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.