy and defended their home. When we got to the top the view was amazing. Green forests as far as you could see.

There were people dressed in costume, including a knight in shining armor. I discovered on the train to Sigulda that my camera battery was dead. Sister Humphrey and Sister Gubler took pictures which I will post later.

The weather was perfect. Hard to believe it's August. It was a lovely day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Moving day in Riga

The long-awaited day for our office to move from the old building to the new building began last Tuesday morning. The movers were to have come on Thursday and Friday, so we were surprised when they showed up on Tuesday morning. We have worked with the main man before so all recognized him but none of us knew his name. They began loading boxes and some shelving and left.

Within a few minutes, two men came into the office. They had received a phone call from a man who asked them to come and look over the office to see what needed to be moved. They didn't have a name--just the phone number on their cell phone. We checked the number and it is the number of Brother Lermontov in Moscow who was coordinating the move. Brother Lermontov couldn't be reached because he had boarded a plane back to Moscow. I asked the men what the name of their company is and the one said "I am Reitas." That was the name we had been told would be moving us, so we were very confused.

I showed them around the office and told them what needed to be moved and they left. Half an hour later, the first man and his men came for another load. I told them about the 2 men and he was unaware of them. I asked what his company name is and he said, "I am Reitas." That didn't help our confusion. About that time, this Reitas received a phone call from Brother Lermontov and told us they wouldn't be doing any more moving that day. This Reitas was the correct one but there was no agreement made between the Church and him as to cost. He said he would be back the next day.

We still don't know how or why Brother Lermontov contacted the 2nd Reitas (turns out Reitas is as common a Russian name as Jones in America).

The agreement wasn't made until Wednesday, so nothing happened that day, except it allowed us to do more packing and preparing. Thursday morning, the first Reitas and his men showed up and continued moving. After work that day, Sister Humphrey and I came over to the new office to see what needed to be done. President and Sister Dance came by and we discussed what needed to be done. We were given permission to wear our work clothes to work on Friday, which we did, and we moved things, unloaded things, and put away things for 9 hours.

I am now in my own office with large windows. It's very comfortable and after another couple of days should all be organized. This is a much smaller office than we moved from so we purged a lot of things in anticipation of the move, and will do some more purging this week.

The good news is that the Internet service was working by close of day on Friday. So, we were only without it during that day.

Living in the Mission Field

Today as I sat in Relief Society (with a missionary to translate for us) there was a lot of discussion amongst the sisters about the visiting teaching message by President Monson. I realized at one point that each of them was referring to "when the missionaries taught me." There are no 2nd generation members in this Branch.

I'm always impressed with how much open and honest discussion occurs. They love the gospel and each has made sacrifices to be baptized and to be active in the Church.

A visit with Ziga

Ziga (pronounced as it looks, with a long "i") is a 30ish young woman who has been attending the Riga Center Latvian Branch for 4 years. She has 4 young children, a son 9 years; twin girls age 7 and a 3 or 4 year old son. She brings 2 or 3 of them with her each week. She has not been baptized because she lives with the father of her children and he won't marry her.

Ziga boarded the bus one day as we were going home from work. She loves to use her English and is a very friendly, outgoing person. So, we had a very enjoyable visit on the bus. She showed me her "Hymns Made Easy" book that she had taken to work. There is a piano where she works and she can practice playing on her lunch hour. She works at a facility/institution for mentally handicapped adults and teaches them sports. She told me she loves her work.

Ziga participates in Relief Society and stays after to learn how to play the piano and lead the music (Sister Gubler is teaching 3 of the sisters). There is a keyboard that they take turns taking home with them. She even bore her testimony in sacrament meeting last month.

She's a delightful young woman and I pray she will be able to marry and that they will all be able to be baptized. Sadly, her situation is not uncommon here. Another young woman will be married this coming Saturday and then baptized the next Friday. She, too, is learning to play the keyboard and lead the music and participates fully in Relief Society. She travels 2 hours each week to and from Church and to receive the missionary lessons.

Some amazing people here.

A visit to the Riga Zoo

Sister Humphrey and I boarded the #11 tram-valj yesterday and took a 20 minute ride to the Riga Zoo. It is on a large lake and is very much in a wooded setting. It took us 3 hours to walk around the zoo to see all the animals, snakes, birds, etc. It's a very nice setting for a zoo with trees all over. It was on the cool side, which I am not complaining about. Summer here has been a very pleasant surprise, thus far, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Even with higher humidity, it's been comfortable.

I hadn't been to a zoo in quite a few years so can't really make a comparison but think it has as many animals and as varied species as Hogle Zoo. The signs were in Latvian, but the names of the animals were usually also in English and each sign had a map showing what part of the world is native for that animal. There was a huge Kodiak bear that must have been a circus bear. He sat, looking up at the crowd who threw him food (don't know what it was they were throwing) and he was very good at catching it in the air.

It's amazing the great variety of creatures our Father in Heaven has created for our enjoyment and use. One of the most fascinating to me was the stingray. It was very active and was fascinating to watch the grace with which he moved, as he cleaned the sand and the glass walls.

I have always enjoyed watching the monkeys and they had only two cages/two varieties and they were not very active. No chimpanzees or orangutans.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sister Humphrey survived YW camp

Sister Humphrey returned late yesterday afternoon, after 4 days of camp in a beautiful, but rustic setting. There was a single outhouse. She cooked over a campfire (something she had never done before). She found that most of the girls could speak some English and she learned from them how to play "And It Came to Pass." A local family had brought it from America.

There were large mosquitoes and horse flies, and frogs. She had taken OFF and it worked well. Herb and fruit teas are very popular here--a Latvian and Russian tradition, so she had to keep the fire going all the time, so they could have their teas for snack and meals.

She wasn't able to go on the hikes or do much of what the others did (because of the need to guard the camp and keep the fire going) but did have an opportunity a couple of times to interact with a couple of the young women as a leader and she enjoyed that.

She is 5'4" and that's how long her tent was. It rained all one day and the next day, she found some plastic to put over the tent. Her sleeping bag dried out before she had to roll it up and bring it back.

She had a great attitude about it all and made the most of every situation. We've assured her that when she has the opportunity to go to YW camp in America, it will not much resemble what this camp was like.

The leaders here are young and new in the Church and don't fully understand all the purposes of camp. The YW weren't given assignments to help with the cooking, collecting firewood, or getting water from the spring. There are only 7 YW in the District, from 5 Branches. So, they have challenges with their peers who being smoking and drinking at very young ages. But they seem to be strong and things like camp and youth conferences where they can gather together, are helpful.

We discovered a new Tirgus!

Tirgus means open market and there are lots of them. We noticed a week or so ago, on our way to Church, that there was one near our apartment. This afternoon (Saturday) we decided to take a look.

A little background: In downtown Riga there are lots of old buildings along the street. In between every two or three buildings, is an opening (with an iron gate) which leads to buildings behind the ones in front.

This Tirgus looked like it was just a few booths through one of these openings (it doesn't have an iron gate) but we found it takes up perhaps half a city block. There is stall after stall, all selling pretty much the same thing--fresh fruits and vegetables. They also have some that sell clothing items, and there were a couple of little kafenicia (small cafes). We bought some tomatoes, lettuce, cukes, raspberries and beets. TThe beets still had the greens on them, so we took them home, chlorinated everything (but the beets) and had a wonderful lunch. I cooked the beets and the beet greens. Sister Humphrey had never heard of eating beet greens, but really enjoyed them.

It was so wonderful to find fresh produce. Oh, and by the way, the blueberries I wrote about are actually black currants. Which explains their size. I knew they looked different than blueberries, but couldn't think what else they would be.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our English-speaking Sunday School class

One of the benefits of moving our apartment is that we now attend the Riga Center Branch where there are enough Americans to have our own Sunday School class. We have members who work at the American Embassy, a man who is over the construction of the secured section of the new American Embassy being built in Riga, and the 4 of us who serve in the office. There have been others who have recently moved from Latvia. The members of the class take turns teaching the Gospel Doctrine lessons. I took my first turn two weeks ago and Sister Humphrey taught her very first Church lesson last Sunday. She prepared for two weeks and, as is always the case, learned more than anyone else about the subject.

A German brother with two sons, ages 16 and 18, were visiting last Sunday and added greatly to the discussion. I visited with him afterwards and learned that he knows Elder F. Enzio Busche, for whom I worked for 2 years, very well. In fact, his father and Elder Busche served together in Germany many years ago. It's a small world in the Church.

It is such a blessing to be able to discuss the Gospel with others who speak English, and to actually be able to participate. We are dependent upon the missionaries for translation in Sacrament Meeting and Relief Society, and grateful for their ability and willingness to do so, but it's wonderful to be able to understand one another and discuss together.

Fresh berries!!!

Having spent most of my life in Oregon and Washington, I am used to having fresh berries--many varieties, and I love them--fresh, on cereal or ice cream or cottage cheese, in pies or other desserts, etc. I have really missed having fresh berries this summer. So you can imagine my joy when I discovered raspberry bushes located outside of our office. The office is a two-story building and the daughter of the owner, and her husband and 2 young children, occupy the top floor. They are in America for the month of July (she's from New Jersey), so the berries would have just dried up if I hadn't found them. So, I've been "forced" to go out and pick them every couple of days. We in the office are enjoying them!

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, one of the sisters from the Russian Branch in Imanta brought in a container of blueberries she had picked. They are the size of BBs, or smaller, but very tasty, and very much appreciated.

We did finally find some good strawberries in the store--for about a week, and we really savored them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Another wonderful concert

We attended another wonderful (and free) concert at St. Peter's Cathedral in Olde Towne, a week ago. Elder Gubler, our office finance secretary, is always on the lookout for good concerts and shares his information. The 4 of us went together. This was the Czech Republic 60-piece orchestra. They played Bizet, Brahms, Dvorak, Khachaturian, and music from The Lord of the Rings.

The music was wonderful! The accoustics were wonderful in the old cathedral (which was bombed in the war and now rebuilt). The drummer and cymbal player (is that what he's called?) were very entertaining, especially during one of the numbers. They moved with the music, including little jumps when the music "jumped." It was obvious they were enjoying the music--and so was I.

There was a lit candlebra up front--apparently no fire codes in Riga buildings.

Not your usual 4th of July

The program began just shortly after we arrived at the wooded park and I thrilled to see the stars and stripes. As they played the Star Spangled Banner, I placed my hand over my heart and, with tears in my eyes, sang. I expected to be joined in the singing, but was not! I didn't hear another voice. After the band finished playing (it was the Latvian Military Band), I realized that all the voices around me (and throughout the park) were speaking Latvian. I talked with the wife of one of the employees (they are members of the Church) who told me that Embassy employees (60 are Latvian) and their families, as well as Embassy contacts and other invited guests were there.
So, it was not the celebration I had looked forward to. The Marines (there were only 4) were the flag bearers and then they sold T-shirts for 15LS ($30 USD). There were tents throughout the area, with free food at each: McDonald's hamburgers, pizza (Latvian-style), hot dogs, bags of caramel corn, slices of watermelon and water and beer (several tents serving beer).
The Latvian Military Band played a lot of American music, but not patriotic songs. I had hoped for patriotic music, and the opportunity to visit with Americans--tourists, employees working in Latvia, etc.
We were given an American flag toward the end and I am thankful for that. Elder and Sister Carson had driven us to the park and when they dropped us off outside of our apartment, I was holding the flag and a young adult-aged man said "American"--I smiled--and he added an obscenity. I wished I had had presence of mind enough to ask him what he knows about America or something. It caught me so off-guard that I just walked on by, sad that someone felt the need to say something disparaging about America--and to an old woman, yet!
I did find out why the celebration/picnic was held on the 5th, rather than the 4th. Some years ago in Riga, on July 4, a terrible massacre of Jews occurred. They were hiding in the basement of a church and it was set on fire. On the 4th of July in Riga each year, the Latvian flag is flown with a black ribbon tied at the top of the pole. The Embassy respects that, therefore, celebrates the 4th on the 5th.
Latvia has had so many tragedies and they observe anniversaries by flying the flag, with a black ribbon tied to the pole.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Riga is a clean city

The cities hire people, mostly middle-aged and older, mostly female, to sweep the streets, walks, and parking strips. These people are out early in the morning with broom and long-handled dustpan (so they don't have to bend over, of course), sweeping the streets at the curbs and the sidewalks. At our former apartment complex, the sweepers also had home-fashioned carts in which to dump the refuse, including empty alcohol bottles. Their brooms are very functional, but different than what we see at home. Many are made from twigs, tied and fastened to a handle. They work very well, especially when sweeping leaves, etc. from the grass/dirt areas. We're now also seeing more "American-looking" brooms.

Flowers, flowers, everywhere

I have noticed ever since coming here that there are flower stands everywhere and people getting off and on bus and tramvalj with bouquets: sometimes a single flower, sometimes a large bouquet. Given the economy here, I've been curious that people have money to buy flowers--and that so many flower stands and shops can afford to stay open. This week I learned the reason behind it. During the Russian occupation, flowers were forbidden. Now, I don't know why anyone would think to impose such a law, nor how it could be enforced, but that's how it was. So, since the Latvian people have regained their independence, they are flower-buying people. The members bring them to baptisms so that each person being baptized (male or female) receives single flowers or small bouquets. It's customary to take flowers when visiting a friend or family member.

It's a lovely tradition and the flower stands are full of very beautiful flowers. This was true in the dead of winter when I arrived, as well as now. The people put fresh flowers on the graves of family members so there are flower stands (plural) at each cemetery.

Off-street parking

I was on the bus coming to work yesterday and thought about how narrow the streets are and how the cars zip out and around the busses and I'm sure there are going to be head-on crashes. (Actually I haven't even seen an accident of any kind here.) It occurred to me that there are no parking spaces on most of the streets, and then I remember wondering why cars just park on the sidewalks in town. Duh! There's no other place to park. There are no signs indicating it's alright (or not) to park on the sidewalk, but people just do it.

Elder and Sister Carson, the CES missionaries, have a car but opt to ride public transportation often because there are no places to park. There are a lot of cars on the streets and I have seen a few parking "towers" like we have, but as far as just parking in front of a store to run in, or in front of a business for an appointment, public transportation is more convenient.

YW Camp in Latvia

Sister Humphrey received a phone call a couple of weeks ago from President Dance, letting her know that he had volunteered her to help out at Girls' Camp in mid-July. The District YW leader is a 20-year old, married to the President of the Russian Branch. She does speak English very well, but doesn't seem to be prepared or organized anything like at home.

Yesterday, Sister Seriha brought Sister Humphrey the menu for the 4 days and told her she will be the cook--over an open fire. The menu is European--not enough food for the 4 days to feed our YW for a day or two. Chicken soup with pasta and carrots the first night; taco soup the 2nd night, boiled potatoes and canned meat the 3rd night. Salad will be served with each dinner--cukes, tomatoes, peppers, with olive oil. Fruit teas are very big here so the girls will have fruit, tea and cookies for snacks. No chips of any kind, no crackers, and the only bread is for sandwiches for lunch.

The only running water is a spring some 100 feet from the site. She's been told there is 1 toilette (I suspect that's a fancy name for an outhouse). She doesn't know if she will have a tent or be sleeping under the stars. She does have a sleeping bag, courtesy of the mission home.

There is no refrigeration, so trips will be made into a town each day to buy fresh produce/meat/yogurt.

The camp is less than 2 weeks away and poor Sister Humphrey has a multitude of questions. And she, being a member of only 2 years, didn't even know there was such a thing as YW camp and has no idea (other than what we've been telling her) what goes on.

Just another example of working with members when the Church is so new and young and so few members. But, in time they will learn and grow, and Sister Humphrey will make the most of the situation. I told her this is in preparation for when she will be called to work in the YW program back home.

When she returns, I will share her experience. Right now, I'm just thankful President Dance volunteered her and not me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The 4th of July in Latvia

This is my first 4th of July outside of America. On Monday, in District Meeting, we sang our American patriotic songs and it felt and sounded so good.

On Sunday, July 5 (which will be July 4 in America), the U.S. Embassy is hosting a celebration for 2 hours, with free hamburgers. President Dance has given permission for those serving in Riga (including the office) who do not have Church during the 1-3 p.m. time of the celebration, to attend. I'm looking forward to (I hope) hearing wonderful patriotic music and mingling with American citizens. We have to have our passports to attend.

They are building a new U.S. Embassy building on a much larger piece of property than they now have for the building. The current building doesn't meet the required security guidelines.

And shoes!!!

Besides loving to have their hair died red, they love their shoes. I've never seen so many different styles of shoes and so many different colors. The 18-40 year old women wear very high heels--with skirts/dresses/jeans/slacks/shorts/whatever. Given the uneven streets (cobblestones and other) and sidewalks (lots of cobblestone/bricks/uneven(patched) blacktop) I marvel how well they walk. I can't help but wonder if they will pay a dear price with foot problems when they get to be my age.

A Country of redheads

I was sitting on the bus the other day and three women, of various ages, got on. Each one had red hair, each of a different shade. Red hair is definitely the most popular color here. And I'm not sure I've seen very many natural redheads. They come in colors from orange to auburn to burgundy and every shade in between. And it doesn't matter what age they are. I actually saw a middle-aged woman get on the bus the other day with hair about the length of mine and the bottom layer was black, the middle layer was red and the top layer was bleached platinum.

They women do like to have colors streaked in their hair. It's not the same as the highlighting popular at home, but just streaks of color here and there in their hair.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Baptism of 3

Last Saturday (before we got lost), we were able to attend the baptism of a young couple (who have a 2 year old daughter) and their friend who lives with them. They are Russian-speaking Latvians and have embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ with joy and thanksgiving.

The member who baptized them was very involved with the missionaries in teaching the three. It is so important for the members of the Church to fellowship and help teach investigators. That is always true, but more important here where the Church is so new and small. It's so helpful for the new members to have the support of those who have been in the Church for a longer period of time. I hope to have that opportunity when I return home.

I have now attended about a dozen baptisms and each time, as the baptismal prayer is offered and the person immersed in water, the Spirit testifies to me that the Lord's work is going forward and that it is, in very fact, the work of the Lord in bringing souls until Christ.

It looks right now like we will be celebrating the 4th of July with a young Latvian family being baptized and at least one other person--here in Riga. Hopefully there will be others baptized that day in Estonia and Lithuania.

Monday, June 22, 2009

#4 Autobuss doesn't take us home!

Sister Humphrey and I had an unplanned adventure on Saturday night. We left the office at 8:50 and boarded the first bus that came, because I realized I don't know how late the busses run and I thought #4 sounded like one that would take us home.

It did go in the right direction, crossed the river and stopped at Stockman's. But that's when things changed. Instead of taking a left turn, it went straight, on a road that veered to the right, and kept veering to the right. I decided we needed to get off but the next stop was the end of the line for #4--at the bus barn.

We began walking back (I was confident I knew in which direction we needed to go--no mountains or anything to get my bearings here). We went 3-4 blocks, crossed the street and walked down a street. I was praying as we went, as I had no idea where we were. We came to a place where we had to choose to go right or left. I decided left was best. And then I looked up and saw the name of the street--Gertrudes! Yeah! That's the street where this huge old church is that is located just above where we meet for Church. I knew Brivibas (our street) intersected with Gertrudes. I just didn't know how many blocks away we were from Brivibas.

We probably walked 8-10 blocks before I could see the big old church. We reached Brivibas and turned right (now I knew where we were) but had to walk a couple more blocks before we came to a bus stop. Once we are on Brivibas, we can take any bus that comes by to reach our place. So, we boarded the first one that came by. We walked into the apartment at 9:50--an hour after leaving the office.

Of course, we were blessed that it is daylight until who knows when here (sometime after I go to bed). And the other thing for which I feel greatly blessed, I have never felt unsafe here.

So, now we know we don't take the #4 autobuss unless we just want to go to Stockman's.

The miracle is that, as I thought about our adventure, I realized that if we hadn't found ourselves on Gertrudes, I have no idea where we would have ended up. I thought I knew which direction we needed to go, but I was wrong. I know the Lord heard my prayer and that He does watch over His missionaries.

I also feel confident now that I can find my way around, even when I get lost, with the Lord's help!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You've heard of surfing the waves---

We have a different kind of surfing here. It's called tram-valj or trolley buss surfing.

We are riding a lot more public transportation since moving our apartment away from the current office. Some of the drivers seem to be playing a game to see how many passengers they can toss around the inside of the vehicle. I'm trying to get my sea legs but it's taking a little time.

What I've learned from the young sister missionaries is that you have to plant your feet, with your feet a foot apart, then bend your knees slightly--and after all of that--hang on for dear life!

The blessings of serving a mission--as a couple

Following our walking tour, and a lovely dinner at the mission home (where the sisters gathered in the kitchen, putting the food together, and the brothers gathered in the living room, discussing mission business), we shared testimonies. I was touched as each one stood and spoke of the joy and satisfaction they have serving together as couples. One couple arrived on Tuesday, to serve in Lithuania. One couple will leave after 23 months, the first part of August. One couple, also serving 23 months, will leave the middle of November, and our office couple leaves the middle of December.

It's different to serve with your eternal companion.

The charm of cobblestone streets is wearing thin

After a couple of hours walking on cobblestone streets yesterday, my legs and feet are no longer charmed by them. The amazing thing to me is that the women (mostly the young women) wear very spiked heels and seem to have no problem walking on the cobblestones. I can't help but wonder what foot problems they will have when they "mature" a little.

The walking tour of Riga

Yesterday all the senior missionaries, along with President and Sister Dance, took a walking tour of Riga with a travel agent who is a member of the Church and a native Latvian. She was so informative and interesting. Some of us had already seen everything, but she explained some of the background and traditions of Latvia. We learned that the Art Nouveau architecture for which Riga is famous, has 3 types: the romantic, the functional and the ostentious or for show. Some of the buildings were built just for show on the outside and the inside was not nearly so nice.

We even saw one house built by a tradesman (this was not art nouveau architecture) who built the front to be about 4 stories high but the back (and the living portion) was only 1 1/2 stories high. He even put windows all the way to the top, just for show. They had to pay for each window and so it looked like he was prosperous because he had so many windows.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The new apartment!

Below is a view of the living room, looking from the entry hall. That's Sister Humphrey studying her scriptures. This furniture is as comfortable as it looks and, after sitting on the hard wood seats for 7 months, it's wonderful!!! The other two pictures below are different views of the living room. The landlord left the TV and DVD player, the art work, the nice wood furniture and the decorative plates.

Below is the front door/entry hall.

This is the Toilette room.

This is a shoe holder that sits in the entry hall just outside of my bedroom.

The kitchen may not be any larger than the other one, but is configured differently. The washer is larger than the other one, and we have much more storage now. We have a microwave and a good-sized toaster oven, but not a regular oven. This window looks out on the back courtyard where we have a large, lone tree.

Note the lamp over the table. There are recessed lights in the ceiling but this is the one we have to use whenever we have the washer, microwave, or toaster oven on. We were all settled in by Saturday evening and, after doing quite a bit of cleaning, had found a place for everything. Sunday, after raining for two days, it felt a bit chilly in the apartment, so we had 2 small space heaters going, lights on in the living room, and the toaster oven roasting chicken, when the power went out. We thought it was related to the rain and expected it to come back on shortly. Fortunately, the chicken was cooked and we had dinner with light from the windows. After awhile, Sister Humphrey noticed a light on in the building across the way. I opened our front door and saw the light on in the hall. So, after a call to the landlord, trying to reset the circuit, a visit by the landlord and, two hours later, the arrival of a neighbor who had a tool to open the electrical box outside of our apartment, we had power again. That's when we learned that we are quite restricted in what appliances/lights, etc. we can use at the same time.
It was such a surprise and a disappointment to me, because they have done some very nice things in the apartment, including placing outlets all over the place (the old apartment had very, very few outlets), but they didn't re-wire the apartment. So, I will learn how to live with this.

The saying came to mind: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

This is our large jacuzzi tub which we enter from the end. We both prefer showers so haven't tried the jacuzzi. The shower head is very nice and I am, once again, very thankful to be limber and agile at my advanced age.

This is the view of the bathroom from the tub. The floor is heated as is the towel rack (the curved tubing). It's very nice to have a larger sink.

This is my bedroom. It's so luxurious compared to the bedroom I shared with Sister Humphrey. It has more furniture than needed, but at least I've found a place for everything.

My bedroom from the other side. You can't really see the desk, but it's a very nice wooden desk and the chair is very comfortable. My bed is beneath the window.

I thought I took pictures of Sister Humphrey's bedroom, but apparently not. She has a large queen size bed and a wall of closet, but one third is being used by the landlord and 1/3 is cubby holes, which are very handy for many things.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Moving day--to a new apartment and a new office

Sister Humphrey and I will be moving into our new apartment on Saturday and are excited to have more room and nicer places to sit and study.

I won't bother to give you the address of the apartment because we don't receive mail there. But, I do receive mail at the office so want to let everyone know that, as of August 1, our office will be moved to Cesu 3-1, LV-1012, Riga, Latvia. Cards, letters and care packages always welcome!!!

Actually, e-mails are still the safest, most reliable way to communicate with me here.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wal Mart has arrived!

Well, sort of. The Carsons took us to the new Riga Center. We parked in covered parking--like at home. We walked through the doors of Prima and were blown away. It was large and clean and more like a store back home than anything we've seen. The aisles were wide enough for two shopping carts to pass, side by side. There was the food section and the clothing section, and the gardening section, and the electronic section, etc. etc.

I didn't get a picture of the outside of the very large building called Riga Center, but it does remind us Americans of the Titanic, sinking. It's design is unique and the colors/materials they have used on the outside are definitely not like anything we've seen in America. It's too far away for us to go there by bus, probably, but it was fun to go inside and actually feel like "back home."