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!

11 July 2017

20 years ago today - P-day and Temple Sealing Experience - 11 July 1997

P-day or preparation day is a day designated for missionaries to get laundry done, write letters to friends and family, attend to any other personal matters and to essentially take a day off.

Doing laundry in the MTC; I never thought much about leaving my laundry to go do other things while the machine did its work. One P-day in particular I came back to my laundry only to find that my favorite hat was missing. It was a hat that my younger sister Lyndsie had given to me as a souvenir from her recent trip to New York City. Someone had stolen it in the one place I would have thought nothing like that would ever happen. This forever changed my view of other missionaries and other people. That despite my best efforts to be the best person I could be, many other people just don't have the same motives.

A favorite way to spend a few hours on P-day was to attend the temple. Exactly twenty years ago on a hot July day in particular while having just finished a temple endowment session, another Elder from my district and I, (Elder Schakowsky) were leaving the celestial room early. We were then intercepted by a temple sealer as we made our way to the changing rooms and he asked if we'd like to participate in temple sealings. Which we happily obliged and then followed him to the sealing room.

During a temple sealing, spouses and families can be sealed together for time and all eternity. This being the highest ordinance available in the LDS faith. It is also necessary to attain the highest glory in the afterlife. Like the temple endowment, this can be done by proxy for those who have already passed on without having had the opportunity. Like any ordinance performed in LDS temples, the work can either be accepted or rejected by the individual(s) for whom the work is being done.

It goes like this, There is an altar in the middle of the room which you kneel across from the person with whom you are being sealed to. Or in this case you are both representing couples who have passed on. There is a mirror behind each of you and the reflecting images go on forever. This represents the eternal aspect of the covenants you are making with each other before God.

I don't recall who the sisters were but what I do recall was the feeling about the experience. I had never experienced anything like this before. We each took turns at the alter while the officiant or temple sealer, performed the ordinance. He would read through the names and perform the sealings while the woman and man performed in the proxy place of the individuals for whom the work was being done.

For most of the time, these were just words being spoken by the sealer. However, for one sealing in particular, when the ordinance started, the room suddenly felt full. Full of people, perhaps spirits from beyond. Then the most magical feeling happened. The words felt as though they were being accepted. That there was a couple on the other side of the veil that were accepting this work. The love felt so rich and full. I couldn't help but to feel the overwhelming love as it brought tears to my eyes. The entire room was spilling over with this love and joy. Then something happened that sealed in my mind that the experience was real. The sealing ceremony for that particular couple concluded; and in that instant, the room felt empty again. Save the few of us that were doing the ordinances by proxy. Then the next few sealings performed were like the ones before and felt like they were just words being spoken by the temple sealer.

This is by far the most memorable experience I have ever had in the temple. Save only recognizing my now ex-wife, as I pulled her through the symbolic veil when she took out her own endowments. In that moment I felt as though the veil was made thin in my mind and I recognized her. We knew each other. The impression I got was that we were good friends in the previous life. Which gives me hope that perhaps one day, if nothing more, the mother of my children and I can become friends. At the very least, for the children we brought into this world.

18 June 2017

20 Years ago today - MTC -

Twenty years ago today, I entered the Missionary Training Center for eight weeks of intense language and missionary training.

I was so excited to be there!

When I entered the MTC, I said goodbye to my family for the two years I planned to serve. Only corresponding through letters and a rare phone call for mothers day and Christmas. To see me off at the MTC was my Mom and her boyfriend, her cousin, my grandfather Mitoray, all of my full and half siblings, my Father and Step-mother and  Daryl, Joseph and Ann Wise. There may have been more but my memory has faded.

There are two types of missionaries in the MTC, those who gain weight and those who lose weight. From what I noticed the largest determining factor in predicting which you will be, depends largely on how frequently your mother cooked for you. Those whose mothers cooked for them all the time seemed to find the MTC cafeteria food disgusting if not mediocre, at best. I thought the MTC food was the best! And to prove it, during those two months, I gained nearly twenty pounds. I mean come on, all you can eat at every meal? I was in heaven. All you can drink beverage bar and my favorite, the all you can eat ice cream bar! Yum!

Here is my journal entry from June 18th 1997:

Entered the MTC today! It is so cool here!!! My companions' name is Elder Wright, he is from Pioria AZ. Everything seems so exciting , I'm really happy. I also learned today that I shouldn't eat too much because I got the runs today. I first ate at Chuck-a-rama at 1:00 then came to the MTC, said goodbye to my family, met up with my district and went to eat again in the cafeteria. Everything is cool, awesome and exciting. I'm all moved in. 
Well I gotta go to bed, its 11:00. 
See ya

The post from the next day June 19th to prove which kind of missionary I was:

We learned a lot today, BRAIN OVERFLOW. My name is Старейшина Вудбери (Elder Woodbury) Pronounced Star-yay-sheena voodberry. Having' fun, learning a lot. There are 10 guys in our district (44-E) I'll talk Russian  more to you later because I've got to go to bed. Overloaded with stuff to do. I'm also eating WAY too much, I better stop or I'll get fat.
Luv ya tons,
Elder Woodbury

16 June 2017

20 years ago today - Going through the temple - 16 June 1997

Twenty years ago today I went through the temple for the first time.

It is called "taking out your endowments".

Of the 50 temples available in 1997, I went through the Manti, Utah temple. Today there are 156 temples built and another 25 announced to be built or that are currently under construction.

Most temples play a video outlining the storyline and covenants or promises you make between yourself and God. There are a few however that still do a live session in place of the video. This uses live "actors". (Usually elderly volunteers). The first time a person goes through the temple, they are going through and making covenants for themselves. Every time after however, you go through under the proxy name of a deceased person who never had the opportunity to go through the temple during life. Agency being a critical component, the individual can choose to accept or reject this work on their behalf.

On this particular occasion, things didn't go smoothly at all. The actors made several mistakes with their lines and although reading the script, still made mistakes, making the storyline extremely difficult to follow. I recall my Dad giggling, describing how this kind of thing never usually happens.

I have to be honest and say that the temple experience kind of freaked me out. I wasn't used to that kind of worship and had attributed that type of worship as being satanic in nature. I concluded that it was not satanic but that the adversary mimics the Lord's type of worship. It's not the way you worship, it's how you live your life that matters most.