19 September 2017

2017 Lake Powell Storm

We were with close family and friends for this trip. Twenty seven of us, ten adults and seventeen kids. It was quite the adventure getting out to and setting up camp. The weather began to get awful after we left the marina. The houseboat was fine in the rough water but it was too much for those of us that were transporting the jet skis. I had Austin on one with me in a group of four skis and we went for cover on shore to avoid all the lightning strikes. He and I ended up tipping over near the shore and the kids that were with us started getting scared. It was only getting worse and the water more rough. So we took them back to the houseboat and did a slow speed transfer to get them safely onto the houseboat. Then we bolted for cover again. This time aiming for a cove where the water was less rough. The air was very cool and the rain was cold. I was starting to shiver. When we finally got to the cove, I jumped into the water to warm myself. The water is still very warm this time of year. The four of us ended up chatting and hanging out in the water until the storm passed. Later on Austin let me know he had a moving experience with prayer. He prayed that the storm would let up and it did.

We waited about forty five minutes in the cove then headed out. Only now we had the problem of finding our group on the houseboat. We weren't sure where they were going. We searched for a while asking other boaters if they'd seen a houseboat that looked like ours. We eventually found them, then helped them find a beach where we could camp.

We were in the process of anchoring the houseboat to shore when another intense storm rolled in. Unfortunately, this storm was worse than the previous. There were many of us lined up along a rope, having a tug of war, struggling to keep the boat in place. The wind kept almost blowing the houseboat free and the rain didn't help us any. 

We made several attempts to bury anchors in huge holes during the storm. The wind continued to blow the houseboat, ripping the anchors out after we'd buried them. We finally ended up deciding we needed to bury them four feet deep. It was at this point that it started to hail. Some of the ice chunks were as big as a quarter. Most were dime sized. Thegn and I were digging the four foot pit for the anchor at the time, while the other adults were pulling the rope to keep the houseboat from blowing away. In a moment of despair, I stopped to look up and see sheets of hail pelting everyone and everything. I actually put my sunglasses back on for eye protection. We all ended up with welts and bruises. We had no other option but to push through. 

Another group across the bay saw our plight and came to help. We got the hole dug, threw in the anchor and while Thegn buried it, I ran to the back of the boat to take up the slack between the boat and the anchor. Which relieved those pulling the rope to hold it in place. I feel bad, one of those adults is 7 months pregnant. Fortunately she's okay.To keep the anchor in place we carried one of the smaller jet ski's and placed it over the buried anchor to add weight and keep it from coming loose.  After this point the storm began to let up.

With that main anchor in place we were able to continue burying the other's. Poor Austin was the only kid who helped through the hail storm. He held the jet skis in place so the adults could wrestle the houseboat. He had welts too. I feel bad but I'm so proud of him for stepping up and helping how he could when it was needed.

The tents on the roof of the houseboat had been collapsed during the first storm so they wouldn't blow away. Unfortunately, this let the rain in, which soaked almost everything. The remainder of the evening was spent reclaiming and setting out blankets and sleeping bags to dry. 

After this adventure, everything went smoothly. We had fun playing and exploring on the jet skis, digging in the sand, catching frogs, hiking, fishing, eating and just hanging out enjoying the water, sand, sun and stars. The stars are really one of the most amazing things to enjoy at lake powell. The milky way really pops and it's so beautiful.
I tried taking some long exposure shots of the stars. They didn't capture any of the milky way. 
The rainbow and waterfalls after the storm.

09 September 2017

20 years ago today - Golden Investigator - 09 September 1997

09 Sept 1997
I've officially been her in Russia about thrree weeks. My comp and I have our apartment now. We are in a new area that hasn't had missionaries before. There is no hot water so in the mornings, we boil water and put it in the tub. There are huge centrally located water heaters here. They heat entire neighborhoods then pipe it out to each section. Well apparently they are very old. (Over one hundred years old.) They need annual maintenance that requires the hot water to be shut down. So cold showers/baths it is.
The language is still confusing. When I listen, I understand about 35% of the words and sometimes I can get the gist of what they are talking about.
I am happy here. I am having fun. Every Monday we have family home evening. We go and play soccer or gatorball. Gatorball is a game the missionaries made up. It's like a cross between soccer and rugby, just without the physical contact. Every Tuesday and Thursday we teach English classes for service, which is very fun. Every Wednesday is P-day and we go rent a gym and play some more. Every Saturday we have a picnic with the members and we play there as well. So the only day we really work is Friday. We play a lot and I like it here. Right now we have an investigator named Volodia. He has joined a couple of other religions and has tons of religious literature and has actually read it all. He seems to me to be very receptive. Anyhow, everything is cool, riding on public transport sucks.

Finding Volodia:
One day, Morris decided to let me use my "Greenie fire" as he called it, to let me loose and contact wherever my heart lead me. I did as asked and within an hour, we landing on the perfect investigators doorstep. He answered the door so fast it was like he was waiting for us. He instantly invited us in to his humble apartment and wanted to know more. He had investigated many churches and had read any religious literature he could get his hands on. He showed us his library, it was the lower part of a daybed with no mattress. He rolled it out from under the bed and covering the entire bed frame were books stacked covering the entire space where a mattress would be. We told him who we were and why we were there, he instantly wanted to know more. We gave him a book of Mormon and he tried to pay us for it. I told him it was a gift, that we wouldn't take his money but asked him to read it. Sharing with him that through reading its pages, I had found much happiness. That what I found in its pages filled the void in my life that nothing else in this world could fill. That the joy it filled me with is why I decided to dedicate two years of my life.

Over the next several months, I was able to have many good discussions with Volodia. At first I didn't understand much. On the way home from discussions, Morris would relay to me the parts I didn't understand, I would research area's of his concern and since I didn't speak Russian very well, I'd use scriptures to communicate and address his concerns. I went through several companions during this time but was able to be there through every discussion with Volodia. I can honestly say, I've never met a more spiritually ready individual.

More to come about Volodia.

25 August 2017

20 years ago today - First Sunday in Russia - 24 Aug 1997

After the mission concluded. I traveled back to my favorite city in Russia with my Mom. During the time I was away, they had purchased and renovated a meeting house that was dedicated to church and church related activities. A huge improvement over what was my first impression of a church meeting in Russia.

Here is my journal entry from that day:

24 Aug 1997
Today was my first Sunday in Voronezh. We met for church in a rented art gallery. As you walk in, on the way to the sacrament meeting room, their are many paintings. However, right by the entrance as you are walking into the room we meet for sacrament are a couple of nude paintings. Very vivid, life like paintings of women. Here we are, trying to be spiritual and prepare ourselves for the sacrament, then you walk in and BAM! see a naked lady. Kinda distracting, especially for a missionary. After sacrament meeting, we all go to our classes. The priesthood meeting is held in the bar down in the basement. The children's primary is held right, of all places, right below the nude paintings.

Anyhow, we ate at a members house today, It was my second Russian meal. We ate like, noodly stuff and squash and some yellow melon that was pretty good. Afterwards, we had tea, I had never had tea before. I don't really care for it either. I am learning a lot as far as the language goes. The mission is a lot different than I thought it would be. There is pornography just about everywhere and it smells funny. It's not really noticeable so much except that I don't smell myself as bad because some people smell worse. There are cute girls everywhere and they all dress like poster girls. I can't help but feel that the abundance of visible pornography has this influence. They load on the makeup, and many wear tight clothing and since they walk everywhere, they seem to all be very well proportioned, if you know what I mean. Most are really cute. Anyhow, I'm having fun, I'll try to keep you updated.
Zuka baby!

19 August 2017

20 years ago today - Culture Shock! - 19 Aug 1997

This is my journal entry from 20 years ago.

19 August 1997
I finally arrived in Russia!

The plane ride was long! First we flew to New York. This was my first time on an airplane and I was able to see the world from a different perspective - from above the clouds. When we arrived in New York we flew over the Statue of Liberty, then landed at JFK airport. There were so many different cultures of people I had never seen in person before.

Before we left the airport I asked and was able to see the cockpit of the plane. The flight to Moscow was very long. I enjoyed a conversation with a Russian from Moscow on the flight. His name was Sergei Kartavenko. He's an anesthesiologist and his wife an ophthalmologist and his daughter, a cardiologist. I went through the fifth principal with him before we talked about my family. We shared pictures and before the flight was over he gave me his address which I passed on to the office as a referral.

When we arrived in Moscow my first impression was about how far away from home I was!  My second was that most of the girls wear short skirts, tight clothes and they are not ugly! Third was about how I was feeling so overwhelmed with not knowing my way around and not knowing the language My body was telling me it was the middle of the night but the sun was up. The first thing we did was go to the mission office to drop off our luggage. Where I was told I would be serving in a city called Voronezh. Everyone kept telling me how awesome my new comp, Elder Morris is. They kept telling me how lucky I am to get him because he is so cool and that the city I am going to is really cool, too. They say it's like the disneyland of the mission. I am so excited to see for myself. To get there it will take about twelve hours on an overnight train ride.

When we left the mission office, the mission driver, (who resembles Jason Statham,) was giving us a ride to the nearest metro station where we were going to meet some other elders and make our way to my MTC companions new apartment. So we were cruising along at mach two when I can see another car coming in the opposite lane of traffic.  At the same time a guy was walking along the street toward us, not on the sidewalk, but kind of in the road. With cars parked on both sides of the street I could tell it was going to be a tight fit. I was pushing the imaginary brake pedal in front of me when we heard a thud as we were passing between the oncoming vehicle and man walking. Then for a few seconds, to my astonishment, it didn’t appear as though we were even going to stop. Not even a tap on the brakes. However, after the driver looked in the rear view mirror and saw all of our tonsils, he seemed to reluctantly stop and get out to check and see if the man was alright. It was just the side view mirror that hit him.  However, we were going fast enough to knock him off his feet and into one of the parked cars on the side of the road. Needless to say, I'm going to be very careful crossing roads for the next two years. (It wouldn't be about a year later I watched an old woman get hit and killed by a car that just drove away. Having had these experiences, it's always baffles me when BYU students just cross the street in Provo without even checking traffic at all.)

Very special mission:
Elder Wright (my MTC comp) and I were dropped off at his new apartment just hours after our flight arrived. The older Elder Wright had to run an errand or something and gave my MTC companion and I some Russian money and a task - go to the store and buy some bread. A simple enough task so it seemed. So we set out down the stairwell and followed his directions across the street and down to the store where we were to purchase the bread. We could sound out the words on signs and storefronts that we read. But despite our eight weeks language training we didn’t understand anything. We could, however, tell that it was the correct store because there was bread in the windows. So we went inside and discussed which bread to choose, then asked as best we could for some bread. I’m sure it sounded something like, “may… bread, please?” To which the person behind the counter responded something that might as well have been Chinese for all we knew. We looked at each other and asked if the other knew what she had said. We both drew blanks. So after doing a series of grunts and pointing we confirmed which bread we wanted. We then tried to pay her for it. She again said something neither of us understood and again we conversed with each other on whether the other had understood what she said. At this point she interrupted us and gave us a small receipt and pointed to our money and then down the counter to another person behind the counter. So looking as confused as two puppies in the middle of rush hour in traffic, we took the money and the receipt down to that person and she said something we didn’t understand then rang up something on the register in front of her. We understood by this time that we were paying for the bread but had no idea how much money to give her, or for that matter, what she was saying. So we just put the pile of money on the counter for her. She laughed, took what was needed to pay for the bread, then pushed the pile with our change back to us. She gave us another receipt and said something and pointed back toward the person with whom we had first connected. We went back to her and she said something and we just looked at each other and she pointed to the new receipt. We ended up exchanging that for the bread and by this time all the people in the shop were smiling or giggling at us. They very slowly asked us some very basic questions - then finally we understood. They were asking us where we were from and after doing our best to explain, we exchanged the few small pleasantries that we did understand and were on our way. We quickly and carefully made our way back to the apartment and marveled at what an adventure we had just had.

I will stay the night in Elders’ Wright and Wright's apartment. Then tomorrow, go to Voronezh with Elder Gray on an overnight train ride. Anyhow, it’s awesome to finally be in country and be able to interact with and try talking to actual Russians. I talked with my first Babushka on the metro; she was nice and helped give me a good first impression of Moscow.  The second Babushka we talked to was drunk and we couldn’t understand her. That was probably because we don’t understand Russian very well yet. Also, she was drunk! Anyhow I need to sleep --- haven’t slept for a few days.

29 July 2017

20 years ago today - MTC Life - The Mission Companion - 29 July 1997

When I first entered the MTC I had an unquenchable fire. I was so excited to be there. Nothing could bring me down. As time wore on, the realities of some things began to set in. For example, at first, my companion was the best. We were so excited to be together. But as time wore on, we realized the differences between us. That we both had very different backgrounds and perspectives on things which caused us to have our differences when it came to some everyday decision making.

One example of this was when I was trying to listen to an emotional recording my Mom had sent me. A little background: She and I hadn't been close or even really spoken to one another for several years before my mission. However, the mission was helping to repair the rift between us. In my youth, she had kicked me out several times. I was a good kid. However, my mom always struggled with psychological issues in life. Another issue was that she hated men. Aside from my father, after their divorce, I was the only male in the home. So I took the brunt of this hatred while I was living with her. When I decided to serve a mission, at first, I wasn't going to include her. However, at the advice of my surrogate Father, Randy Jensen, who was the one who took me in and finished raising me. I made an effort to repair the relationship and to include her in the process. He felt this would help her come closer to the gospel. And looking back, he was very right, it did.

Back to the story, I was trying to listen to this very emotional and sentimental audio recording my Mom had sent me but other missionaries in the room and hallway were being very loud and boisterous. I couldn't hear or focus on what was being said. After asking them if they'd be quiet to no avail, my next remedy was to build myself a fort. I was on the bottom bunk and hung a blanket to give myself a buffer that would hopefully grant me the space I needed to listen to this message from my mother. Despite using headphones, asking them to be quiet and building myself a fort. I could still hear them being rowdy and goofing off, which wrecked my focus. My next solution was against the rules but I needed the space. I went outside by myself and sat under a tree in the quiet summer afternoon in order to listen to my mother's message. I made it nearly all the way through before my companion came outside in a rage that I "had ditched" him. He was a stickler for following every rule to a 'T'. LDS Missionaries have many rules, one of which is that they are to be with their companions at all times. There was no bending the rules with my companion under any circumstance. I defended myself explaining the situation. He still refused to bend on that rule. We got into a yelling match that resulted in some hard feelings towards one another. He stubbornly refused to see the situation from my perspective and I refused to think that his way was the only way. In my mind, the rules are there for a reason. Once understood, they can be bent on occasion. To me, this was one of those occasions. I learned that I was in a minority when it came to my perspective on mission rules. This made me a "bad" missionary in the eyes of many, who in my mind lacked enough real life experience to understand my perspective. This polar difference has followed me not only throughout my mission, but into my everyday life. So many people are judgmental to those who don't follow the rules, as they see them. I try to look at the intent of someone's heart, live and let live. I don't judge them and ignore when I am judged. If I have to, in order to maintain my sanity, I keep them at a distance.

Once it is understood not just what the rules are but why they are there, you can better adapt to situations that can have enormously better outcomes if you can be even a little flexible. Another such example of this came up on my mission, when a very poor investigator had attended church with us on a very hot Sunday afternoon. There was a large group of us standing on a train station platform. We were all waiting for a train in the hot sun, when he decided to buy everyone ice cream out of the kindness of his heart. He disappeared for a few minutes then showed up with enough ice cream for everyone. Knowing how much money he made and how much those ice cream bars cost. This was a great sacrifice, full of kindness and love on his part. But because it was Sunday, everyone in the group declined his ice cream because it was purchased on the sabbath. They then preached to him about that commandment. However, I see things differently. I see the soul of a man who was struggling so much and just wanted to show his gratitude to his new friends in the gospel by doing something kind. He could have never known that would have been their reaction. I mean, we were about to get on a train and there were many people that labor in order to make the trains run on Sunday. In my perspective, this was hypocritical on our part. Having this perspective, I graciously accepted his ice cream. And his response was that he and I were going to have to enjoy all that ice cream by ourselves before it melted. One by one those in the group reluctantly joined us and accepted his kind gift. That man was eventually baptised. I shudder to think of the repercussions on his soul had I not stepped up and joined him with that simple act. If I were in his shoes and that happened, I'd have never come back to such a judgemental group.

Remember the story about the ox and the mire. Keep the bigger perspective in mind. We are all God's children. None of us are better than the next. One person's soul is worth a very minor sin. Why do we even have that rule? Why are we to keep the sabbath day holy?

- So that others may do the same.

Some things just can't shut down on Sunday. Like your kitchen, hospitals, public transportation, emergency personnel like firefighters, paramedics and police. Don't judge someone because they work on Sunday, buy ice cream on Sunday or... ditch their companions. ;-)

Here is my journal entry from those few days:

 29 July 1997
I got a tape from my Mom this week and on it she told me bedtime stories and opened up to me like I've never had her do before. She has been reading the book of mormon and shared the story of the tree of life with me. I felt so good. I was trying to listen in my "fort" (blankets on my bunk bed) But people kept on making noise and bothering me. I was getting frustrated so I decided to go outside and sit under my favorite tree to listen to it. About a half hour later my comp came out throwing a fit because I had left him alone. I told him I was going to finish listening to the tape but he insisted or rather, threw a tantrum because I wasn't coming in. Anyhow, we got into a little argument and the next morning we argued again and he still didn't understand that I had needed some time to listen to that recording. I exploded on him with words of frustration and he still didn't understand. We ended up just agreeing on our differences and being happy and we haven't really said anything about it since.

30 July 1997
On Wednesday, Lyn-z, Daryl, and Wendy brought a pizza for Elder Moulinoux and I. We talked to them for about a half hour. It made me feel good. I talked to them through the fence and joked and made them laugh. It made me feel SOOOOO good inside to talk with people who know me and aren't uptight and high strung. I understand the rules are important but if you walk around in life following every rule, never asking questions, you'll have never learned anything. That's my opinion. I am not like so many of the missionaries here who might as well have a number stamped on their forehead and walk around with a stick up their butt. Prophesying about the rules, (Here in the MTC) The District leader Elder Kerksiek in particular. He just turned old enough to be on a mission here in the MTC. He has probably been protected, loved and cherished his whole life. Not that that is so wrong but he is very inexperienced and doesn't understand much about life. He is very opinionated and I usually disagree with what he says. None of what he says can be backed up by doctrine. We all call him blasphemy boy. Anyhow, thanks for listening to me vent. These are my frustrations and also what has been going on in my life.
Good night,
Hugs and kisses.

Being rowdy with the other missionaries. The obligatory bunk bed roller coaster picture.

24 July 2017

20 years ago today - Pioneer Day Celebration - 24th of July 1997

Pioneer day July 24th. It's a lot like the 4th of July in that we light fireworks. It's just local. While I was in the MTC during one of the LGM's (large group meetings) on July 22nd, they announced that they were going to attempt the largest ever gathering of missionaries at an event outside of those at the MTC (about 3,800). This was to take place at the pioneer day celebration at the BYU football stadium located not far from the Provo MTC. We were going to make our way into the stadium and sing two songs with the tabernacle choir, "called to serve" and "faith in every footstep". Although missionaries that could actually sing, pre recorded the songs and were played over the loudspeakers. Not just for one but two nights. There was quite the buzz about it and we were to keep quiet and not write home to family about the event.

On the first night, the 24th. My district and many around us didn't even make it into the stadium before the two songs were sung. Although at the following night's event we made it all the way to the 50 yard line in the stadium. It was a really fun experience to be able to sing along with the tabernacle choir and to participate in something that had never before been attempted. We sang and everyone stood. I had a speaker blaring in my ear. Which was deafening. As I was making my way off the field after the songs conclusion, I was almost tackled by the mom of one of my little sisters, friend's, who had volunteered for the event. She was very excited to see me as she was proud to see me go on a mission. Even more so that she knew one of the thousands of missionaries there that night. I was sure that the mission rule for not hugging someone of the opposite sex would not have applied as it was more of a tackle than a hug.

Over 3,800 missionaries walking to the BYU football stadium. 

22 July 2017

20 year s ago today - President Wright - 22 July 1997

22 June 1997
Today we had a devotional and fireside. The speaker was Sherman Crump. He talked about families which made me start to think about my family and I started to miss my sisters. I sent off 28+ letters or prepared them for sending. I just need to copy the letter 28 times. I am very excited, I am learning a lot and am having many spiritual experiences. I met my mission President and Mother today and Elder and Sister Wright and I talked with them for 20 minutes or so. I had more spiritual experiences today than I probably ever have. I think it has only begun.
See ya!