Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Feb 27: My first note from Latvia!

 [This is all of us who flew in from the MTC to the Baltic Mission. You'll see this is a larger group: we were joined by a few Estonians and quite a few Russians (as in, they were missionaries speaking those languages). I won't attempt to name everyone, though many of these people were pretty close to me by the end of the mission (the Latvians and some of the Russians; as a Latvian speaker, I didn't get to the other countries but rarely, and so had little opportunity to get to know Estonians or any Lithuanians beyond the ones I was in the MTC with. The man and woman on the far left are a coupe who served in the office here, and helped us get oriented on our first day. The next couple, also on the left but kinda hiding in the back is Sister and President Watterson, the mission president, who coordinated and held the priesthood authority for the missionary work we did in the area.]

Getting ready to leave was crazy! We were dashing all over the place trying to get ready to go. I was rushed from place to place, to make sure we have picked up everything, packed everything, and were ready. Plus, we had two hour-and-a-half firesides to attend, class to be at, people to say goodbye to, planning to do, and about thirty other things. So, I went to sleep that night a little apprehensive, to say the least. And I had a problem: on Lufthansa, you are allowed to have an 18lb (pound) carry-on and a small personal item. Your two underbellies can weigh 50 lbs each. I had two 50 pound bags, and a 36 pound carry on! But, I was able to fit almost everything I needed. From two-thirty in the morning on we were on the go the next day. The Māsas were super late that morning: they weren't ready to leave until about 4:15. Anyway, we got to the airport just fine, made it a little before the flight was ready to leave, and off we went. There are travel stories, but i don't really care to share them. Lets just say the cost of things at the airport in Frankfurt is ridiculous!

Anyway, we arrived, and because of the new agreement (starts with an S...I can't remember) but its an agreement that opens up the borders in the Baltics and makes it so that people can go from country to country freely here in the Baltics. Prior, if somebody from Lithuania couldn't get their visa (because they can only be in the country for three months without one, but it can take up to 6 to be issued), they would come into Latvia for a while. Well, now they can't. They are, instead, sent to Ireland (I guess, as i met two with whom that was the case). But, it is super warm here. It actually is creeping up into the 40s (it should be below zero by quite a bit). Because of this super-hot winter, we have not yet bought winter coats.

As far as impressions: I love the other missionaries. I have stories, but not the time to tell them (concerning our arrival). I would like to tell you how we do our contacting, though. As an intro: we focus of Jesus Christ and His atonement. We focus on how we can all become clean through His atonement. There is not a soul alive who can say they do not want that.

Then, if they show interest, we ask if they have about half an hour right then to come back to our church and discuss it more, where we teach about Joseph Smith and the restoration a little bit. Now, this may sound a little scary, ja? Just walk up to a total stranger and tell them they need to repent and be baptized. But, the interesting thing it: it works! Most people here that we will be contacting have not been baptized (that's thanks to communism that was here) [Clarification: this is what I was told when I arrived. It is not accurate. About 85% of the country has been baptized (I would guess). Most of those who haven't been baptized are under 25 years old, so the percentage of unbaptized youth is much higher than unbaptized adults. But most people are baptized. This approach is very bold, and that boldness is what attracts most people. I met maybe two handfuls of people my whole mission who expressed interest to a contact like this because they wanted to be baptized. In all honesty, the atonement aspect was the most powerful and useful part of this contact. The rest was...ineffective most of the time. But, it's where we want to go, so if the Spirit ever prompted, I used this type of contact! If not...I did something else. That's the key with missionary work--have a plan, know where you want to go with it, but do whatever the Spirit tells you, even if it doesn't seem to be going where you want to end up. God works by many small means to bring about His eternal purposes (Alma 37: 6-7, 41)]. And many, many people are thinking about being baptized. So, this approach caught the thoughts that God has been putting in peoples' minds here, and it rings to them. One person we met last night told us last night that he's been thinking about being baptized, and that he feels its something he should do. When we told him we were on a mission, he said (exact quote): "Maybe I should serve a mission..." It was amazing! God is preparing thousands here, and all we have to do is find them! Easy!

Two other contact stories (these not amazing like the last). We started talking to a guy about baptism, and he stopped us, seeing the book in my hand (we always carry around a Book of Mormon at all times). He said, in perfect English, "Which is beautiful? This (pointing to the book), or this (slightly lifting a little bundle of flowers in his hand)?" I told him they both were, but the book's beauty is far greater. Elder Dons just said "Sii," meaning the book. The guy only heard Elder Dons. He lifted the flowers again and said, "These aren't beautiful? These aren't beautiful." He then wandered away. I have no idea. It was...super odd. He was drunk, as it turns out. [I had very little experience with drinking before my mission, so I wasn't even able to recognize the reek of it. Well, now I know very quickly if somebody is drunk or even has been recently drinking. Without the Gospel or the Spirit, people have no escape from the Hell of life. So, they drink. Others do it because they don't know how to have fun without thinking that every little silly thing is hilarious. Basically, it's a last-ditch effort to escape, at least, in my mind.]

The other was all my bad. I started talking to someone when Elder Dons received a call. He wandered a little ways off while I talked to this guy. I didn't quite understand his answers, but I plodded onward. I could feel he was a good person, and he felt something from me. He was listening because of the Spirit he felt, I think. So, I talked with him for a little while before Elder Dons came back. He spoke quickly in Russian to the fellow, who looked relieved to hear some Russian. As it turns out, he speaks very little Latvian. Mostly Russian. Tas bija mana vaina [That was my bad]!

Quick intro into where I am: I was called to serve in Jelgava, which has been open for lass than a year. I was super excited! [Why? Because one of my MTC teachers (Brother Florry) helped to open that area and talked about it all the time, so the hype was pretty huge for the place.] At church, half our members made it (we have 6). Yes, there were only three people at church. But, their faith was palpable, and was inspiring to me. Two of our members have left the church, because a friend of theirs died and their faith in God died with the friend [that would be the first two ever baptized in Jelgava]. Another one has just vanished and he have no idea what's going on with him. But the three who came are amazing people. Romāns is a man with strong faith. He was challenged to baptism, and the Spirit lead him to follow after the missionaries. He has since said he has no idea why he went to the meetings with the missionaries or why he followed their challenges initially, but he knows that God was leading him. He has fought epilepsy since his childhood, and last month he suffered an attack at work, causing fairly serious damage to him. He works as a street sweeper, and does not make enough to live here. But, he still faithfully pays his tithing each month, and we meet with him three times a week. He is a leader. I feel that. And I can see that in him. He is very encouraging to me, and is doing all he can to help me understand Latvian and be able to speak it better. His love for God is inspiring.

Zina is the other member we met with. She makes us lunch each week. She whips up a Russian dish that is a soup with potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, and some oil [it's called boršs (borsh)]. The water winds up turning a translucent red, but it was garšīgi [delicious. I think it's cool how into the language I was even though I only spoke a tiny bit]! She also makes us potato pancakes, which are potato and eggs [with onion, garlic, and a few other things fried in a decent amount of oil]. they were good as well. But, she made enough to feed three, so we each had to over-eat a little (lot). But, it makes her happy, so I was happy to do it. She also loves to talk, so we were there listening to her stories for quite a while. She's got a very good heart, and I love her already. I cannot understand her yet, though. Romāns I can (usually), but not Zina [I found out later that I could understand Romāns because he spoke slowly and repeated himself when I didn't get it. He was very patient. And Zina is from Ukraine (I think), and so has a very heavy accent]. Yet. She is one of two in her family. During the Soviet occupation, Stalin took her whole family and killed them. She thought she was alone. But, she saw her sister on the street, and in talking to her found out that she had only pretended to be dead. She had also never bothered to tell Zina she was alive, which left Zina in a rage until she told us and we helped her let the anger go through Christ. She still has some hard feelings, though. She has a thick [Ukrainian / something] accent and loves to help where she can.

The third member there I know little about. He's rock-solid in the faith. He decided that he no longer needed to meet with the missionaries about a month ago, saying "I can teach myself." Which he is now doing. But, I can feel the goodness in him, so I have few worries.

We have a family awaiting baptism. They have a smoking problem, though, and are in financial trouble right now because the father lost his job. They are the S. family. Please throw up some prayers for them. They have been starting to steer away from meeting with the missionaries also. We are a little worried about them.

We also talked with a man named V. last night who committed to be baptized around March 21st. His grafiks (schedule) makes it hard for him to meet with us to to come to church, so please pray that he will have Sundays open (as there is a requirement here that people have to come to church for three weeks before we can baptize them. They must also be free from Word of Wisdom problems for three weeks in order for us to baptize them. So, the S. family has three weeks to go). [These requirements are to help people start to change their habits. Because almost nobody in Latvia goes to church every Sunday, so by asking them to come multiple weeks in a row, we hope to help them understand that they will be changing their Sunday habits to include church every Sunday possible for the rest of their lives. Same with WoW (Word of Wisdom) issues--we are helping them begin to establish longevity in a life-changing decision.]

Just some general things, then I need to go. Latvia is beautiful! The sidewalks are often laid stone or walk-way style, which both look fabulous and hurt the feet more than those concrete slabs back home. But, no big. Winged rats are everywhere (that's my affectionate name for pigeons). I can't even talk bad about them, though, because the word for pigeon is the same word for dove, so Latvians think pigeons are doves. Anyway...the days are screaming by. I have yet to see the river. Our church right here is a rented apartment room that holds 14 people for sacrament meeting and 24 or so for class. We are definitely in our humble beginnings šeit. I will try to be on the lookout for more general things I could say (also send me questions!) but...anyway. I will send an additional note to those who can email me with my address in it. I love you all!

There is no doubt in my mind that God is [that's a Latvian way to say "that God exists"], and that He prepares the hearts of His children. This work is true! Period.
Elder Argyle
( >/°¥< )

Quick Note From Latvia

It is thought not the best of ideas to be blogging from here myself, so I have instead asked that my family do it. They will be spell-checking, grammar-correcting, and removing the very personal notes (like the ones to my family members only or a specific individual) as well as changing the names of those I teach and have contact with. But, the experiences and events remain the same. I do these things so that you can see what missionary work is like, and how God works in our lives. I know that it will be a good source for you to see the power of God on this earth. When I return in two years, I will open up a correspondence through this, so until then keep your questions written somewhere, k? That is all.

[Feel free to put your questions here as comments, or on any other post. I will be happy to answer them as soon as I see them. Also, feel free to email me and ask anything you want. Blogger should let you email me at the address I have registered this blogger account.]


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Feb 14: EU!!

[I feel it appropriate for the last MTC pictures to be of those near us. All missionaries learning small European languages were crammed on one floor, so right around us, we had Lithuanians, Armenians, Greeks, Czechs, Finnish, Estonians, etc. We also lived by the Lithuanians, Armenians, and Greeks, so we grew closest to them. Here are the Greeks, minus one who I will show in a moment. From the left: Elders Okazaki, Dundee, Southwick, Hickey, Valgren. Elder Dundee was from Sweden, and Elder Valgren was from Denmark (I believe).]
[The fellow on the bottom left is Elder Okazaki. He was very toned, and showed us why: he ran an exercise ring before bed each night. It was conditioning, and so you didn't sweat like crazy, but you hurt pretty badly after each session.]
[The Armenian-speaking missionaries. They were our zone leaders (meaning they made sure that all Latvians, Lithuanians, Greeks, and Armenians got where they were supposed to go when they were supposed to be there, and their classroom was right next to ours, so we often ran into them. From left to right: Elders Judd, Kruger (sp), I don't recall his name (sorry, sir!), and Beus. We didn't associate as much with them as with the Lithuanians and Greeks, but they were all fantastic!]
[This is a very popular MTC picture: stand by the world map, and stab the lace you're going to serve with your finger. This is the Baltic missionaries with whom we often associated and lived with. From the left: Elders Fitzgerald (an amazing storyteller due to his general talent for words), Newman (a band buff who played lower brass instruments and who often thought quite deeply on various topics), Sisters Thomas (very kind-hearted, softspoken, and spiritually powerful), Melchin (very obedient, focused, and dedicated), Hagen (very skilled with the language in the MTC, a fantastic singer, and hillarious), and Knight (artistic, quiet, determined), Elders Davis (kept largely to himself, but worked hard), Brown (one of my dearest friends), Argyle (me), and Nelson (super hilarious, yet softspoken, so every time he cracked a joke, you usually had to think about it for a little bit before you realized what just happened).]
Ok, I just typed an email, but because myldsmail is a terrible program, my email was deleted. [Note: right at the end of my mission, the church contracted Google to replace their dreadful Novell system. So now, the church basically runs a closed circuit of Gmail. It's not so terrible anymore.] So, very quickly:

I made huge advancements in the language this week. Talking with Elder Lepeshkin (the native Latvian), he told me that I speak very well for only learning it 9 weeks, and that he could understand me. He also spoke at me, and on the second hearing I could usually understand a little more than half of what he said.

I also have made some big leaps in Spiritual knowledge and conviction, and in my desire to share the gospel. I leave in 6 days from today, and here are my plans:

7:13 Leave Salt Lake City, UT.
11:22 Arrive in Chicago/O Hare, IL.

Hang around for 4 hours, then
15:30 Leave Chicago/O Hare, IL
6:55 Arrive in Frankfurt, Germany

Hang around for 3 hours, then
9:45 Leave Frankfurt, Germany.
12:55 Arrive in Riga, Latvia.

So, folks, I will be calling you while in Chicago. I will not be calling in Germany because I don't know the international rates or codes. I have also been named the group leader for the 16 Baltic bound missionaries. At first, this excited me! But then i discovered I was only selected because my name is the first on the list. Oh well. But, i have issued (and will soon issue to the 3 Estonian and the 3 Russian-speaking missionaries) a challenge to place 3 pass-along cards, and a Book of Mormon each per missionary per airport. I'll report on that in 2 weeks, methinks.

P-days are on Wednesdays in Latvia, so my emails will come then, rather than Thursdays as they have been.

Also, my new address is:
Elder Argyle
Baltic Mission
P.O. Box 30150
Salt Lake City, UT 84130-0150


Elder Argyle
Baltic Mission
Melnsila Iela 3-1
LV 1046 Rīga, Latvia

[The above address is no longer valid for Latvia, as the mission home moved to Cēsu iela.]
Please note that letters may be delayed up to 8 weeks (as I don't get mail until I see the mission president, and I see him every 6 weeks (or we try to). And mail may take up to two weeks to arrive there. This includes pouch and notes) as will smaller packages. Larger ones may take up to 3 months (they usually take no more than 4 weeks, but sometimes they can be held up) and are all subject to being opened and searched. Ask my folks for the work-arounds for this.

I love you all!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Feb 7: Hello world...wait...I'm not programming.

[This letter home facilitates my sharing of some sillier pictures. Because I'll share quite a few, I'll put the explanations between each image. The one above shows that after being cooped up for a long time, sometimes we were a little silly. This is me (on bottom), Elder Brown (my comp), and Elder Newman, who was learning Lithuanian and going to Lithuania.] 
[Another silly picture of my comp and I in front of the entrance sign for the MTC. We were getting along pretty well by this point.]
[Sister Knight is usually very quiet, but every so often she just lets out a whole lot of pent of energy and is hilarious! This picture is one I feel she would be alright with me sharing, but I have some of her when she was tired and wired that are very funny.]
[This is kinda what we all felt like from time to time, and again, I have crazier pictures of us all, but for the sake of the image of the MTC and ourselves, I'll refrain from sharing more than one truly out of control picture. Sister Hagen was very talented at making faces, and I felt this one summed up this particular day very well, so I asked to capture it. She allowed me to do so.]
[Like I said, out of control. There are a few elders going stateside in our "barracks" (they are officially called "dorms", but they often feel like barracks, so I sometimes refer to them as such). We found some photography tricks you can use to get shots like this. This is 100% straight from the camera, unedited in any way. Trick shots were a lot of fun to take :P]

I failed to mention last time, but that is cold in Idaho! -20s! Just remember that the thermometer will say that often during the Latvian winters. Oh, but it will be much colder, as we also get to factor in humility. So, I will soon be able to empathize.

As far as cold goes, it hasn't been here at the MTC much. It's been in the toasty +20s ever since I arrived. The only really cold day was two Thursdays ago: En route to the temple, it was windy and in the teens.

This week has been lots of work on the plan of salvation. I must admit, that is hard to teach in English because it is so big, and covers so much, and can really go anywhere once you start talking out it. So, imagine that difficulty and multiply it by not being able to say anything about what you wanted to say. It's been tricky. But, we'll see how it goes. TRC happens tomorrow (yikes!) so I'll just study and pray.

Other than that, this week has been Tikai Latviski at meals (only Latvian), which has been fun. Sister Hagen and I got into a debate one meal, and it was odd [and very amazing] to see how much Latvian came out when focused on the message. That was encouraging.

As far as news goes, I cannot think of anything. The week has been consumed by Latvian and President Gordon B Hinckley's funeral. I did greatly appreciate the pictures of my adorable new nephew, though!! I must admit, I showed him off to everyone at my table. And, as always, Far Sides and Foxtrots are highlights (primarily because of their humerical value). [I pass over the death of President Hinckley pretty quickly here. He is the President of the church, and the only man in the world authorized to fully direct the usage of the priesthood, or the power and authority given to man by God. As the chief apostle, he was also authorized to directly represent the Lord on earth. That is why LDS members often refer to the man in this position as "the Prophet". It was a big deal that he passed on, as he is the only president of the church that I can recall during my lifetime. Later, I describe the process through which a new president is sustained, called a solemn assembly. The selection process involves the remaining apostles praying about it, and when they feel unified in their answers from the Lord, they all select the same man from among them. I really like this process, because there are no politics about it. The next president is chosen by the Lord Himself, and all of the apostles unanimously confirm the same decision.]

My big learning point this week: I discovered again that the world is full of good people. People with kind hearts, open minds, and full of love. I discovered this at the RC, while taking calls from people who wished to order a free Book of Mormon or movie from the church. One lady called and spend about 5 minutes bearing testimony to me of her love for the Savior. I must admit I was deeply touched, and she appreciated my telling her so.

Šausmas! I honestly cannot think of what happened this week. I've been so focused that this week has kind of been a big blur. Sorry about that...maybe something will arise in my letter home today.

I love you all! This work is true!

Elders Argails