All: Yeah. The Title of this week translates to: "A Difficult Life." You'll see why in a minute. For now, know that 111, 856 steps equals 87.25 KM.
2070: We had pictures, food,
2071: music, and all kinds of funness (including two church members) at the farewell party for the missionaries going home.
2117: This is a cat that was following us around for an entire stairwell. We started on the top floor, and each time we would move down, this little guy would follow us. It was cute.
2126: We had a bunch of people heading out to Tallinn (Estonia) for their visa stuff, so we had Elder Brown with us (his comp was one of those who left).
I will answer questions, and then move on. The weather is COLD. A little more snow. As before, it disappears pretty quickly though. Rīga (like the rest of Latvia) is very flat, and there are almost no hills or mountains or anything. Nothing. Diemžel. Most people live in cement domes (uh...that's the Russian word for home, and that's pretty much what we all call them. Or Māja, the Latvian word). It's the big skyscrapers. They're usually 5 to 9 stories tall. And all cement. Some people live in wood homes (but there is usually more than one apartment in those homes), and the rich live in houses. Most people in Latvia have (or had, in the summer) a garden. Latvians love their gardens. And they often will miss church to go tend their gardens during the summer. The trees look the same as back home: some firs, some not firs. But there's nothing very exotic about vegetation here. Well...excepting some berries. There are some crazy berries. Way good, too.
My apartment is a koka māja (wood home) that does not have the best plumbing. But, the heating is incredible, and we are usually quite warm. We have a shared bedroom, a living room in the middle, a tiny kitchen, a bathroom (with a toilet), and a shower room. It's not that big. But it is rather expensive. We hang stuff on the walls. I don't have "an evil landlord who lurks about", but she is rather flirty sometimes. Most Latvians imagine that Americans are rich, yes. And lots of bums ask for money. Actually, some other people do, too. People are usually not very friendly. Especially here in the big city--they all like to imagine to themselves that they are too busy to talk to somebody for a minute or two. Some really are, but the vast majority isn't. And most people know who we are from the tags. It's almost funny--people will look at us when we talk to them, be all nice and everything, but as soon as they see our tags, they immediately say, "Oh, no no! I don't have time!" and go running off. It's kinda absurd. We have the city divided into areas, so that each companionship has a specific area to work in, so that people aren't knocking in the same place at the same time. However, all areas are double-covered: once by Latvian-speaking missionaries, then again by the Russian-speaking ones. So, sometimes we step on each other's toes. Not too often, though.
English classes are twice a week: Tuesday and Thursday. This week we have off, but we'll start again next week. A hundred people or so come the first few times. We have them divided into 7 classes: Russian or Latvian 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (depending on ability), and then a 4th that is all in English. Like that. These classes are taught at the church, yes.
Latvia is kinda known for their potatoes. They're actually as good or better than Idaho spuds, so we often have taters - mashed or fried.
Well, so here's my spiritual thought. This week has been very complicated. And there were many things that happened in rapid succession, many people I talked to or received letters from or something else that made me think. This will be a spiritual thought, but first it may be a little depressing. Here goes:
I was learning Latviešu Zimju Valodu (LZV -- Latvian Sign Language) for a member in the branch. His name is Edgars Bergmanis. We had a meeting with him last week, on Tuesday. He is deaf, had recently been robbed, and no longer had any money, any phone, and had some medical issues. But, he was happy, loved life, loved his family, and drew strength from the gospel. More strength than I could imagine! And his own drive is powerful. Well, two days after our meeting, this amazing saint was involved in a car wreck. He is now dead. His funeral was today (that's the last picture. Latvians cover their graves in flowers. The flowers usually remain for a few weeks, and then the relatives tend the grave from then on). So, there was that. And then some of my relatives and friends are having some fairly complicated, unpleasant health issues. I hear that they remain happy, cheerful, and as wonderful as ever. Several of our investigators are homeless--most of them just recently became such. Yet they remain happy in that they are at peace with themselves. All of these people draw strength and power from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A few more things: there was another death (a while ago) in my extended family. Some of the children of the deceased do not accept the gospel. The death is still very hard on them. The other members of the family who do accept the gospel, however, are at peace. That does not mean that they are ignorant of the passing or absence of their loved one. They simply have a hope in the future. And not a vague hope; but the kind of hope that breeds faith powerfully (see Moroni 7: 40-43).
There are also many a member here without work, without money, with health problems, with other concerns and issues. Life has been relentless. Some older members were mugged, and it took a miracle for them to be able to go on the temple trip. Some of our members need surgery. All of them (as far as I know) are suffering because of the economic crash in Latvia (the nation bankrupted, inflation has been enormously huge the past few years, and pay has been dropping). And in talking to them, all of them are overwhelmed with the enormous weight of the world, and of the adversary. But every single one of them remains cheerful, optimistic, and ready. Why? Because they have that hope. They have faith. And with that faith they have access to the reassuring power of the Atonement of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And through this faith they act. They are ready to do what needs to be done. They receive divine help. They are strengthened; they are enabled; they have doors opened to them where there was nothing but a wall; and they are comforted. They obtain peace. This is the most powerful force in the world. And all we need to do is believe. With that faith (which is more than a confession that we believe, but involves also action, trying to repent, live like we know how, and other things), we have claim on all these blessings.
I think of it this way: we have a gift. We first need to acknowledge that we have this gift. Then, we need to actually open it. That is very basic, but you get the idea. The faith of those here in Latvia is stronger than almost anything I have seen anywhere else. Those who still go to church do it in the face of opposition from friends, sometimes family, and society in general. And for all this they receive what was discussed above: help, power, peace.That, my friends, is the gospel.
And it leads me to a question: what faith have I? Is my faith of the level that I can endure all these things? What am I doing to actively increase my faith? Why? I invite you all to read Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon. This is an explanation of how to grow faith. As you read and ponder it, maybe you could think about your own level of faith. How can you nourish the seed of your faith so that it grows still stronger? What fruits of your faith have you already enjoyed? Do these not confirm your faith? What real evidences have you received of God in your own life?
My thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you for your support and prayers.
God bless you all.
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God bless you all.
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