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
( >/°¥< )

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