[Top pic: This is Brother Shell, our primary instructor at the Missionary Training Center. In general, our teacher situation was crazy. He was with us the first few weeks, then went on a cruise to celebrate his marriage, and we had the Lithuanian teacher (who is a native Lithuanian, but knows almost no Latvian, though Lithuanian and Latvian are the only two living languages in their portion of the language tree, so a lot is similar and she is a linguist, so was able to be of some help near the beginning of our studies). Then, about the time Shell returned, we got another lady named Sister Farns, who was there until they could find another teacher (she had felt that she should move on, and returned when no other teachers could be found so there would at least be a teacher until another could be found). Well, near the end of our stay, a Brother Flory came and Sister Farns left. Turns out, I don't have a picture of Brother Flory, but I do have the other two. Sister Farns will be pictured later.
Middle pic: This is our sign, which translates to "Merry Christmas, and happy new year!!" only it's wrong. It should read Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu jauno gadu!! Subtle differences, but important. The breakdown in translating goes like this (literal translation time!): Priecigus is cheerful/happy/rejoicing/merry in accusative, because there's an implied "I/We wish you a" in there. It's plural because holidays are always plural (and adjectives always agree in case, number, and gender with the words they describe).
Ziemassvētkus is plural accusative for the aforementioned reason, and literally means winder--ziema--holiday--svētki. Again, there's the implied wish, pushing it to accusative.
laimīgu is happy (prieks is joy, laime is happiness, so subtle differences) in accusative, singular because a year is singular.
jauno is definite singular accusative, because it is "the" new year, not "a" new year.
gadu is year in accusative. Maybe that was a little too much breakdown? Anyway...there you go.
Bottom pic: this was the "Christmas Tree" we made for our room. Some time later, Elder Dundee followed through with a Swedish tradition of literally throwing the tree out, so he chucked this out of our room and into the hallway.]
Ok. so, there are a few things that are worthy of mention today.
I begin with a loving tale of blissful cheerfulness. Or not. In the cafeteria, Sesuo Thomas ("sess-wah", sister in Lithuanian), a Lithuanian-bound sister, approached us with a piece of "chicken." This looked very much like a piece of bread wadded up into a ball, then battered and fried. Coincidentally, it tasted much like chicken. Anyway, she comes over to us to show us this monstrous mess. We admire(?) it, and a she remains for a little while waving her fork with that on it as she spoke. I decided I'd try to make a funny: I said, "Sesuo, would you mind not flinging that thing around? you're getting sawdust in my noodles." She, in an attempt to joke back, menacingly jerked the fork in my direction. Upon which action, however, the item of questionable integrity came flying off the fork, and fell perfectly in the center of my companion's chest, rolling down his shirt on onto the floor. To make it better, Elders Braun was mildly reading a letter he had just received. He never even saw it coming. Anyway, we wound up laughing for a few minutes, and still bring it up every now and again.
Then, I have discovered the Māsa's middle name. Brother Black, I'm afraid that it was not any from the list you sent. I apologize for that. The name I actually discovered from digging through her wallet at all the cards she carried. Her student ID bore the following middle name: "W." Unfortunately, she returned as I was returning the cards, so I don't get the promised chocolate cake for discovering it. I think it's still valid, however, because I told her that my plan for obtaining said name would be through the means of theft, to which she replied. "Oh good!" But she claims it was misunderstanding during that conversation. In any case, it is a unique name, and I will continue to strive to obtain my reward for learning it. [For the record, I never did get it, and Sister Knight continued to insist that I had obtained the information by fraud and illegal means.]
Next, I want to inform you that I did get the tapes in an Argyle envelope, I received several other packages (including the journals and your delectable gift and much needed FAR SIDE CARTOONS(!!!!!!) Janin), and a mess of letters. Thank you to Grandma J, who fought through the steps to dearelder me a note. That was much appreciated. Also, to my dear cousin and friends to dropped me a line over the next few weeks, thank you. I love hearing from you all! And Robyn, I love to hear from you!
Also, a spiritual thought. I never fully understood why Christ's Atonement opens the way for all of the gospel to take place. Let me see if, in the next 10 minutes, I can explain how this unfolded to me. First, a little background:
Before we came to this earth, we lived with God. He is literally our father. He has a glorified body of Flesh and Bone, and lives in a state of perfection and constant peace and happiness. God, being our loving father, wanted us to advance, and to become as He is. But we lived as spirits with Him, and didn't have a body like He does. He created a plan for us, in the which we would come to earth, gain a body through earthy parents, and have the opportunity to prove our faith and devotion to Him and to ourselves, so that we can obtain the growth necessary to regain His presence. Therefore, we passed through a veil of forgetfulness on the way to earth, so that we could grow from having no knowledge at all, to whatever we aspired to here.
Now, we are all subject to death. When we die, our spirit separates from our bodies. We lose them for a time. Second, every time we sin, we lose God's presence, as God cannot tolerate the least degree of uncleanliness. This is a second death--a spiritual death. By ourselves, we could do nothing about it.
It can be seen like this: a man wants to get a farm, to provide for himself. He doesn't have the money to do it, so he borrows the money. He has good years and bad. But through constant work, he is able to make payments back to the person he borrowed from. However, after a series of bad years, in part to the weather, and also in part to his lack of diligence in work, he is unable to pay. The contract expires. He cannot pay. According to the law, the farm will be taken and sold, and he will be thrown into prison. We are like this man. We all fail sometimes, and we all work a little less than we should at least for some of the time. Say this man had a rich friend, who was willing to pay his debt. The law would be satisfied, but now the farmer would be in debt to the man who paid his debt. Christ similarly paid for our sins. The rich man would expect something in return for his generosity, though it would be something that the farmer would be able to pay back, and would be on a different schedule from the Law's. In this same manner, we are not in debt to God here on this earth. We are in debt to his Son, Jesus Christ, Who paid for our sins.
He has set forth His gospel--the payment we must make to Him for His aid. This is very simply: Have faith in Him, repent, be baptized in His name with the proper authority, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the same authority (that would be His authority), and endure to the end. Another way of saying that last part is never give up, and stay faithful until death. This is the way that we pay Christ. If we do so, he will be our Advocate with the father, and will plead on our behalf, paying our debt to the father for us (D+C 45:3-5). If we do not uphold our obligation to Him, He cannot do anything for us. We have not satisfied the Law nor qualified for His Grace. One of the names for Christ in Latvian is very interesting. The preposition "starp" means between. "Starpnieks" means "between person." Christ is indeed our starpnieks between us and the Father. He closes that gap we cannot.
Three days after His crucifixion, He was resurrected. This gave Him power over death, and gave Him the power to resurrect us, allowing us to return again in our bodies. When we are resurrected, our bodies are perfected, and if we lived worthily, and meet the requirements, they are glorified as the Father's is. That is our goal. It can only happen through Christ.