12 February 2018

20 years ago today - Lucky Friday the 13th in Moscow - 13 Feb 1998

I'm not superstitious. I believe we manifest our own luck, be it good or bad. But on this day, twenty years ago I had an adventure that shook that thought. Here is an article written about that day:


Not unlike Americans, many Russians are superstitious. Perhaps this explains a little about the following experience.

It was Friday the 13th February 1998. The day started out the way it typically did, my companion and I getting ready for the day, get dressed, scripture study and eat breakfast. As the morning light began to slowly fill the apartment, I looked outside. It was beautiful the way the frost and snow covered everything, glistening their brilliantly unique shapes in the light from the uniformly illuminate sky.

We were in the south-east part of Moscow, near the last metro stop Vuixhina. There was much more city at the end of the stop, but to get there it would take either a train or bus ride to go any farther.
It took some extra motivation to go outside this particular morning because the thermometer was in the negative. Once we stepped outside we were slapped in the face by the bitterly freezing temperatures. So cold it hurt. The temperature, minus 21 degrees Celsius not considering the wind chill factor. My companion and I made a quick decision to find a warm stairwell to knock on doors and look for potential investigators. Street contacting made no sense because no one sober would want to stop and have a conversation in these temperatures.

We made our way to a set of high-rise, communist built, apartment buildings several miles south east, from our own apartment building. We began our usual routine, ride the elevator up and work our way back down, knocking on doors as we went. After about the second or third stairwell, we rode to the top floor and began working our way back down. However this time, people started yelling and screaming as we made our way down. We were met with some stiff criticism and many harsh words. People yelling back and forth, threatening to call the police. The people we were trying to start a conversation with couldn’t hear us over the other residents yelling down the stairwell. We decided to cut it short and take the elevator back down. When the elevator doors opened, standing there were two cops carrying fully automatic, military style rifles and a lady sharply accusing and pointing that these were the guys! I’m not going to lie I may have shat myself a little. At the command of the officers we proceeded out of the elevator and they quickly asked for our documents. I got mine out but my companion had only a copy of his, because he'd lost the originals. The first officer began to check over our documents while the other called to a third officer who had ridden the elevator to the top floor and was making his way back down, searching for us. After checking our documents and searching our bags, they took us outside, put us in the back of one of the two police cars and drove us to the local police station.

While we were en route, I recall the warmth of the vehicle, how nice it felt nice to be out of the bitterly freezing cold. I was also enjoying the different perspective. Viewing Moscow from a car as opposed to mass transit or walking. The officers scolded us about knocking on peoples doors nearly the entire trip, telling us that it was forbidden. The only reprieve from the verbal onslaught was when one of the officers began cursing at another car that had pulled out into the street and was blocking traffic. As he cursed, he made several hand gestures. I was proud that I understood some of the curses he used, calling the other driver a "придурок", which translates to moron, which I found amusing at the time. My language study was working!

When we finally arrived at the police station, they took us into a room and began taking down all of our information, passports, address, where we were from, what organization we were with etc. After waiting some time, the police chief came in and instantly began furiously yelling at us about knocking on peoples doors, saying that people here already had a religion, (Russian Orthodox) that they needed no other. After quite the extensive ass chewing, the Chief went out to do something with our documents. We were left with several officers in the room who mostly rebuked, teased and poked fun at our expense.

My companion told me in English not to say anything. (he seemed quite frightened). One officer began asking questions and seemed genuinely curious about our religion, they all poked fun, but this one in particular withheld any teasing remarks and maintained his curiosity. Against my companions advice and better judgment, I spoke up. I didn't really have anything to lose. I never saw my life much past my mission anyway. This was a big fun adventure to me and I was going to live it to its fullest. Even if it were to be shortened by my big fat mouth. Besides, these were typical law enforcing, bribe accepting, Russian police officers. I felt fairly confident they weren't going to hurt us.

The one officer jestfuly asked about the book of Mormon he had seen in our bags. I told him about it, I told him how it had brought me so much joy and purpose. That it was the only thing I had found that filled the void of sorrow and woe that had once filled my young life. That this book was the reason I was there in Russia. To share the joy that I had found with anyone who would listen. That we give it free of charge, to anyone who would read it. He asked if he could have it. Instantly another officer interrupted sharply with a, “No” and contorted “Why do you want something like that!?” He replied “I’ve read the Bible and the New testament.” The scolding officer rolled his eyes and rebuked “молодец” in a teasing tone, which means good job or way to go.

Now Russian culture is quite interesting. Most Russians who didn't know us were cold and harsh. However, once they open up and let you in their hearts, more often than not, you are treated warmly as family. When someone gives you a gift they typically try to either pay for it or will feel obligated to give you something in return. Knowing we wouldn't take money for the book and not having something to give me in return on his person, at that moment. Igor looked around, then checked himself for something he could give me. He found nothing save his side arm. He grabbed it, took out the clip, cleared the chamber and handed it to me to hold and admire. Looking at Igor then the other officers I accepted and carefully took a closer look, admiring his gift, albeit a temporary one. Now this is a much bigger deal to Russians, guns are outlawed and are only owned by cops and criminals. Your average Ivan only gets exposure to guns in the military (which happens to be mandatory for men). Igor was quick to show me another cool piece of equipment, his bullet proof vest, exposing it under his shirt and giving it a good pounding with his fist as if to prove its durability.

Feeling obligated to include my companion, I turned to pass the gun to him, only to find his eyes glaring back, wide enough to fit a freight train through. Shaking, he kind of looked at it briefly and returned it to me. I returned the pistol to Igor and thanked him for the opportunity to hold it. After that, the conversation turned much softer towards us.

The police Chief eventually came back in, returned our documents, chewed us out a little more, telling us to leave people alone, that if they were interested, they would contact us. blah, blah, blah. He then told us we could leave.

Igor walked us out and explained to us that the reason people had freaked out so much at our contacting method that day was that thief’s and thugs used to use a similar tactic. They would knock on the door, quickly grab a person of interest, then that person would never be seen again. A tactic apparently gleaned from the KGB during communist times. Once outside, he explained which area might be better for knocking doors so we could hopefully avoid being hauled in again. While we were walking out, another officer asked Igor “what are you doing with that book?”. He said “they gave it to me as a gift.” As we walked away they teased him by shouting to us; “look, you’ve got one more Mormon in Russia.”

While I never found out if anything came of it. My best hopes are that Igor read the book and felt enlightened in some way. My best hopes are that it changed his life for the better. It definitely changed my life for the better.


The view from the apartment window at the Vuihina apartment. 
This photo brings back so many memories. The scent of urine, the nudy stickers and sharpie graffiti. 

One of our favorite regular investigators, Omar. He would frequently visit and enjoyed speaking english with us while we enjoyed one of his specialty pizzas. 

17 January 2018

20 years ago today - Transfer to Moscow - 17 Jan 1998

I was very sad to receive the news I'd be leaving Voronezh. I felt this was going to be the highlight of my experience in Russia. Early on, it was coined the Disneyland of the mission. It turned out to be so very true. I love the members there and when I speak Russian (which is rare anymore) I notice the influence Voronezh had on my Russian accent. In fact, towards the end of my mission, when contacting people on the street. People rarely believed me when I said I was an American. They frequently assumed I was from a former Russian state from before the soviet union was dissolved.

Jan 17th 1998
Today is my third day with Elder Pabst. He Rocks! He is from East Germany. He grew up on the communist ruled side, before the wall fell. He's not bitter about it at all. (sarcasm)
I was transferred to Moscow. It sucks here compared to Voronezh. My last day in Voronezh, we did one of my favorite activities. We went ice skating. It was a very fun day, except for the part where I was helping my best missionary friend ice skate. I was skating backwards helping him skate and turned for a second to look where I was going. When I turned back he was lying on the ice with a pool of blood growing under him. He had hit his head falling on the ice and had to get stitches. Oops! I will really miss the Voronozh members. So many of them gave me their address and want me to write. I hate writing. I seldom write in this journal. I struggle writing letters home as well. I suppose I can work on it.

I have been sick lately. I've got shiz and I just don't feel well. We ate at the starlight diner my first day here in Moscow. then we went over to Elder Ungritches apartment and played monopoly. I was disappointed that I lost first. Pabst thinks he won. :-P

Jan 18th 1998
Today Elder Pabst and I went to church then came home and played pick-up-sticks and then Risk. He kicked my butt all over. I miss Voronezh. Today in church I was exceptionally sad. I missed Voronezh. I didn't enjoy it almost exclusively because I wasn't in Voronezh. There were 11 missionaries in attendance and only about that many members. Activity sucks here. I'm bored.
Bye.

Volodia and his family.

Sister K and her daughter, Zhenya. Thanks for washing all of our shirts!

My Christmas wall decorations.

Dinner at Sister Kuznitsova's was always a treat. She took such good care of us.

Shenanigans

Igor and Kolya.

Pictures in front of the Christmas tree were fun.

Alex had so many good questions. I was constantly in the bible dictionary and topical guide looking up answers to his questions. So much so, I bought him his own triple combo using the money my Mom had sent me with. So many of the members here were so poor, I ended up using almost all of the money she sent me with for things like this. A new iron for Sister K, She had been using an old stove top iron, to iron our shirts. Igor was living with his divorced mother at the time and was using shoes that were so worn his feet got wet when it was wet out. Towards the end of my mission, I donated my suits and shirts to another member that was going on a mission. I came back with the clothes on my back.

This was one of my favorite ways to get a picture of everyone.

Ilya was my favorite kid in the branch. Such a good kid!

I had made it my goal to make people laugh. The Mongolian Sisters were a fun target for this.

The branch president at the time, posing as Father Frost (Santa) for the branch kids.
Father Frost, the Ice Princess and the branch kids visiting "Santa".

A few of the many members and missionaries that came to see me off at the train station. No, those aren't ghostly apparitions, It was so cold your breathe stayed visible in the air for quite some time.

I still feel guilt about Elder Spruels injury. 

Sad Selfie. Leaving Voronezh.
I'd never felt more myself, than I had at this time. 

01 January 2018

20 years ago today - New Year Celebration - 31 Dec 1997

New years celebration with the members was a blast.

It's cider.

We were geeks for following the "no touch" rule.


I'd never loved giving a gift more in my life than I did giving this white elephant gift to Anya. She loved it!







25 December 2017

20 years ago today - The spirit does not discriminate - 24 Dec 1997

Russians don't celebrate Christmas on December 25th, they celebrate Christmas on January 8th. And they don't call him Santa, they call him Father Frost and he is almost always accompanied by the Ice Princess. So Christmas this season will mostly be celebrated on January 8th. Here is my journal entry from Christmas eve, 1997.

24 Dec 1997
It's been a while so I figured I'd better update the journal. Last night, I was able to call home to talk with Lyndsie and Jill, they were excited to hear from me and I was really excited to hear from them. I am home sick. Lyndsie was really excited and started screaming. I talked to her for about ten minutes. Then I called Jill who happened to be at Wayne's house at the time. She didn't even recognize who I was until I told her. I really miss them. I heard baby CJ's voice for the first time. Oh yeah, Jill had her baby. She's a little girl named Cortney Jordan, or CJ for short. I enjoyed listening to the little baby gurgling sounds, it was so cute! I really enjoyed talking with them. I was able to talk to my Mom a few weeks ago when she called after CJ was born to tell me the good news and let me know that everything was cool, both Mom and baby are well. I enjoyed talking with my Mom then.

We had zone conference yesterday and I gave a talk. I spoke about mercy, the spirit was strong and felt by all. The next day my missionary companion told me that he doesn't know how I can still have the spirit with me when I don't follow "any of the mission rules". (Ouch!)

Such an ignorant and hurtful statement for my companion to say. The spirit isn't only for hardcore members or missionaries who follow all their own made up rules in order to judge whom is more Holy. The spirit doesn't discriminate with the eyes of men. The mission rules are guidelines. The spirit follows the rules and will of God. I don't understand how my companion judged and criticized me even when he felt the spirit testify to my message during my talk. I seriously don't get this holier than thou mindset that some people fall in to. It's rampant in the LDS culture. Who knows, perhaps it's human nature. But I refuse to subscribe.

My off the cuff response was that the Lord loves me and even though I sometimes, okay, a lot of the time, have problems following the rules and doing what I am told. The lord will always love and bless me. Just like he does for everyone. I'm beginning to realize just how differently I think due to my upbringing. I guess I am this way because I have gone through so much more shit in my young life compared to so many other missionaries. The lord must be extending mercy on me because I never get up on time. In order to unwind, I have sometimes sneaked and watched Jay Leno at night. I love listening to the Russian translations right after hearing it in English. and It's so fascinating that even here in Russia, they watch so much American TV. Anyway, I rarely go to bed on time and among the plethora of other various "problems" I have been having. I listen to unauthorized or "нелзя" music. In fact, right now I'm listening to INXS greatest hits. My comp told on me to the mission President and in my interview with President Wright, he tried to make me realize I need to try to follow the rules simply for the sake of obedience. Because he asked me I have been trying. I have been getting up on time and going to bed on time. Well, at least I'm trying. I think a lot about "baby steps." Growing up, I never had any rules. I just did what made sense. For example, if I didn't get up on time for school, I missed class and as a consequence, would fail classes. So I learned for myself, to get up on time for school. But saying I'm a bad person because I don't following some made up regimen is not only absurd to me, it's ignorant and asinine.

The rules on listening to music vary from mission to mission. Before the mission split, the rule was, if it inspires you, it's okay to listen. Can they be serious to think that the spirit won't be with a missionary because of a made up rule? The rule was put in place because the mission president at the time, called his AP's early one morning to hear Metallica blaring in the background. During the interview the mission President asked me to obey the mission rules for the sake of obedience. But obedience to whom? I'm not here to brown nose him, I'm here to worship God, to follow Christ and to live his ultimate example. I'm here to help people, and that is exactly what I intend to do.

Well right now, I'm on splits with the district leader, Elder Callahan. He wants to go work, So I better finish up and go get ready. I've got so much going through my head right now. It's going too fast for me to slow down enough to write it all.

I have been learning by leaps and bounds in the gospel lately and it's really cool. Not just learning about it but actually knowing it. I still have a hard time and butt heads with people or missionaries who think they know everything and how it all works. I may not follow all their rules to a "T" but I can see how the Lord is using my unique perspective to help others and to treat them in a more Christlike way than others seem to be capable of. I get really frustrated with missionaries who would rather obey rules than help people. I just want to shake them by the shoulders and yell at them to listen to the spirit. They think they know it all, when in fact they have barely even begun to live life. I sometimes hate the curse that was my upbringing. I had to grow up so fast and have had to learn lessons that most people my age can't yet comprehend. Dealing with them and their ignorant perceptions are downright aggravating.
Oh well, that's mission life.
See ya,
Tony

13 December 2017

20 years ago today - Baby CJ - 14 Dec 1997

The first part of December:
I was so happy, I was where I wanted to be; serving a mission. Doing exactly what it was I wanted to be doing; helping people. I was able to share my entire self and the love that I felt, with the people I was serving. The best part, I felt loved in return. Looking back, this was the happiest part of my mission. 

I'll never forget a phone call I received around 3 A.M. December 14th, 1997. It was my Mom. She was calling to tell me that my sister Jill had given birth to baby CJ. She arrived a little early but all was well. It is a humbling thought that little did I know that a short 19 years later I'd have so many wonderful kids in my life, between my own and my many, many, nieces and nephews, but that my Mom will have passed away. So much has happened in the past 20 years, both good and bad. Of all the changes I've witnessed, there is one thing I've learned that remains forever the keystone to the future. The youth are the treasure. Everything else passes and morphs into other things. But the young and how they are molded are what shapes the future existence of mankind. 

This is the month I started using the calendar as a journal.

Volodia and I.


Igor and I doing my favorite activity.

Zone Conference.

Patrick Pabst, Ze German. 

Sending off my greenie trainer. Oblivious to know I'd be next month.
Missionary send off's at the train station are always a big thing in Voronezh. This really made you feel cared for and loved.
The Hansen's took good care of us.

Vera's Baptism.

Vera and Eric Reidel.

Mission conference.

Dinner at Sister K's! It's easy to point out the Americanized people in this picture.

Volodia and I were best friends. I bought us hats when on my trip to Finland to renew my visa. 

Attending the young women's class, I was told I make a pretty good girl. 

30 November 2017

20 years ago today - Disco - 30 Nov 1997

It's about 5:30p.m. and we just got back from the "Disco:" Elder Bassett and I thought it was going to be something else. We met a family tracting last night and we had a good introductory BRT session. Only, they invited us to come watch their ten year old daughter Anya, sing at a performance. We thought, sure, that sounds like fun. So we met their older daughter, who had been waiting for us in the cold longer than she had to for us to show up. What happened was we were told to be there at 3:30 at the place. However, the older daughter was there at 3:00 and she waited for us out in the cold for that long. I felt really bad. When we went inside, we learned it was a disco for kids. We both didn't feel comfortable going in. The rules are that we aren't supposed to listen to anything beyond church hymns. I've been trying to follow the rules as per my interview with President Wright. However, we felt it would be an insult if we didn't at least stay until Anya's performance. Another reason we felt bad is because they had bought us tickets at 10,000 Rubles apiece to get us in because they really wanted us to hear her sing. We stayed long enough to hear Anya sing, then went home. I feel bad for ditching and leaving early. We were in the Disco for only about an hour. I didn't feel too bad because it was a disco mostly for children.

The family.


We played some fun FHE games with them throughout our discussions.





Little Disco-tek Anya.





20 years ago today - Circus - 29 Nov 1997

We went to the circus. It was pretty cool and funny. The clowns were really funny and the elephants were cool too. I saw camels for the first time in my life. It was so cool. Anyhow, Volodia is coming over right now, so I have to go. Guess what he wants to do? Eat. "Ты знаешь что я хочу! есть!" (You know what I want! to Eat!)

Elephants

Camels

Alex and Timothy. Alex would be later baptised, I bought him his own triple combination with money my Mom gave me. He's a Nigerian Prince in his local tribe. A truly humble guy. 

Dinner with the senior couple. I can't recall their names right now. 

A view from the apartment of local folks standing in line at the milk truck.