22 November 2017

20 years ago today - To teach or to walk aimlessly around the city, that is the question. - 23 Nov 1997

Journal entry 23 Nov 1997:

Today is Sunday, we had a baptism in the zone today. It was a young kid who Elder Nelson was been teaching. My new companion's name is Elder Bassett. He is VERY molly mormon. I've learned that his parents have protected him his entire life. ie: edited his entire life, what he did, watched, ate, thought, everything. He is dead bent on following the rules as he perceives them, at all costs. I don't know why President Wright keeps assigning me with these types of companions. Perhaps it is that this is how most missionaries are and that I am the enigma. They seem to lack the life experience and consequential ability to think for themselves, so they rely on the rule book to think for them.

I need to vent:
We went tracting tonight and had a rare thing happen, a woman let us in to talk with her. Which is "against the rules." We aren't supposed to teach anyone of the opposite gender because we might slip and fall into their vagina's. Instead, we are to get their info and have the Sister missionaries talk with them. But that doesn't help when we are initially contacting people. It actually hinders. We were able to spark her interest because she knew English. So we began talking with her in English. She told us she has a test tomorrow in her English class, so I offered to help her study. Bassett was against it the entire time, trying to get us to bail. But after we helped her, she let her guard down enough that she allowed me an opportunity to tell her about the book of Mormon and Joseph Smith and about the church. She said she doesn't want to change religions but is willing and would like to listen to what we have to say. She began to tell us about her son, that he doesn't believe in God. I offered to help, saying that we would be more than happy to try to teach him about God and Jesus Christ. Which are commonalities between our differing religions. She seemed to very much like that idea. However, after this point, Bassett started being a dick and made us bail telling me that, "it was a total waste of time." I didn't say but what seems to me to be a total waste of time is walking around the city calling it, "productive street contacting" when we didn't even talk to anyone. He doesn't seem to make the connection that walking around the city and not talking to anyone is not productive. And that actually getting into someone's home and talking with them and building a relationship of trust then talking to them about the gospel is much more productive and in fact why we are here. I could go on and complain more about my companion but let me just say, he believes everything he is told and follows every rule and tries to follow the missionary guide but doesn't really know it. I wish he could know that being sincere can replace pretty much any and everything in the missionary guide and more.

Oh well, I am learning in a companionship that the first few weeks are the roughest. So I will just ignore the first few weeks worth of things that piss me off.

Okay, I'll get off my soap box now and go to bed. Thanks for listening to me bitch and moan.
Yours truly,

Elder Spruel and myself giving Igor a lift.

20 November 2017

20 years ago today - Gas - 20 Nov 1997

I had really bad gas today.

It was like fire and brimstone. Everywhere I went I heard weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.



Before gas release.


17 November 2017

20 years ago today - New Companion - 18 Nov 1997

Twenty years ago today I was transferred to a new apartment and was assigned a new companion, Elder Bassett.

Fist impression: Whew! He can't be worse than the last.

It's very interesting to see the progression of things and to notice how I have been guided and taught throughout my life. In my last companionship, I learned that even though he and I didn't get along very well, it is possible to find common ground and get along with anyone. No matter how annoying. There is something to learn from everyone, if I can be humble enough to see it.

Elder Bassett

Ice skating was one of my favorite pass times. 

Everyone loved Sister K's cooking. She took such great care of us. 

Inside the central market in Voronezh. 

The town square (Lennon square) during the set-up of the Christmas tree. 
My desk space.

14 November 2017

20 years ago today - Volodia's family and finding common ground with my least favorite comp. - 14 Nov 1997

Journal Entry 14 Nov 1997:
Last night I had a very interesting night. We were heading down to Volodia's flat to teach a new member discussion. When the bus finally arrived I made my way to my favorite spot on the bus but was stopped short finding everyone looking downward. I then looked down myself, only to find laying in my favorite spot was a prostrate man. I don't know if he was dead or just passed out drunk but he reeked of alcohol and wasn't moving. He might have died from alcohol poisoning. Everyone just stared, no one did anything though.

So, on the lighter side of things we had an awesome discussion that night. Volodia's wife Galina really opened up, she had many questions. Elder Russell and I haven't gotten along well at all or found we have anything in common. However, in that discussion I found we have the most important thing in common for companions to have, the gospel. We talked and worked together. It was awesome, she would have a question or concern, he would have an answer, then I would follow up with the scripture. The spirit was felt very strongly.

Got to go, see ya!

Here are some pictures that were taken during my time with Volodia and his family:
This is Volodia, his wife, daughter and their two pets.

Volodia the younger, myslelf and Volodia Kutepov at a discussion.

I enjoyed taking this style of picture. 
His cat would climb onto his lap, make its way up to his shoulder then jump from there to the upper part of the cupboard. I managed to steal this shot once, catching the cat in the act. He was just humble enough to let his cat do this without so much as batting an eye. It wouldn't even disrupt our discussions. 

Elder Russell with Galina and the cat.

Galina dressing up funny for us.

11 November 2017

20 years ago today - Finland to renew our Russian visa's - 12 Nov 1997

Today was a very beautiful day!

To get anywhere in Russia is about an overnights trainride. We arrived in Helsinki for our renewed Russian Visa's about 11:30 a.m. local time and spent the day exploring until about 5 p.m. Then we reboarded the same train. I'm on the train now writing this journal entry. This train is like an antique compared to the ones in Helsinki. The economic disparity is very apparent. The cars keep jerking around, I swear the driver is either drunk or doesn't know how to drive the train very well. For al I know the train could be getting pulled by reindeer. As the missionary on the lower bunk just said, "this sucks!" Helsinki is so nice! It's clean, quiet, clean, the subway system is way cool. Everyone usually sits and it is so quiet! Everything is clean. We went to Pizza Hut as you can see (Journal entry written on placemat) and McDonald's which can both be found on nearly every corner in Helsinki. We went into a grocery store and I got so excited I went crazy grabbing all kinds of candy and fun stuff off the shelves it was awesome! Things that can't be found in Russia. There are so many cute girls there! It's just really cool! I bought a couple of cool hats as souvenirs for Volodia the younger and I, as well as a Yosemite Sam figurine and a whole bunch of candy.

My MTC comp. 

At the Starlight diner in Moscow on the way back to Voronezh.

Ziggy piggy!

20 years ago today - Volodia's Baptism - The most spiritual experience of my mission - 09 Nov 1997

Let me preface that it's not easy to put myself out there like this and share one of my most tender and spiritual experiences so openly. I have resolved with myself that, what was the point in having had these experiences if I don't share them to uplift others around me. My current goal is to share these deep feelings and experiences in order to do just that.

Up until this point in my life I had encountered much hardship in my youth that gave me a unique perspective. Although not always popular with those around me who often viewed life much differently, including many other missionaries. My current companion was certainly no exception. The reason I wanted to serve a mission boiled down to one thing, I wanted to help people. Before I knew where I'd be assigned, before I received the call, before I even submitted the papers to serve. This was my only goal. To help people.

I wanted to share what had brought me happiness and purpose when I found myself drifting in a very low and gruesome void. I had tried many worldly things only to find that they not only didn't help but seemed to dig the void even deeper. I had learned that the only thing that would fill that void was reading the book of Mormon. It brought me joy, purpose and strength where there was none.

Flashing forward with some background to this point:
We had been meeting with one of the most humble men I've ever met when my first companion and I were tracting. I was fresh from the missionary training center. It was a time when my trainer was letting me lead using my 'greenie fire' to decide where we were going to search for potential investigators. We nearly landed on the doorstep of the perfect investigator. We went in and began to teach him the first discussion, he was so receptive. He had been very actively looking for the correct spiritual path and had read literally hundreds of books trying to find the right religion. He showed us his library of religious literature, pulling out the lower bunk of a day bed. Where the mattress should have been were books stacked filling the entire space, various books from many different religions and authors.

Over the next few months in the discussions with Volodia I remember struggling to understand him as I barely spoke Russian because I was so new, but my companions would translate for me, mostly on the walks home. Then after I understood what his concerns were I would diligently work to find scripture references that would address his questions and concerns. The next time we would meet, I would share those scriptures with him that answered his questions from the previous discussion. It was the best way I could communicate. I knew that the scriptures were translated well enough that I could communicate better through them. He was patient enough that this worked well.

After we had gone through nearly all the discussions he was very committed to being baptized. When we asked him who in the branch he would like to baptize him, as it was the mission policy to have a local member perform the ordinance. He asked if I could do it. He wanted me to do it, he insisted.

Volodia's baptism:
It was late Sunday afternoon, after all the regular church meetings had concluded. At the time, we were still renting all the facilities we used for every meeting. Regular church meetings were conducted in an art gallery. The vividly nude paintings hung gleefully above the children's primary space. The elders quorum met in the bar located in the basement. The baptism's were either performed in a river on the outskirts of town or during the cold months, we would rent out a public bath house. It being a cold November day, we had rented a bath house for the occasion. The bath house was old and run down. The faded blue tiles were decades old, some chipped, some missing, yet all were kept very clean and tidy. Although the floors are clean, everyone typically wore sandals inside their homes or in bathhouses like these. The congregation there to witness the ordinance met in the larger room, where folding chairs had been set up. The meeting would start as soon as Volodia and I had changed into our baptismal clothes. We went into a locker room to change. I wanted to speak with Volodia but my Russian was still very poor, so I spoke through the translation of my more experienced companion. I wanted to convey my deep feelings of gratitude to Volodia for the opportunity to have been able to be in attendance through all of his discussions over the previous several months. I conveyed how much my own testimony had grown through the experience. He also shared his testimony and conveyed his heartfelt gratitude for my service and thanked me for being willing to performing the ordinance. He said he had chosen me because I had a Christ-like quietness about me.

As we began to change into the baptismal clothes, we could hear the hymns being sung in the next room by the congregation as they waited for us. He began to sing and hum along with the hymns, some of which he had so diligently memorized the night before. I felt so inadequate next to such a humble and spiritual man. I must have been his perfect missionary. If I had to guess, it would be because I couldn't speak Russian well enough to screw up a conversation. Hence the "Christ-like quietness." In my entire life, I had never prayed harder to be worthy of the ordinance that would be performed. I had never felt more ready.

When we finished getting dressed, we went into the large room where many of the members and other missionaries were waiting and enjoyed a beautiful meeting with hymns and a talk. We then made our way into the next room where a deep bath had been filled. I climbed into the warm water that went up to my mid belly standing up, Volodia followed. I recall how awkward it felt fumbling around with our hands until we had our arms where they needed to be. In the instant our arms fell into position, after my arm came to a square, I felt as though I was pushed back in my body and was no longer in control of my limbs but was just a witness and was watching the ordinance be performed. The words were coming out of my mouth but I wasn't speaking them. They were the words I had so diligently memorized.

"Владимир Сергеевич кутепов будучи полномочным Иисусом Христом я крещу тебя во имя отца и сына и Духа Святого -Амин."

Then I watched as he was buried under the water and brought back out. Volodia and I shared a loving embrace, then he grabbed my head and kissed me on the cheek and in that instant it felt as though I was pushed forward back into my body to receive that kiss. Then I felt that comforting awkwardness again.

While riding the bus on the way home that night, I used my basic Russian conversational skills to converse with my good friend, Volodia the younger. (As we called him.) He had been at many of the discussions and had given the talk at the baptism. I asked him how he thought the baptism had gone, how had I done? Normally very jestful he paused, became quite serious as his eyes widened, as he intently looked at me and said. "Voodberry, it was amazing, when you said the baptismal prayer, you had no accent!"

The next day I went to Finland to renew my visa. At the same time, Volodia the younger went to serve a mandatory two years in the Russian military. He later went on to serve his mission in Las Vegas and is now an area seventy. I am humbled that I was able to have this and many other experiences and to make friends with some of the most amazing people I've ever met.

The Vlad's and I.

My actual journal entry from that day: 09 Nov 1997
Today was an awesome day! Yesterday was cool too. yesterday was Zone conference I felt the Spirit pretty strong and it made me feel really good and got me pumped up. then today after church was Volodia's baptism. Last Wednesday he said he wanted me to perform the ordinance for him. So today I had the opportunity to baptize him, it was awesome! However, I don't recall doing much of the baptism because I felt like I was just a puppet in the Lord's hands. but I said,

Владимир Сергеевич кутепов будучи полномочным Иисусом Христом я крещу тебя во имя отца и сына и Духа Святого Амин.

Then everyone said amen as I buried him into the water then brought him back up. I gave him a hug , then he kissed me on the cheek. Before this I had Elder Russell help me talk to him. I wanted to thank him and tell him how much my testimony had grown from having the opportunity to be at every discussion with him. I went through three companions while teaching him. He told me he chose me to baptize him because I had a Christ-like quietness about me. Today was an awesome day! I was able to perform a sacred ordinance for a great man. Volodia is one of the most humble guys I have ever met. In the past two months he has grown in his testimony and knowledge more than I have in all my life. Things that I am still figuring out, he knows, is learning or has learned. (His birthday is March 15th 1949.) I can't put into words the joy I feel and felt today. I saw him become a clean and pure Man, the most clean and pure person in the room. When we were getting dressed before the baptism, we heard people singing in the other room and he started singing along too. He is an awesome man. He has a big testimony that I'm sure it will expand to be one of the biggest in the branch . I'm very excited for him. Also Volodia the younger is going into the army tomorrow. I am really going to miss him. I am also really looking forward to Finland! We leave tomorrow. I'm excited. I think this week will be one of the best of my life!
I'm happy!

02 November 2017


I want to talk about sound.

Riding in the car listening to the talking heads on the radio, the music, the commercials and then shutting the music off. Then recognizing and appreciating the beautiful silence. That moment is such a soothing sensation. Then I notice the sound of wind passing by. My mind wanders to the sound of my kids around the house. Arguing, playing or watching TV. What a soothing sound that is to me. The contrast being when the sound of my children is not there. Because I only have my children half the time, I know and dread a dead silence around the house when there is the lack of their sound. It is an incredible thing to realize blessings. I could have had a worse custody arrangement and only been able to see my kids every other weekend like so many dad's. I can't imagine it. That would very likely have killed me. I miss the sound of them there constantly. I recall it being taxing, looking for a quiet break every now and again. Now, oh how much I long for their sound. In the early parts of the divorce, how much I despised even the thought of not seeing my kids every day. It doesn't get any easier but I have become used to it.

So many sounds. The sound of cars rushing by. The sound of a jet passing overhead. The sound of music playing. Then the sound of a really good song I love, then listening to it again.

The sound of being out in the wilderness, on a mountain looking out over a huge expanse. The effort it took to get there instantly fades. I lie down in the tall grass among the flowers of the field and feel the heat of the sun warming my face. Covering my body like a warm blanket. The wind passing by as it ruffles my clothes. Hearing the leaves rustle and the sound they make as sudden swells of air rush through the tree's nearby. Then as the wind dies down, I enjoy the silence and eventually notice the sound of my heart beating. After a few minutes, the thoughts in my head seem to become audible as the only thing for my mind to focus on. The thoughts begin to take shape as I imagine the objects around me and the sound they can make. I can begin to make out the silent roar of the earth turning. In this moment, I am at peace.

So many sounds to appreciate.

The crickets chirping at night and the birds during the day. The sound a waterfall makes as the water crashes down and the mist as it dissipates and cools the air. The soothing constant roar of a rushing river. The trickle of a nearby stream. The silent sound of a snow storm, as the falling snow muffles the typical ambient sound. Hearing only my footsteps as the snow crunches under my feet. The sound of the rain outside my window or on the rooftop. The crackling sound of a fire. Soaking in its heat and listening to the sound of the turning pages of a good book.

I challenge myself to listen to the sounds around me at different times. Appreciate them for what they are. Noisy times, silent times, happy times and even sad ones. For it is through these moments of realization that blessings appear out of thin air.