Saturday, May 30, 2009

Another departure dinner

Thursday evening we had a lovely dinner at the mission home and then a testimony meeting and we bid farewell to 4 more of our missionaries. Elder Fulcher returned to Australia (can you imagine an Australian speaking Russian--what kind of accent would that be?) The sister next to him is from the Ukraine--a very humble and faithful young woman who wants to have 12 children and serve every kind of mission possible. The sister next to her is from Bountiful, but was born in Russia and adopted by a family in Bountiful. The last sister is from Salt Lake City and served a Latvian-speaking mission. The other 3 served Russian-speaking missions.

And, of course, in the back are President and Sister Dance.

I asked Sister Karpenko (the one from the Ukraine) about Odessa, which is where the Klundts and Geisslers came from (after having left Germany and before coming to the United States). She said it's a beautiful place on the Black Sea with lots of beaches.

Sister Karpenko flew to Donetsk in the Ukraine, to be released by the mission president (no ward or stake in her area) and then had a long train ride to her home in Kharkov (pronounced Harkov). When I learned that she lived that far from the mission office, I thought it was probably a small farming community. But, to my surprise, she told us that the population is 1.5 million and there are 34 universities in Kharkov.

I was touched when, the next morning, I read in her file that her brother had been killed in an accident shortly before she began her mission. He had been in the process of filling out his mission papers when he was killed. Her stake president had written in her application that she felt she needed to serve her mission for herself and for her brother. I was very touched by her strength and humility as we visited the night of the dinner.

She also told us of the wonderful 36 hour trips she had made with other members from the Ukraine to the Temple in Helsinki, Finland (before her mission). She said they had such spiritual experiences and bonded as friends and Saints as they made those trips. One reason the trip took so long is that they would sometimes have a 4-5 hour wait at the Russian border because they wouldn't give the border patrol the bribe they requested. They weren't kept from going, just had to wait at the border.

Very humbling to realize what sacrifices some of the Saints make to attend the Temple. Especially since I am less than 5 minutes from the Bountiful Temple. However, I do remember temple trips from Walla Walla with the youth, to Salt Lake City. Those, too, were wonderful experiences.

A boat ride to Jurmala

This barge and tugboat reminded me of Port Kelly on the Columbia River. Just outside of Riga there were multiple cranes moving coal to railroad cars and to barges.

This is the Gublers in the forefront, with the sailboat between them.

This morning we joined the Gublers on a boat ride to Jurmala. It's a 2 1/2 hour ride and the weather was perfect. So perfect in fact, that I have a sunburn. Of course, we were on the water, and I haven't been working out in the yard as I normally would have been doing.

Jurmala is a tourist town and you may remember the name from a blog of a few months ago, when as a missionary zone we went to the beach at Jurmala on a very, very, cold day and there was snow on the beach. There was no snow today. The sand is the finest I've ever seen and very light-colored. However, the water is another thing. It's very dirty--no white breakers here. There were a lot of people on the beach, including in swim suits, but when we walked down on the boardwalk, it was so windy and cool that we stayed just long enough to snap the pictures.

On the boat we met a couple from Norway who said it was cheaper for them to fly to Riga and have dental work done here, than to have it done in Norway. They were a friendly couple and, on the way back to Riga, the woman approached Sister Gubler and ended up giving her name and phone number to have the missionaries

On the way to Jurmala, I met a very nice couple from Sweden who were in Riga for a long weekend. They met in Luxembourg when he was working there. Sweden is just an hour's flight from Riga. We had a very enjoyable visit. They asked how long I was here and then, how often I returned home. They were very surprised to learn we come for 18 months and don't go home in between. I told them that e-mail helps me keep in touch with my family and friends.
The woman works for the European Union (EU) Center for Disease Control (CDC) and I asked her about the swine flu in Europe. She said there are only 5 countries it has not come to, yet, but that it is just a strain of influenza and if you are healthy, it's not a serious thing. That was good to know.

I'll post some pictures here (or wherever they land) that I took as we traveled to Jurmala. We saw sail boats, motor boats, boats like Lance & Julie have (can't think what to call them), large rafts, canoes, etc., and swans.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Our new mission office motto

Elder Pearson gave a wonderful talk about faith in Christ in April General Conference. In it he mentioned 6 D's to avoid. In case you've forgotten, they were Doubt, Discouragement, Distraction, lack of Diligence, Disappointment and Disobedience. They are all negative words and we decided to come up with 6 positive (opposite) words. We tried to think of words that all began with the same letter, but we couldn't come up with that.

Here's what we came up with: Faith, Focus, Hope, Diligence, Courage and Obedience. We put it together to make up our motto: "Faithfully focus on hope with diligence, courage and obedience." Sister Gubler, with her creative talents, made up little cards for each of us. Mine is posted on the wall above the picture of my grandchildren--two great things to focus on.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

We're not in Kansas any more!

Ever since I arrived in Riga I, and others, have said something to the effect, that we need to find this or that. When it's been said, it's not available here, the favorite saying is "we're not in Kansas any more." Just because something should be available here, doesn't mean it is.

For instance, I would love to have manila folders here in the office. They don't make them here. It's much more challenging to file things in hanging files when you don't have manila folders, or anything like unto them. Scotch brand tape (or similar) is unheard of here. Their tape is terrible--very difficult to cut and messy to use. Elder Gubler needed a wrench--couldn't find one like he needed anywhere. Baking powder is such a staple in America. No one could find any until we located some in Rimi's--not in round containers like we have, but in little packets (similar to Kool-aid--or that's the closest I can think of). Cinnamon also comes like that, as do all the herbs and spices.

Peanut butter doesn't exist here, (but thanks to my children, I have enough to keep me satisfied for the next year) nor do chocolate chips (or baking chips of any flavor). Canned soups (an American staple) aren't sold here, except at Stockman's for about $4 a can. They are Campbell's but only about 4 kinds. We saw cherries for sale this week nearly $9 per kilo (roughly 2 lbs.) Yellow cheese is also non-existent. Boy, do I look forward to Tillamook when I return!

District (Stake) Conference

Last evening was the first session of our Conference. Speakers and music alternated between Latvian and Russian--at least until President and Sister Dance spoke. And they each had a translater at their side as they spoke. Another translator for each was in the congregation, speaking the other language into a microphone that was connected to headsets. It was wonderful to hear President and Sister Dance. They also showed segments from the 2008 Worldwide Training (President Packer and President Monson) and we had written copies of their words so could read along. The video was dubbed over in the other two languages.

This afternoon, a beautiful sunny day, we gathered in the World Trade Center in Riga for the session of Conference. Again, everything was in Latvian and Russian, except the talks by President and Sister Dance who, again, had translaters. This time we had headsets with an Elder translating in English for us. The messages were great. It was also wonderful to hear the names of 4 of our converts of less than a year who were sustained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The "crisis" is a huge topic of conversation here (financial problems/lack of employment, etc) and the District President and President Dance each addressed that. President Dance taught from the scriptures that faith is a choice. I was reminded of the talk Elder Lynn G. Robbins gave as a new General Authority (I was his secretary at the time and worked on the talk with him). He taught that love is a choice.

We are so blessed to have the gift of Agency and we do, in fact, choose whether we will love someone and whether or not we will live by faith. I thought it is true, also, that anger is a choice as is fear. I choose to walk in faith and to love!

Some miscellaneous pictures

The picture of the lettuce is to show the unique (and ingenious) way they raise and sell their leaf lettuce. The little pot you see at the base has the roots to the plant. They simply plant the seeds in a little peat pot, grow the lettuce, then when it's ready to sell, they wrap cellophane around the whole thing and that's how we see it at the stores. The lettuce is very fresh and green, as you can see.
The field will need to be enlarged to see what I see all over Riga. Meadows of Dandelions. From a distance, when they are in bloom, it's very pretty--yellow flowers. But you know what happens when Dandelions are through blooming! So there will be a never-ending supply of Dandelions here in Riga, and this part of the world, I guess, knowing how the seeds are blown all over. They don't mow their lawns very often--perhaps a couple of times during the summer I understand.

This is the view from our 4th floor apartment. During the winter, all we saw was branches and then other domes across the way. The domes are virtually hidden now by all the beautiful trees, all leafed out.

This picture is of a neat little mode of transportation for your children here in latvia. It is like a tricycle, but has a handle on the back with which the parent/grandparent can guide the child and even push them--no bending over. Some of the handles even have the capability of steering the wheels. Some of them have little places for the child to rest his feet if he's tired of peddling. I wonder if there is anything like this in the U.S. If not, entrepreneurs out there, I think this would go over big in America!

Here we go again--guess which comment matches which picture! One of these days I'll figure out how to do this right. The picture of the Seagull at the dump and the picture of the dump go together. We hadn't ever seen a seagull up close so I took a picture. The dumpsters (there are probably up to 10 of them) are located away from the domes (fortunately we are quite a ways from them). There are seagulls and crows around them, as well as people sometimes rummaging through them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hairstyle update

It's now been a month or so since my last update. I'll try to get Sister Humphrey to take a picture to add to this (she's occupied right now).

There is a unique hair styling instrument I've been using this week and finding it works well as my hair is getting longer. It's a combination curling brush and hair dryer. The handle is a little large for my hand, but I'm getting used to using it. So now, instead of blow-drying my hair and then using the curling brush, I do it all in one operation.
Now, take into consideration two things. It's 9:30 Sunday evening and I haven't combed my hair since this morning. I ended up taking the pictures myself--hence the weird front view and the less than wonderful side views. But you can see me without a perm and with hair longer than I've had it for many, many years. However, as I look at the pictures, my hair doesn't really look all that long.
A young woman came to Church today--she and her husband have just moved back to Riga, after having lived in England for awhile. She's a hairdresser and she's working in a shop a couple of blocks from where we will be living a month from now. I may go to her and have it shaped and trimmed. She speaks English very well, so I could communicate with her about what I want.

Lilacs, Spirea and Horse Chestnut Trees

This week the landscape is covered with lilacs bushes and trees, spirea bushes, all in bloom, and horse chestnut trees, also in bloom. They are everywhere, and it feels almost like home.

I kept seeing the horse chestnut trees but could not remember what kind they were. Elder Gubler came in the office and told us the other day. That brought back fond memories of when my children would take their wagon across the street to Mrs. Palmer's yard and load it up with horse chestnuts. I hadn't thought of them, or seen them, in many years. Elder Gubler said that my predecessor here (who was from Australia) had placed 3 horse chestnuts on his desk and on Sister Gubler's desk when they arrived in Riga. They are supposed to bring good luck. I don't know if that is an Australian thing or a Latvian thing.

I asked one of the natives yesterday what they do with the horse chestnuts here. He said he didn't think they do anything with them, but he remembers doing as my children did, gathering them as a young boy. He also said his Dad likes to hold one in his hand to "play" with. They are such a pretty color, and very smooth (after you get them out of the prickly green shell, of course.)

Hazelnuts must be the favorite nut here

I'm certainly not complaining, but I've never seen so many hazelnuts, particularly in candy bars, but in muesli-type cereals, too.

I found a great candy bar yesterday at Rimi's. It was white chocolate and was just chock-full of whole hazelnuts. That's my kind of candy bar.

Small World

Last night as we walked up to the chapel for the baptism, I saw a couple ahead of us, with missionary name tags, whom I did not recognize. They introduce themselves and Elder and Sister Royer. They are in Riga for their visa work (every 3 months Russian missionaries from other countries have to leave Russia and go to another country to have their visas renewed). They are serving in Siberia! And they are from LaGrande, Oregon and, formerly, from Dayton, Washington. (My friends and family from Walla Walla know where those cities are.)

They are serving a 23-month mission and have been there about 14 months. They are proselyting missionaries and he is serving in a branch presidency. They have 3 branches in Siberia. One branch is 26 hours by train, from where they are serving. The 3rd branch is 12 hours the other way. There are 3 time zones in their mission.

They have 10 children and 21 grandchildren. It is so wonderful to meet the good and faithful Saints who have chosen to serve the Lord for 18-23 months, in their senior years. And they are so needed.

Those serving in Russian have unique challenges and experiences. For one thing, this every 3 month trip they each have to take. One couple went to Spain and ran into problems there and have been delayed in returning to Siberia We have 3 more couples coming to Riga for visa work on Wednesday.

Another wonderful baptism

It's challenging to serve a office mission, doing secretarial work, among English-speaking people, and feel like a "real" missionary. One thing that helps is to be able to attend District Meeting each week with the 4 Elders and 2 Sisters serving in our Branch. They are great young missionaries and we are invited to participate as they practice teaching the Gospel to one another.

Another thing is to be able to attend so many baptisms. Our mission doesn't have a lot of baptisms--it's a relatively new mission and is growing slowly.

Last evening we attended the baptism of one of the young East Indian men I mentioned in an earlier blog. The other young man from India had to leave Riga earlier than expected because of visa problems. He plans to move to Mumbai, India, where there is a branch of the Church and be baptized and become involved there.

Sunil Patel is the young husband and father, studying at the University here. He speaks English so was taught in English, but by Russian-speaking missionaries (from the U.S.). He is a very humble young man.

The Area Presidency, in their desire to help the Baltic branches and districts become wards and stakes, asked that the missionaries not perform any of the ordinances or give talks at baptisms, etc. That has been a tremendous blessing for the members who now have the opportunity to perform the baptisms. Sunil was baptized by a young man who was baptized just over a year ago. He is Latvian and doesn't speak English well but, because Sunil's language is English, he performed the ordinance in English. It was beautiful to see this young Latvian man, so desirous of performing the ordinance correctly, speaking what is to him a foreign language. He did it flawlessly. I think there were many of us praying for him as he did so.

The other person being baptized is a Russian-speaking Latvian woman who also was well-prepared to enter the waters of baptism. The talk on baptism was given in Russian so one of the missionaries of Sunil was translating into English what was said. The talk on the Gift of the Holy Ghost was given by Brother David Pater, an American who is in Riga, teaching the Latvian Army to speak English (he works for the State Department, I believe). He gave an excellent talk, which was translated into Russian for the sister. So, it was kind of an international baptism service.

Art Nouveau District - Finally, Nate

My grandson Nate, as you may know from a former entry, likes art nouveau architecture. Sister Humphrey and I have intended to go to that district in Riga and take pictures--on a warm Saturday. This past Saturday was not particularly warm, but we went to a park where a family activity day was taking place. The missionaries were invited to participate, handing out pamphlets about the family. We went to see if we could help out. They didn't need our help there, and one of the missionaries walked us to the World Trade Center (yes, there's one in Riga, too) where next weekend the District Conference will be held for Latvia.

As we walked toward the WTC, I saw a sign pointing to the art nouveau district. I didn't realize it was that close to where we were, so we walked through a couple of blocks and took pictures. I hope you can enlarge the pictures so you can see the detail.

These buildings are very old and I am amazed at the architecture and the creativity of the builders. They really cared about making buildings interesting.

The one immediately to the right here is the Russian Embassy. It is as well protected, almost, as the U.S. Embassy. It's a beautiful old building. They use more color in their business buildings than we do in the U.S.

I have several more pictures which I may post later, but I have several things I want to add to my blog this evening.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

15-20 Lawrence Welk wannabe's

Last night Elder and Sister Gubler and Sister Humphrey and I went to a concert at the huge, and very old, St. Peter's Cathedral. Elder Gubler loves to take a break from the office, go into Olde Towne and see what concerts are coming up. Of course, they are all in Latvian so he can't really tell what most of them are, but occasionally there is a picture so he can at least guess.

Yesterday morning he told us that there was a concert at the Cathedral but he didn't know what kind or what it would cost. We decided we would go and see. The cost was perfect--free. We walked into the main hall and there up front, warming up, were all these young people (age 10 and up, I guess) with accordians! I wondered how difficult it might be to sit through it, but was absolutely delighted. The performers were very good and the accordian plays much more than polkas, ala Lawrence Welk.

What was even more fun, as we looked over the printed program (in Latvian) we recognized some names and musical pieces, for instance (written in Latvian) H. Mancini (hat over the "c" (pronounced ch) and tail on the "n." The piece was Sarada (hat over the S and is said sh).

R. Rodzers (hat over the z) - Do-Re-Mi un Edelweis; E. L. Vebers - Opera Spoks (Phantom of the Opera selection). The E in Latvian is pronounced A and that's the only reason I can think of for Andrew Lloyd Weber to be E.L.Vebers. Another of his pieces, Memory, no muzikla Kaki (from musical Cats). J. Viljams - Imperialais marss no k/f Zvaigznu kari (John Williams' Imperial March from Star Wars) and E. Preslijs' Love Me Tender. I didn't know Elvis wrote that song. One composer was J. Tempests and the music "The final countdown." The music was familiar but I couldn't place it and don't know the composer. Another number was D. Ellingtons' Karavans.

They also had adult, very professional-sounding, guests soloists: a cellist, a pianist and a man who played the sax and the clarinet. All of them were excellent and the accordians accompanied in the background.

The children are students of two female teachers who directed their students. The one wore black tux with tails.

The concert lasted 1 1/2 hours and was so very enjoyable. Elder Gubler looks not only for the concert, but for the venue. He wants to see something performed in each of the several venues. Several he and Sister Gubler have gone to are recitals of piano students, or voice students. There haven't been too many they didn't enjoy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The mighty Dumb Cane has fallen

The first Sunday in the Imanta 1 Branch, I walked into the Relief Society room and saw this towering Dumb Cane (I don't know it's proper name but hope you all know it by this name). There were about 3 canes, each well over 6 feet tall, and in a pot that might have been sufficient for one. A sturdy stick (2-3' tall) had been placed in the pot and strings tied around the canes to support them. I mentioned to the RS president (who speaks no English) that if she cut the tops off and put them in dirt, they would grow. I thought, with hand gestures and, of course, talking loudly so she could better understand my English, that she understood what I was saying.

Week after week, the Dumb Cane stood in a corner. Milda, the RS president, would faithfully pour a pitcher of water into the pot most weeks.

Yesterday, Grandma Senkans (she's younger than I am by a few years, but there are 3 Senkans families, she being the mother of the 3 grown sons, and so I call her Grandma Senkans) took a large knife to the Dumb Canes, cutting each top about 3' down from the top. Next thing I saw, Milda was carrying in a bucket of water and they put the tops into it. I think they are planning to get 3 pots of soil in which to plant the canes.

Amazingly, the plants continued to be green and look healthy, other than their very misshapen canes. Perhaps by the time I leave in a year, the RS room will have 4 (3 new and the original pot) gracing the room.

apartment hunting in Riga

President Dance feels pretty certain that the office will be moving in July to downtown Riga, so I called a realtor to help us find an apartment nearby. That's the way you look for an apartment here, especially if you don't speak Latvian or Russian. This woman, Katherine, has found several apartments for the missionaries and she is very helpful.

We gave her a list of our "needs" and she found two that met the criteria. The first one was nicer than what we have now and we could have been happy with it, but we looked at the 2nd one and it was much nicer and for the same money. The "crisis" here in Latvia has caused rent prices to be greatly reduced. That's one reason we're able to move the office, too.

The apartment has two bedrooms (yeah!!!) and comfortable furniture (double yeah!!!). It is owned, and is currently the home of, a 3 generation family of women: grandma, mother, and 20ish daughter. They are building a home to move into so it's a happy thing for them and a really good thing for us. The daughter will be the landlord and she speaks excellent English.

We will be about 2 blocks from the office, which is a newer office complex, and 2 blocks in another direction from a grocery store that is larger and nicer than the Super Netto we now shop at.

We will move the weekend of the 13th of June and will then commute back to the office until it moves. Our new apartment is across the street and up about a block from the Mission Home, which will also be convenient when we go to departure dinners--no more walking to the bus stop and then riding home afterward.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Two East Indian students

The Assistants to President Dance have been teaching two young men who are students here, from India. One is 22 and single and the other is 35 and married with a son. They are friends and have been here studying so they can improve their employment in India.

They are "golden" contacts and both will be baptized in two weeks. They were Christians before and had heard about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They said that more and more people in India are becoming Christians. The one who is married said his wife is Christian and will want to be baptized, as well. She is in India while he attends school.

There are now two missions of the Church in India but their home is an 8 hour drive from the nearest Branch of the Church.

New discoveries

With the warmer weather, Sister Humphrey and I have taken advantage to go walking a couple of evenings. We walked in the opposite direction of the office, and found two little markets. We bought some apples in one--the best apples I've seen since my arrival here. In fact, they were very much like the apples from my tree in Bountiful.

We also discovered a little veikels (market) on the street behind our apartment building. It was the most American-like market we've seen. It was even air-conditioned (a little too much, I thought), but clean and offering more selection.

Markets are not as identifiable here as at home. I had passed this one for nearly 6 months and didn't know it was a market.

One of the best treats I've had here is a small treat made by Karums. Many of them are chocolate covered, but one is white chocolate covered with a berry center. They are probably 5 cmx2 cm x2 cm. The centers are made of cottage cheese, but it's whipped (and may have a little sugar added) so it's the consistency of good cheesecake. They have come out with another one--lemon covered and lemon center--tastes just like a very good lemon pie.

Another great zone conference

This ZC was different than the others in that we were divided into groups of about 3-5 companionships and rotated from one room to another. In each room we learned about a new teaching skill and then were to practice it--one-on-one. That is a little intimidating because the missionaries are out each day teaching, but I found it challenging and kind of exciting to be able to try the various skills out.

I hope I can apply the skills in my life, in my relationships. The first skill we learned was asking questions that will help to get beneath the surface. For missionaries, that is to help understand why an investigator doesn't keep his commitments (to read the Book of Mormon, attend Church, pray, etc). The reason he/she gives may not be the "real" reason.

That's true in our relationships with people. The more we can understand one another the richer our relationships will be.

In the first room, half of us were "missionaries" and the other half were "investigators." The "investigators" were told what their "real" reason was for not attending Church, and the "missionaries" were to try to discover it. I was teaching Elder Weston (nephew of Bryan and Joanne Weston for those who worked with me in the Temple). I asked some questions and then I had this amazing experience--the Spirit told me what his reason was. I KNEW what it was. I asked him about it and he told me that was the problem (he was scared and didn't know anyone there).

When the Spirit teaches or inspires our mind, it is such a unique experience and one you cannot deny.

The ZC ended with President Dance teaching. He's such a great teacher. He taught us about Grace. He had us look in the Bible Dictionary and taught about the ennabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I had not thought of Grace in that way before and was thankful for the enlightenment.

We are so blessed to know of the Atonement of Jesus Christ--the Redeeming power to repent and overcome our sins and weaknesses, and to feel His peace and comfort through difficult times. To understand, also, that Grace is His ennabling power, which allows us to grow and progress and become all that He desires for us. There is so much to learn and understand and I'm thankful for the tools and opportunities the Lord gives me to do so.

The U. S. Embassy

We walked to the U. S. Embassy (in the event of an emergency, that's where we are to go and so we thought we better know how to get there.
It's across from a large park, just outside of Olde Towne. It's much more protected than the other embassies. It was great to see the United States flag waving in the breeze. It's beautiful and I am so thankful to be an American.
I have always loved weeping willows, and was so pleased to see one across from the Embassy. I also love sculptures and thought this one was great! I'm told you can't walk on the lawns, so I couldn't get close enough to really see it and enjoy it. Perhaps you can enlarge it and see it better than I did.
Riga is so much prettier in the Spring than in the Winter.