13 October 2017

20 Years ago today - A day in the life of a missionary - 13 October 2017

13 Oct 2017
It's 6:20 PM on the new watch and guess what just happened? A wonderful experience. Okay, my comp, Volodia and I were on the bus on our way back home when a cute girl came up and stood next to me, and on Voronezh buses, you are packed in like sardines, so its not like you can avoid contact with other people. But this girl was unusually close and she wasn't bad looking. She stuck her chest fetching deep into my arm and stared at me almost the entire time. My comp was standing right next to me as was the member Volodia. She was so close and MAN! If I wasn't a missionary! Anyhow, I wanted to share that experience. Then when we got off the bus she stared at me as we walked away. Whoa! It was fun to get that attention but it's really distracting. Anyhow, gotta go tracting now. Gotta think good thoughts, like religious thoughts, spiritual thoughts, because it's so easy to get distracted. The girls here dress so fetching scantily and wear lots of makeup and it makes them look very good. Also there are nudy stickers everywhere. As a missionary, what do I do?! Gotta go work.
See ya!

Here I am again, same day four and a half hours later, it's 11pm. This day has been wonderful. We went tracting and we went into a building and on the last stairwell, I went in well ahead of Schwartz and Volodia. It was pitch black inside, I climbed the stairs to the second floor when I saw the shadow of what looked like a vampire coffin. I shined my laser on it so I could see what it was, only to find out it was the lid to a coffin, it had the Russian orthodox cross on it. I got scared and ran out of the stairwell. When I asked Volodia about it, he explained that when people die here, they keep them in their apartment until the funeral. They take them straight from there to the graveyard. Freaky! They don't have morgues. Anyhow, we continued to walk around until we were about ready to go home, when I had a good feeling about the building in front of me and suggested we tract it. So Schwatrz and I did, while Volodia protested and didn't want to. So Schwartz and I tracted the first stairwell then after we were done, we began to make our way to the second when Volodia argued against us but we decided to go anyway. (Partly because we were getting sick of having him hang out with us all day, every day.) Which is something he does a lot. I feel guilty about it because he relies on us for food but we need to get our missionary work done too. He always says, "you know what I want... To eat!" The dude always wants to eat.

But anyway, we ended up tracting that stairwell and when we got to the top, the second door let us in. The wife answered and after we introduced ourselves she went to get her husband. He yelled from the other room to come on in! So we did, he asked if we were Christians, we said yes. I asked if he was Russian Orthodox. With a big smile on his face he said, "we're in Russia, I'm Russian, of course I'm Russian Orthodox!" That was cool. He was very nice and we talked for about an hour and then when we were leaving, he gave us a big jar of grape juice. Then he walked us home. His name is Nicholi. We are going back tomorrow to teach a first discussion and we are bringing our Russian Bible scholar Igor with us because Nicholi knows a lot about the Bible. He is very well read and has quite the library. He is retired and basically, has "nothing better to do."

Well that was my very interesting, fun, get ogled on a bus, tract, teach, totally awesome and yet still slacked off for most of the day, kind of day.
It's now midnight.
Good night!

05 October 2017

Ban all guns, but do this first.

There is a huge void in legislation that doesn't even touch the primary concerns of the majority of honest, law abiding, citizens that enjoy their guns for sport, protection or otherwise. I believe the answer does not lie in which weapons we ban or whether we leave them completely unregulated. That old arguement is getting us nowhere and it's not really logical in today's day with all the technological advancements in weaponry, biological, jets's, nukes etc. What private militia in the world could hold a candle to the United States Military? (rhetorical statement)

I think the answer lies in the original intention of the second amendment. I believe it was intended to be able to keep the government in check should it become corrupted. Such that the people could take back their freedom should it be infringed upon.

Let's be honest. Our government is far larger and much farther beyond the reach of ANY well regulated militia. With the original intent of the second amendment in mind, the checks and balances are out of whack. The government and military are so much larger, more technologically advanced than any freedom seeking militia. I think the answer lies in a much larger form of balance. I'm not talking an equal amount of weaponry. We already tried that with the cold war. And this world doesn't need more WMD's. I believe what would address this legislative void is a guarantee that the government has some form of oversight that holds them accountable. Let nothing of tragic history ever be repeated.

Every American needs a guarantee that his individual freedoms are protected. This would only work if we were all united, if we all supported any initiative or law that supports our safety in general. To wit, I would propose the following:

Ban assault weapons, they have no purpose outside of mass murder. (Yes, I'm aware.)

I believe that this would satisfy the majority with regards to banning full assault weapons because honestly, they are designed to kill people. They have no other purpose. I am a firm proponent for keeping my firearms for sport. I have a conceal carry permit but in the scenario publicly presented in Las Vegas, that wouldn't have done a lick of good to protect myself or others. (There are already conspiracy theories around this event as well. I believe my proposal would satisfy their concerns as well.)

None of this little garbage legislation that doesn't address the concerns of any side. Address the primary concerns of both sides:


Create a legislation that addresses and properly establishes an equal checks and balances system within the US government, keeping the power of the people in their own hands and not open to the corrupt dictates of a small few. Specifically surrounding the second amendment.

I propose this but am open to any suggestions that would fill the void.
In today's day and age, use technology to our advantage. Allow a true majority vote of the informed public. At the very least, with major matters such as going to war.

Create software that would inform an individual about both sides of an issue that could then be voted on. It could be established initially as a trial, testing the waters of popular opinion.

I believe the future of the human race depends on whether or not we can peacefully explore beyond our little world. Peace starts with us, here in our own world, among our own people, in our own hearts.

22 September 2017

20 years ago today - Getting ran out of our apartment - September 1997

Twenty years ago today Morris and I took a member, Igor Smirnov, with us on a discussion. Igor has an immense knowledge of the gospel and understands the bible like no other. We made a habit of taking a local member with us on discussions for a variety of reasons. I'm sure our fresh linguistic abilities left something to be desired when it came to communication. Morris was only six months in country and he spoke the language leaps and bounds better than I. It was my understanding that the area of the city we were assigned to work, was a little on the rougher side. We had just rented a new apartment in the area that I understood as having never had any missionaries live there before. Being the fresh Greenie that I was, I asked my companion if, among the many buildings in the area, if we could tract or knock on the doors of our own high rise building to look for potential investigators. Against his better judgement, he relented. We handed out invitations to attend church to all that would take them. Listed on the invitation was our phone number and the address where we meet for Sunday services. However, it's not difficult to find out where the American missionaries live. So needless to say, everyone in the area knew who we were and where we lived. On this particular night, the person we were attempting to have a discussion with didn't answer their door. This happened so frequent we had a phrase for it. We called this, being "Jaked". Whether the discussion was successful or not, to thank the branch member for helping us on the discussion, we had made it a habit to feed them a meal as our way of saying thank you. We had two members we relied on most for this, Igor Smirnov and Volodia Astashov. Both young at the time, Volodia is now an area authority in the church. (A member of the quorum of the seventy.) On this particular night we had Igor with us. We went back to the apartment after the unsuccessful discussion attempt. While we were preparing dinner we had some girls call asking us out on a date. We told them we couldn't as we are missionaries, explaining that it was forbidden for us to meet with or date young women while we are missionaries. Then they said they were coming over and to just open the door and let them in. We mostly ignored the call and began to eat dinner, because no one ever knocks on our door. Well sure enough, there was a knock at the door. We didn't answer it, but carefully and quietly we each peeked out the peek hole and sure enough there were a couple of cute girls on the other side of the door. We figured, no big deal, we'll just ignore them and they'll go away. Then we noticed out of the very side part of the peek hole, that there were a few other male figures hiding just out of view. At this point we got concerned. They went away for a bit and we started to decide what to do when they called again. This time we put Igor on the phone, hoping that a native Russian with no accent would scare them away. It didn't. They showed up a little while later knocking on the door again. They finally went away but we were too freaked out to stay any longer. We made contact with the zone leader and he agreed we should pack a few days worth of clothes and try to get to his place. We stuffed some clothes into our backpacks, dressed in street clothes, made sure the door was clear and carefully made our way down the stairwell. It was getting dark and there were three of us, instead of our usual two, so we hoped at least our numbers would be different than what they were expecting and they wouldn't recognize us. When we got down the stairwell we were quite shocked to see a large group of 20-30 youth had gathered just outside the door in the courtyard. We quickly, yet casually started our way through the crowd. Somehow, we managed to slip through the crowd unnoticed. Once we had successfully made our way around the corner and out of sight, we started running to the street, hailed the first taxi and managed to get out of there safely without incident. We didn't go back for three days. Even then, it was only to cancel the apartment contract. We didn't work that area much more. Later when I asked Igor about what he would have done if we had been caught in the middle of the crowd, I'd have helped them of course, he joked.

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.