Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mar 5: Argyle reporting in!

[I talk about groceries. The upper picture is a shot of the milk (Lāse is the brand of milk we got for the first little while) and juice we buy. Both of these will last for months outside the fridge, so we often called them "forever milk" and "eternal juice".
Lower pic: Since Latvia is high enough up the globe, it gets strangely long and short days, depending on the time of year. In March, the days are rapidly lengthening (about 5 extra minutes of sun a day), and so I was always awake for the sunrise during my first transfer. Here is what they generally looked like...gorgeous. Later, the sun would wake me up (as early as 3:30AM), and I learned to abhor the long, long hours of sun.]
Now, to everybody: hello from Latvia! It has been quite an interesting week! I have some questions that I have been asked to answer, so I'll do that before I do anything else:

I was asked how the S. family is doing. I have no idea. They have continued to skirt us and avoid our meetings. No progress with them at all.

V. is a miracle! He quit the job that was conflicting with church. The reason is work conditions were not good for him. The Lord, I firmly believe, has been acting for us before we even met him. He now is available to go on Sundays. He listens intently when we talk to him, and he has kept every commitment. I'm very excited for him!

A little something about my apartment and comp: Our apartment is very interesting. The building it is in was built during Soviet times. It's kinda junky. The stairs are falling apart, the walls are covered in graffiti, and there are very obvious signs of mismanaged aging (rust, broken things, dents, run-down look, etc). But, our apartment itself is very nice. We have fake leather chairs, decent beds, the walls are nice-looking and it has some beautiful shelves and things. Only two odd things: our faucet in our kitchen isn't mounted. You can pick it up and pull it out of the sink (you shouldn't be able to do this). We also have a hole in our bathroom exposing the pipes for the building. [Honestly, this is pretty common in Latvia. Those with money refurbish what they own--their apartments. The buildings (called homes--mājas) themselves are usually pretty rundown. First off, the Soviets built everything as cheaply as possible, and secondly, they designed them to be frequently upkept to make sure that everybody had jobs. few want to pay anybody for things like painting unless they need it. Result: pretty shoddy on the outside. However, a lot of places have been upgrading and rebuilding, and nice-ifying recently, so it's a very interesting mix.] I have taken some movies of it on my camera, and I'll show you when I get home. But one absolutely ingenious  thing they do here: all bathrooms have hot water pipes coming out of the walls into the bathroom. On these you hang your towel, and it heats your towel. It's just part of the piping. It doesn't cost extra, or anything else. I think if that was implemented in America, somebody could make bank! My comp is Elder Doane. He is an ex-boarder (snow), and comes from Utah. He has had good practice here and was one of the two elders who designed the approach we now use. He is serious about getting missionary work done. He is a music lover also, and is very fun.

We get around on foot [meaning we walk everywhere we go]. Period. Anything in Jelgava is reached by foot for us. When going to Rīga, we use a mikroautobuss (basically a large van). It used to cost us 1,10 LVL each time, but this month they cranked the price to 1,50 LVL per ticket. Yikes! Anyway, it's good.

The people are kinda friendly. In Jelgava, most of them will listen to us, and most of them actually stop walking to talk for a few minutes. You still have your rude businessmen and those who know who we are and don't want to talk to us, so they try to avoid us, but otherwise yes, they are friendly. Especially when we speak Latvian to them. They like that we foreigners have taken the time to learn their language.

Our food comes from grocery stores. There's two big ones here in Latvia: Rimi and Iki [and if Doane would have taken me farther to shop, I would have added Maxima, which is almost as big as the Rimi in Jelgava. Iki is a good deal smaller, but that's where Elder Doane and I went shopping, since it was the closest to home]. They look kinda like Walmarts, only without all the evil that comes from Walmart (joke [but not much of one]). Things look a lot cheaper here. For one thing, most things are a little bit cheaper than in the States (or a lot, depending on what it is). Second, all prices are in LVL (Latvian Lats), which is worth more than double a US dollar. So, I always see a price and think it's ridiculously low (0,37 for a king-sized Twix! oh wait...that's about 80 US cents. That's not too much cheaper than the US...). I have only been to the open market (the tirgus) once so far. Things are cheep, often illegal, and not often of very good quality. But, I will definitely be buying things there before I leave. It's the only place that you can barter! [I like bartering. And you can find killer deals here. The only thing to look out for is to see if you're getting an illegally attained product. A lot of things were made by the people selling it, and then it's a question of quality. I would recommend shopping there in any case.]

It has stayed pretty warm. We got a lot of sun yesterday and today, which always makes contacting easier because people are always happier here when it's sunny. But, it was also bitterly cold yesterday as we received the second notable snowfall of the year (highly unusual for Latvia [for that to be only the second notable snowfall. Usually, there's mountains of the stuff every month]). The man we were teaching (Kristops vinu sauc [K. is his name]) was very excited to see it.

Preparation days: yes. I am allowed to wander the town. Today we went to Rīga (where I am currently) to shop at the tirgus for a fox hat for elder Doane, and to try to find a hat and gloves for me (since I've been living off borrowed goods up till now). But, I will be wandering around for pictures later, and will definitely have those prior to my leaving in 20+ months.

The language is still pretty tough. I have been fervently praying for the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues, that I may understand what is being spoken to me. I find that when I focus on listing to the person, not on trying to understand everything they say and tear their sentences apart in my head, I can understand. Often, I don't understand each word. But I always understand the general message (unless they used 0 words I've heard before or have a ridiculously heavy accent). As far as speaking goes: when I'm contacting lots, I can speak fairly easily and can put things together well. But days where I don't contact very many people, I cannot speak without a lot of thought. It is obvious that my actions of faith bring blessings.

People in general are not religious. Most aren't even believing in God. I also found that almost 70% of people from 20 to 30 have not been baptized even [again, that's what I was told. I found that a high percentage of school kids at Jelgava hadn't been baptized. It's a collage, and a lot of that-aged kids haven't, but this isn't necessarily a country-wide generality]! And most of the people who have been were baptised so that they could be married [that's true of anybody under 65]. There is not a lot of people (I have found one so far) who held strongly to his religion. [Very true. Currently, if somebody is religious, they are powerfully religious. If not, then they aren't at all. Most are in a church because that's their family's church for generations. No other reason. Things like, "No, I don't believe--I'm Lutheran/Catholic/Pravaslavnie!" were said to me all the time.] When religious freedom was re-instituted here, they pretty much picked a church based on how close it was to them [] (usually). [True for very few. Sorry. I thought I knew a lot then. Most picked a religion based on what their family was.] So, that has been very interesting. They also don't have that annoying American trait of always having to be right. People who are in a religion in America usually are there because they think it's right. People here don't really care so much. They're very open. I like that. America needs to stop being so politically correct all the time and so uptight. Anyway, that part about the people here I have really liked.

I have met no kids yet (as all 6 of the church members here are above 25), so I'm not sure if kids are cute with the missionaries.

We have been on fire. We met with 7 new people this week, and after the first few days of this week, elder Dons told me, "I don't know what we're doing. We are having more success and getting more done that I've ever seen before!" So, that's exciting!

One of the members here, Romāns by name, is beyond amazing! We asked, after our meeting with him yesterday, if he would help us with our meeting with Valdis in an hour and a half. He said he would. We asked what he would be doing, and he told us he'd be reading at the church. Well, when we came back an hour later we found him deeply engrossed in the Book of Mormon, with his highlighter and study guide out and in use. He read us several passages from what he had just finished studying and immediately related them to himself and to us. He is amazing! He also whipped out scriptures all over the place during our meeting with Valdis to support what he said and to answer Valdis's questions. [I didn't want to use anybody's names, but then I realized that Latvia has so many reused names, that it really wouldn't matter if I did. You wouldn't know one Valdis from another. Most of the rest of the blog uses names, unless I felt specifically that I should change it for that reason.]

Now, for the things I wrote down throughout the week to tell you:
First: right after emailing last week I went and bought a bunch of stuff: a Bible, dictionaries, etc. I found the card game Bonanza! in Latvian!! I was so excited, I couldn't not buy it! I was thrilled (it's one of the best games ever!). [Sadly, the version I played had 46 more cards...this one didn't have the 22 or 24 beans.] Anyway...

We also had two teens call us over to them while we were out contacting on the street. They yelled "Hey, friend!" a few times to us. We went over there, and discovered that one of them had talked with us before. He told us he remembers giving us his name and number before, but he doesn't remember why. Even not remembering, he had been telling his friend about us for several weeks, and his friend was interested. We told them that we teach people about baptism, and that they can become clean from their sins and start a new life after their baptism. They one who had given us his number said, "Really?!?! I can be clean?!" He then excitedly told his friend in Russian, and his friend became all smiles. It was really neat to see.

One thing here at this time of year is a lot of birds. It is not uncommon to see a small cloud of birds swooping through the sky or flocks perched in trees. I will send a picture when I get one (I left my cable at home today...protams). [small cloud = flocks of some 300-1,200.]

Food: I don't remember what I said about this last time. They have something called Kefirs here. It's essentially milk that they let spoil: they they leave it out an extra month, then they chill it and sell it. Well, I had to try some. It tastes basically like liquid sour cream. Interesting to say they least. I don't hate it, but I definitely wouldn't drink it often. Another thing here is their salsa. I love Mexican salsas. They are what make food amazing! But, there is none of that to be had here. I did find Texicana, which is the most salsa-like thing you can find. It's hot, spicy, but is very sweet. It's like zesty ketchup, only a lot better. I'll have to try to smuggle a bottle out sometime.

An amusing thing: my name here. A gailis is a rooster. The preposition "ar" means with. So, when my name is in accusative, it means "with a rooster" or "by the means of a rooster." That's just one random, humorous thing I found out just this week. [Correction: ār- as a prefix means "outside (of), or external. So, my name actually means "the outside rooster". Ārgailis. Without the long sign, I would be right. But I did "Ārgails," and "gails" doesn't mean anything, so...]

As long as I'm being random: on the CD "Boarderlands" that you have, mom and dad, there's a track from Latvia. It's track 7, "Who is Crying" and I believe it is a traditional lullaby here in Latvia. [Never had that confirmed.]

One more random thing, then I'll get serious. Our laundry machine is really odd. It makes a lot of noise, takes pretty small loads, and for some reason I'll never know, takes a little over two hours to wash a load!

Ok, serious time. K. believed what we told him. But, he told us that all churches are right. So, why does he need this church? Why can't be be both Lutheran and LDS and be saved? We tried to explain to him, but it didn't quite click with him. If anybody has any ideas we can use to help him, let me know. We probably won't meet with him again until next week.

Finally, I read these two scriptures today, and they explain the Book of Mormon very, very well.
2 Nephi 29: 8-10 -- 8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

Also D&C (Doctrine and Covenants) 20: 5-12 After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;

6 But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;

7 And gave unto him commandments which inspired him;

8 And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon;

9 Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;

10 Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—

11 Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;

12 Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.

Anyway, I liked those a lot, and thought I would share.
Elder Argyle
( >/°¥< )

No comments: