So Monday of this week, I got a call from my grandma on my mom's side, who informed me of a couple she new. Both of the members of said couple went to Latvia on their mission! She then passed their phone number to me, and I gave them a ring. I caught the wife at home, who was delighted to share some info with me. Some things were answers to my questions (bolded), and some of the information was volunteered (that's just by itself without a bold question before it.) Each piece of info is separated by a line break. Here's what I found out
What's food like there?
They eat potatoes, carrots, and "normal stuff." The kids have also gotten into potato chips and other American poiso--uhp, sorry, snack foods. So, mostly it's nothing too odd. They do, however, have some odd things. She told me there's lots of dried fish, and a clear gelatin thing with lots of meat in it [called Kholodets, or augsta gaļa in Latvian--absolutely disgusting]. She told me that looked really creepy, but she didn't ever eat it because the mission president asked that the missionaries stop eating and drinking anything the members offered. This was because the missionaries were getting sick all the time from what they ate. [Actually, missionaries were asked to not encourage food at the members more because they couldn't afford it. From what I heard, the getting of sick was usually from other things.] In Latvia they actually had the largest medical bills out of ANY mission in the church [not quite true...], so to save (lots) of money they just didn't eat anything offered them.
What are the living conditions there?
She also told me that pretty much everyone has a home, because during Latvia's Soviet occupation, the government built many enormous complexes for people to live in. [This is also changing, because prices for rent and home taxes are getting so high, that many are simply evicted from their homes, unable to pay.] Most people have running water and electricity, but not everyone. She also let me know that while most people have enough food, not very many have tons of food, and there is a sizable number of folks who have to stretch their food, so that they can eat regularly. [Most of the church members I visited had to stretch quite a bit, and grow their own food to have enough.] So, since the Church has a welfare program, there were a lot of welfare issues and requests.
She says a good number of folks speak Russian, but you have to be careful when speaking that. About 80% of the country can understand it, but only 30% want to/can fluently. The Soviet occupation left behind a lot of negative emotions, as well as a lot of untrust. This means several things: if you speak Russian to the wrong person, they may attempt to kill you (not likely, but it has happened before. The trying, not any missionary actually being killed). [When I went, things had changed. About 80% can understand it, but almost 50% are fine speaking it, and if you speak it to the wrong person, you just get yelled at. There's probably three people in the whole country who would try to get violent about it...unless they're drunk. Same goes the other way with Latvian to a Russian--most don't really like not-their-language spoken at them. They had to clearly distinguish themselves throughout the occupation and fight for independence, so many still hold to that.] Also, it takes a long time to before anybody trusts the elders enough to be baptized into the church. She said, "Expect to spend a few months with somebody [before they are ready to commit]." So...that'll be interesting.
The government controls the heating (and the hot water [actually, all heating is done with hot water]), which occasionally is turned off [or pipes break or whatever...it's on and off throughout the winter]. Usually, there's a week or two leading into the winter where they leave it off, so there's about half a month where things are COLD inside. As for the hot water, that'll randomly be turned off, so you have to take bitterly cold showers (very fast), and hop out. When they turn the water back on [again, or fix the pipes or whatever], the water is all brown or red and sometimes clumpy. Her exact quote: "It comes out all brown, and...red and...it's gross."
What're the biggest problems there (in teaching religious things)?
The primary religion is Atheism (Religion: "2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: as in the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion." With that definition of religion, atheism is a religion. Don't challenge me on this: I debated the religion status of atheism fora while in government class my senior year [which I realize makes me no expert, and doesn't alter your ability to challenge me...but, through other experience for about three years after my senior year, I debated that for a total of 6 hours minimum with various ministers, atheists, and other people]). And because of the Soviet occupation, it takes a while for people to trust you. So, you really do have to become friends with investigators before you teach anything. Reiteration: people don't convert in a matter of weeks. Several months is the earliest. Most people who have a religion (Lutheran is the dominant of these, with Roman Catholic closely behind [for Latvians...pravaslav (Russian Orthodox) is the main one for Russians. If you plan to teach religion here, understand what is taught in the pravaslav church decently well. Study it for a bit. I recommend study specifically for pravaslav because Lutheran and Catholic is very similar to what we already know, and most people there who belong to those religions don't really know what they believe anyway. Pravaslavnie (people who belong to the pravaslav church) often do know what they believe.]) only go to church Easter and Christmas. The most common reason people use to claim a religion is, "My family's always been Lutheran [or other religion]. How can I go against my family?" [Religion is almost purely a matter of tradition. Although, some fought through secret meetings, prayers, and so on during the Soviet occupation...there is some religiosity there.]
Also, you can classify most men in the nation as drunks. Holders of the priesthood are direly needed, and most men being drunks makes that hard. Also, older people are skeptical to new ideas (I say again), but the younger ones are pretty receptive. Thus, it's typically young families I'll find myself teaching. [The thing is, commitment is hard for these people, especially when it's is drastically life-altering, as is a commitment to live God's standards. But isn't that true for almost anybody? Be loving, patient, and persistent. Most will cave and try it out. Then, they'll have more empirical proof of the truth taught them. If they are willing to do anything, keep in touch with them.]
The Elders teach English classes weekly at a church building for service. The ones who frequent that class are most often young people, and are pretty open to both the language and friendshipping. [Most of my return customers in the lower levels were older folks. A lot of young people came, but they'd usually be there only a few classes (classes are 5 weeks long). The upper levels have a lot of frequent young people.] At first, they are very stand-offish. Once you become their friends, though, she said, "They will be your friends forever." She is actually still in contact with many of the people she friendshipped back when she taught there.
And that's all my new info. Oh! P-day is Wednesday (at lest until July, when mission presidents change), so all my letters and stuff will be sent then. I can email (especially in city areas), so you should hear from me each Wednesday. [As of July 2010, p-days are on Mondays.]
( >/O\< )
^ Its a frog in a tie!