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.