Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 24, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

Our mission president called yesterday to tell us that all the senior and regular missionaries are supposed to stay close to our apartments and do indoor activities today. We had a district meeting, lunch at our apartment with the missionaries and then they went home to do planning and studying for the rest of the day. This is the day that the Armenians honor all the lives that were lost in the Genocide. In 1915, the Turks told all the Armenians to leave the country of Turkey where they lived. It turned into a situation like the Germans and the Jews. The Turks killed between a million to a million and a half Armenians. Many of the Armenians, we teach, are still upset about it even though it has been almost a hundred years ago.
Our city where we live is only 8 miles from Turkey. In fact, in one of the villages we teach in, you can see the guard stations of the Turkey Army. The good news is that America and Turkey are friends so if something happens, we grab our emergency preparedness bag they gave us and head toward the boarder. Since we are here trying to share a religion that is different from the national religion and some people want us to go back home, it is a good day to lay low. The worse that has happened here on a normal day that I have heard about is that the missionaries are yelled at and a few spit on. For us, nothing like that has ever happened. There are some people that don't say anything when I say hello in Armenian on the street, but for the most part they are very friendly to us.
We have had a very busy week helping the families without men prepare the ground to plant their gardens. Even the church grounds behind the church in Gyumri are being prepared to plant vegetables for members to can in the fall. Most people here have some kind of little garden if they have any soil at all. In the villages that we go to there are very large garden plot all very well groomed like beautiful brown carpet with large ridges about a foot and a half high. They use the ridges to plant carrots in on both side and trap the water to water the plants. Most of the people grow their own seeds for the plants from last year. The animals that we didn't see all winter are now everywhere. I have seen cows, sheep, horses and pigs wandering freely everywhere in the villages. Children are now playing outside because it is warm and they're not worried about getting sick from the cold.
When we were teaching in Vanadzor, one of the sisters gave me a large sack of greens she had gotten from the mountains by her home. She told me how to prepare them and I thought I would go home and try it. However, the next day after church an another sister invited us and a set of missionaries to come out to her home for lunch. She had also been to the mountains to pick the plants that grow wild there. There is a mar/shoot/knee (van) that take them up to the mountains about 8 and picks them back up at 4:00. They take a lunch and pick like crazy the whole time they are there. She showed me a green trash bag (33 gallon size) full of bundles of what looked like spinach, she had picked to sell in town on the street. Guess what we had for lunch?
She cut up a big bunch of these greens and started cooking them with a little salt. When they were cooked, she stirred in 3 raw eggs and cooked it until they were done. It was served with bread and fruit tea. Some people put sour cream with garlic on it but I liked it so well, I just ate it plain. I might have to do some exploring in our mountains when I get back to Cache Valley to see what I can find. I was very impressed. Even the mountains have fertile soil.
The soil is really rich and great for planting. When I commented on how wonderful the soil is here one time, a sister reminded me that it is because Noah's Ark landed on Mount Ararat in Armenia and the land is blessed. In fact, she told me that everyone in the world has an Armenian heritage because Noah's Ark landed in Armenia. It is on the border between Armenia and Turkey. In fact, that was one of the reasons that there is so much bitterness between en Armenia and Turkey. Not only did Turkey kill all those Armenians but they moved the boarder to during that war to have Mount Ararat part of Turkey. Armenia was the first Christian country. They have a lot of traditions and are very proud of being Christian.
Let me end this letter with a very cool note, Do you remember me telling you about we were finally able to get ice cream over here? Well, Armenian has become an ice cream bar heaven since I wrote you last. Most little stores now have two or three ice cream chest freezers instead of one full of different kinds of ice cream bars. There are at least 30 different kinds. They even included kinds made with American candy bars and ice cream like Snicker ice cream bars. My favorite is an orange ice cream bar dipped in banana topping like you get at Artic Circle. You see many people eating ice cream bars while walking down the street. As missionaries, we try to do what the Armenians do as long as it fits church standards. You know that old joke about how many Mormons does it take to change a light bulb. Three, One to change the light bulb and two to bring the ice cream for refreshments. So we buy their delicious rich ice cream and join them. After no ice cream all winter, everyone is making up for lost time. No, I'm afraid, the mountain spinach is not as good as the ice cream. But the mountain spinach is free and the ice cream bars are a whole quarter. Stay cool and eat some ice cream and think of us. Remember we love you. 
Your Senior Armenian Missionary Couple

April 15, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

Is it possible to start to slowly become Armenian in just 5 short months? I have learned that serving refreshments when people come to visit and sending some home with them is Armenian. An investigator told me on Monday that I was truly becoming Armenian as I sent him home with a bag a refreshment to share with his family. When some senior couples came to visit us in our apartment and I told them welcome in Armenian and welcomed the women with a hug and kiss on the cheek without even thinking about it. They told me I was becoming Armenian. The senior couples in Yerevan are the only Americans we usually see and that has only happened every other month for 4 or 6 hours. I can ride in a cab, mar/shoot/knee, shop, go to the beauty shop for a haircut, visit a member friend, buy bread and eggs for breakfast and paying for all these things, ask them how they are doing, telling them thank you and good bye in Armenian. I can even go up to our apartment, look out the window and think it is nice to be back home after a long day.
However, yesterday I really felt like an Armenian as I reflected back on it this morning. We had been invited to a concert at the music hall. We walked about 30 minutes to get to it as it was such a beautiful day. I love walking as the people are so friendly and will respond to me sometimes when I say hello to them in Armenian. The children and youth are especially fun when I speak English to them as they are learning it in school. We are both so proud of ourselves for knowing the other one's language. There aren't very many young children under 5 so it is always really fun for me to get to see them out with their parents as well. The parents beam when I tell them how cute their kids are and they are.
When we got there, it was 2:45 and the concert started at 3:00. We went just before 3:00 because everything starts late in Armenia. The doors to the theater were locked with people just waiting outside to get in. To us this seemed normal so we just patiently waited. Another sign of becoming Armenian. They finally let us in about 4:00. The music/theater hall is about the size of a smaller high school theater. However, the stage was normal size and the sound system was like ours. The program was different people singing like a concert. The music was wonderful and very well performed. I found myself clapping with everyone, dancing with my hands and singing along. I can remember thinking that I've just got to get some of this music and take it home with us when we leave. Then I remember that I really didn't care for that kind of music before I got here. I realize it was true, I am starting to become Armenian. This is probably a good idea since we will be here for another 13 months. Bloom where you are planted:)
Afterwards, we took 6 of our Armenian members out to eat that were with us at the program. Can you imagine going out to eat at a restaurant with 8 people and it only costing $36.00. We ordered 3 of their largest pizzas, 8 salads, 8 sodas, 6 ice creams and 2 cakes. Food is cheap to eat out. Hardly anyone does it though because it is so much cheaper to eat at home. We put the other people in cabs to go home ($1.35) and we walked home because of the nice weather and we wanted to shop on the way home. We have found out that if you don't have a car, making several small trips to the store is easier to carry home than larger ones. We have to carry them up 4 flights when we get here. Guess how we found that out?:)
The week started off by going with the mission president to Vanadzor to inspect a building that the church is thinking about buying there. Right now, we are meeting in a bank that has been converted over to a church. It is part of a strip of buildings. We were supposed to meet the man who owns the building at 4:30 and he finally arrived at 5:30. Did I mention that this is just the normal time clock here? It would be a perfect building for a church. It is two story with a basement. This was to supposed to be someone's home, and they ran out of money. It became a building supply store and didn't make it. In the unfinished basement, they even have a cement swimming pool. We were teasing about how the area grows fast enough that we could even baptize 20 people at a time:) It will be interesting to see what happens. I think we will be spending more time in Vanadzor if they decide to go with the project for Brother Griffiths help with talk with Salt Lake and the mission president on what they want to happen.
The sad news this week was that 7 of our missionaries that we have grown to love have been transferred to other areas. You become so attached to them that they are almost like your own sons and daughters. We know that they have other areas they need to go to but it sure is hard. The great news this week is that we had a baptism of a sister in Gyumri on Friday. When I first came to Gyumri, a sister with a beautiful smile came up and gave me a huge hug and kiss on the cheek on my first Sunday. I found out later that she wasn't a member. She has been coming for 3 years. She is really afraid of water. Well, our sister missionaries worked with her patiently and determined to help her overcome her fears. Her whole family came to the baptism even though on the mother was a member. They were all so excited for her. She was just beaming. I had the opportunity of giving my first baptismal talk with an interrupter. And, of course, we all celebrated with cookies, cakes the mom had made, and juice. I am going to be the chubby senior missionary when I get home by just being polite:)
We love you and miss you all so much. Your Armenian Senior Couple 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 9, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

We have just finished Easter in Armenian. I found out, on Easter, the word Easter in Armenia means lady bug. It is one of the first bugs out and is a symbol of Spring. They were really surprised when I told them that we have chocolate bunnies instead of lady bugs in America. I was looking in the stores for candy for Easter to take to some of the children who call us "pop-eek and daw-teek/grandpa and grandma". I could only find some chocolate lady bugs in very small packages and bought them because I thought they were so cute. There were also a few very tiny fuzzy chickens, little cars with tiny candy bebe's in a inch tube attached and a few stickers. It was all on one shelf of about 2 feet. Wal-Mart would not be impressed!
At Vanadzor, they did have an Easter celebration on Sunday. On Saturday, they boiled eggs, They dye their eggs red as a tradition to think of Christ and the blood he spilled for us on the cross. On Sunday. they had Sacrament meeting and afterwards, a Easter fireside. After the fireside, they served everyone a plate that had some greens (looks like wide grass) with a couple of eggs on it. On the side was some raisins and lawvash (flour tortilla). They then play a game where two people each have an egg in their fist. You hit the two eggs together and the one that cracks has to be given it to the other person. This is great fun with everyone laughing (my egg won:)). Afterwards, they make sure everyone gets their eggs back because they peel their eggs and break them up. They put eggs, raisins, and greens on a lawvash, roll them up and eat them as a special Easter treat. They had a special Easter Cake for dessert with white frosting and sprinkles for Spring. Monday is a holiday and they all go to the cemetery to honor their dead and put flowers on their graves think about Christ’s resurrection.
With Easter, has come the warm weather. In a matter of three weeks, I have gone from flannels and long johns, to no long johns, to sleeping with the window open with the heat turned off. The weeds are turning green and the trees are thinking about joining them. The evenings are still cool enough to sometimes wear a light jacket, but most of the day it is just regular missionary clothes. Even the mud holes are drying up so I don't need my winter shoes ("boots" in America but here that word is not very nice I found out when I called them that) With the warm weather, has also come ICE CREAM!!! It is my favorite food and there are ice cream freezers full of different kinds of ice cream bars on the streets and in the stores. The freezers are about 5 feet by 4 feet so they are not like ours in America. Did I mention that the ice cream here is so creamy that it compares equally to Fat Boys and Casper’s?
In the middle of winter, we could only find a few containers once in a while. I found out why when I was telling the mission president’s wife how excited I was about the ice cream when she visited on Sunday. In Armenia, they really, really believe if you get cold, you get sick. Many people won't leave their homes in the winter, because they are afraid of getting sick. To me, that is a little strange because their homes are soooo cold that many times you can see your breathe as you teach. But they always have several layers of clothes on in their homes to stay warm. They always insist on taking our coats to be polite so we are a little colder than they are. Then they give us warm milk with sugar or fruit tea to warm us up:) They especially think you can get sick from a draft like an open window in a car or home. In fact, they took a missionary to the hospital with a kidney stone and the doctors told them that it was from the draft of an open window that caused it. I now understand why our cab driver keeps the car so warm on our trips in the winter to different cities. He thinks that he is helping us because he cares about us and him staying healthy while we are all dying of the heat. In fact, we started putting our coats in the trunk to endure the heat and soon so did he so also so he could keep the car warm for us and endure the heat. They believe that since ice cream is cold, you can get sick from it. Guess who is going to stock up on ice cream bars for the winter in the fall?
Well, I need to close and go make an apple pie. We are going to a members house for barbeque and they said I could come if I bring an apple pie and ice cream. They tried some of Elder Cooks’ birthday apple pie and loved it. They had never had pie before and now ice cream is in season-this is a special treat. We love you all, and I personally because I love each one of you, will eat an ice cream bar in your behalf this summer or maybe even this month:)
Your Armenian Senior Couple

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April 1, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

After my last letter to you, I have to report of another death here in Armenia. This was a good kind and yet very sad at the same time. Here in the mission field, when a missionary goes home, they say he died. His companion says that he is killing the missionary because he will be his last companion before he goes home. I told the missionaries that my son, Ken, killed some of his companions when he was a new missionary out in the field. They all had great empathy for Ken and said how hard that would be. As a new missionary, you are still dealing with trying to learn the language, how teach, how to get around, how to get to know the members and investigator's names and tell them from each other, new food, doing your own laundry in a bucket, new money system and homesickness. The missionary that is going home starts to get "trunky" and talking about home. As a new missionary that just left home recently and is adjusting to his new completely different life, going home sounds pretty good. I could understand how hard it would be as they explained it to me. I, also, have a greater empathy for Ken now since they explained it to me.

We always have a get together before the missionary leaves with the missionaries in their area. It is called a funeral. I was on line looking for a recipe for apple pie when Susan skyped me. She was at her in-laws home at their regular Sunday Night get together. It was Monday morning my time. The whole family was sitting around on couches visiting. I told them I was looking for an apple pie recipe on line because I had funeral that day and needed to make it before I went. Then I remember that Jason's sister, Stephanie, knew Elder Davis and told her that he was going to die. The whole family panicked thinking that Elder Davis had died. They were very relieved when I told them what that meant and we all had a good laugh. I made the apple pie in a large skillet about the side of an extra-large pizza. I needed enough to feed everyone. It turned out "tasty" (the Armenian's who speak English use this word to describe food that is good) It looked like a pie that the pioneers would have made in the metal skillet.

When we went over to Vanadzor to go to the party, all the elders were in jeans, shirts and sweatshirts. They looked like college kids. It was the first time my sweetheart and I had been out of the apartment in anything except missionary clothes. We all looked like we were going on a picnic which we were. It is much warmer in Vanadzor than in Gyumri and all their snow is gone except on the mountains. The difference in Armenia is that if you want to go as a group out of town, you rent a mar/shoot/knee for $35. The driver put on some Armenian music and everyone was dancing in their seats and singing at the top of their lungs. There is only seatbelt in the mar/shoot/knees or cabs and is used by the driver. The missionaries all know the words to the Armenian music because you hear it everywhere. The driver took us about 40 minutes out of town to a village in the mountains to visit a museum of a famous poet. The poet's temple work for his family has been done by one of the sister's that was with us as he is part of her husband's family tree. Her husband was from the little village but in 20 years he had never taken his wife to see it. People here just don't travel like we do in the USA as they just can't afford it. He would have come with us except he had to work. 

March 26, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

This has been a very hard week for us in Armenia. It all started last Sunday when I was sitting in Relief Society when the branch president came in and said that Leanna's father had just had a heart attack and died. About half of the sister's got up and left the room to go to her home to help including the Relief Society President and her counselors. This family consisted of a mother. father, Leanna (about 35 and an only child) and her daughter (about 8). The father had no signs at all of being sick so it was a complete surprise. He is also the only person working in that family so he was the sole provider. There is no Social Security here to help if that happens so they are just on their own with extended family helping them with what little they have. Losing the father and the provider of a family is especially very, very hard.
The hospital brings the body in a casket to the place where the dead person lives. If the person was in a car accident, the body is brought back just the way it was when they pulled the body out of the car. They put a standing large board about 3 feet by 5 feet with colorful plastic flowers on it in front of the house or apartment to let everyone know someone has died. Friends, neighbors, family and relatives visit for 3 days. When they visit, the family is expected to have some food out to comfort those visiting. This family didn't have the money to do that, so the church helped them. After the third day, there is a funeral in the home and then the men take the body to be buried at the cemetery. The women always stay home even if is your husband to protect the women from more grief. The day after the funeral, people will bring over money for the family to help pay the funeral expenses. The family asked my sweetheart to give them each a blessing of comfort. He gave them each a beautiful blessing which the elders translated afterwards. All the blessings were very individualized and beautiful. However, it sounds like life will be very hard for them, but the Lord will help them if they will just have faith, trust in him and do all that they can do. It was so hard and painful that it was almost a relief to go to Vanadzor to go work with the missionaries there.
When we got there, we started doing our planning with the elders. We had brought them over a pot of soup, salad, bread, juice and dessert to give them a little taste of home. They work so hard that we like to spoil them when we get a chance. The branch president came into the room and told us that Marrie's baby had died. She had fed him at 4:00 and when she got up about 8:00, he was dead. This is a 17 year old girl who had been married. She left her husband which is a disgrace to her family in the Armenian culture. She found out that she was pregnant and didn't have an abortion like most women would have here. She knew that it was against our/her religion. Abortions are very common because they are so poor. After she had the baby, the church helped her with a food and a place to live to provide for the little one. She learned very quickly how to be a mom as she had no family around to help her most like the women do. I visited her at her apartment and had taken some milk and food over. In fact, I was able to hold this little guy at the Women's Day Celebration. He looked like a little taco all wrapped up the Armenian way with two little happy eyes and a big smile looking up at me.
I spent about an hour trying to comfort her with the branch president’s wife translating for me as we all cried together. In the Armenian culture it is believed that God is punishing her for leaving her husband and having this baby. I had to share with her that this is not true and comfort her at the same time. The hospital said that he died because he didn't have enough food to sustain his body which is really common here. They try to bury the children as soon as they die here which is different from adults. There was no power at the place that makes coffins so they couldn’t make him a little coffin. So they put him in a little duffle bag. Two missionaries dug his grave and they had a grave side service for him. Even though this is so hard, I am so grateful for the gospel to know where this little ones is and the plan of salvation.
Heavenly Father was very kind to me and ended my week sharing in the joy of a new baby being born to the branch president's sister-in-law in Gyumri. This is a traditional Armenia family with the sons bringing their brides home to live in their parent's home to learn how to be wife's and mother's and the son's to learn how to be husband's and father's. The tradition is that the first son to be born is to be named after the son's father and the first daughter is to be named after the son's mother. After that, you can name your children whatever you want. There is also that tradition that you leave the light on for 40 days where ever the baby is. You also do not let sunlight touch the babies clothing for 40 days. If a man comes to visit your home, he is to wait outside until they bring out any child that lives in the house. He is then supposed to carry the child into the house so the child will know he is important also. I think this is to help the child from being jealous of the new baby.
I am learning a lot about traditions and culture here that I am sure will and has changed my life. The Book of Mormon talks about traditions and culture. I am starting to look at it in a completely different way as I read it. Some of the lessons are very hard, some are very enlightening. and others are just plain fun. You are all in our prayers daily and are such a treasure to us.

March 14, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

I feel so guilty for not writing sooner but we have been really busy teaching in our two cities. In our zone conference, they asked us all how we were using the Lord's time. I thought to myself, "We must be doing pretty well if I barely have time to do the wash so we have clothes to wear but don't have time to write a mission letter to let everyone know that we alive and well".:) I have been looking for the whisperings of spring and did find some. It got warm enough to melt the snow on the main roads. We have to cross the busy streets often so I was thinking how great it is not to be worried about falling on the ice with cars coming at you both ways to add to the excitement. Many times, you can only go half way into the street while you wait for the traffic is clear on that half. You feel like a bird in a tree watching a little kid with a bebe gun pointed at you and hoping he will miss. With snow and ice on the streets for so long, I had forgotten that it was also a blessing. The snow and ice that had filled in the large chuck holes that look like a challenge course on one of the video games like Mario. The cabs and the mar/shoot/knees are trying to do all they can to avoid them so that the holes don't ruin their vehicles. All the traffic is now weaving on both sides of the road instead of staying in two straight lines of traffic of opposite directions . With the snow starting to melt, the challenge course for the walking traffic is the slush and mud everywhere. I am so glad the Catherine and my sweetheart insisted and bought me two pairs of good boots. I will be forever grateful as I figured that I really didn't need them because I didn't in Cache Valley. Like Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, "We're not in Kansas (Cache Valley) any more, Toto". But we now have the attitude of the Armenia people which is that life is good because we have food to eat today.

We have a baptism today which we are really excited about of a mother that is about 60 years old. We went to visit her last night and she was about 10 feet off the floor with anticipation and joy. Her daughter and son live there also but the father has been dead for several years. The daughter was the only member of the church in that family for the last 10 years. The interesting thing is that for the last 10 years, the mother has given the daughter a really bad time about being a member of the church and trying to get her to come back to the church of the government. It was the daughter's example of a Christ-like life and still being strong in the church in all those 10 long years that made the mother finally decide on her own to find out more about the church. The mother is friends with all the neighbors and they come to her with all their problems. She has a great sense of humor which brightens everyone's day. When you belong to another church that is not the governments, everyone gives you a really bad time. It is kind of like denying that you are an American because the government and church are like one. It will be interesting the reaction of the neighbors. This does not seem to bother her at all. She has gone from asking her daughter, "Where is that man's book?" when she couldn't find it to hugging the Book of Mormon last night and saying that she knows it is true. She was just glowing. How wonderful it has been for us to get to be a part that conversion and see the physical and spiritual change in her life. What a blessing for that family!

Of course, there is always two sides to a coin. Along with being able to share in the joy, we get to experience when people change their minds. This was a very complicated situation, I am sure for her. In the home, this a mother and a son, daughter-in-law and two little girls. The mother is the only member of the church. She is a great member with strong faith and a great example to her daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law asks the missionaries to come and teach her about the gospel. Through the discussions, she is reading the Book of Mormon, which she loves. She starts going to church and everyone loves her and the little girls. We can see that there is a change in her from when we first started to teach her of much more happiness and self-confidence in herself as a mother of these two little girls. Coffee, black tea and drinking are a way of life over here. You always have a drink to celebrate holidays and birthdays even the women. The women don't usually smoke but most men do. She had given up drinking coffee and declined a drink that her husband offered her to celebrate her daughter's first birthday party. She was excited about her baptism. When we went over for her final interview, she told us that she couldn't be baptized. She had to be honest before God. She didn't say any more. We accepted it, of course, and said that we understood because you want a person to feel good about their choice. I felt really sad for her though, because I could see a change in how happy and confident she was before her decision not to be baptized. It was physically gone that day. I later found out that her husband doesn't have a job and that they get money from the church of the government to live on. I appreciated her integrity but felt sad for the lost blessings. My testimony of how important agency is in our lives and my gratitude for the Atonement of the Savior to understand that agency has been strengthened tenfold on my mission.

I am afraid that I have to tell all the women that I am now writing to that we have been cheated. However, in the next 800 years, maybe things will get better. 800 years ago in Armenia, they established Women's Day. It is a national holiday with no school or government buildings open. This year it was on Thursday and it included Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Since there is no such thing as a weekend here, it started off with a four day holiday. Most people here work (if they can find work) Monday through Saturday. A very few have Sunday off to go to the government church. There is a member of the branch whose husband is a policeman. It is a rule that you have to belong to the government church or be fired. He has to be very careful if he goes to church with her that no one sees him. I found that rule out at the Women's Day Party at the church since he came with her.
They celebrate all women on Women's Day whether you are old or young. At the church party, there was a program honoring women that lasted for about an hour. Afterwards, they served everyone rice, dolma(hamburger cooked in cabbage leaves) a cookie and large piece of fresh homemade bread with pear drink that tastes like cream soda. As with all parties in Armenia, after you eat, they clear the floor and everyone dances. Women, men and children all basically doing their own thing. There is no wrong dance moves here as long as you are dancing. It is really fun. The missionaries all love it and get into it with the members. Even us old people are asked to join in for the fun. In Armenia a little entertainment, food and dancing are a terrific party. Ah! But that is not all. Women's Day lasts for a whole month and ends of Mother's Day. My favorite gift was a handmade pair of knitted socks that are warm as toast to sleep in a night. A sweet little old lady that is 76 years old insisted that I have them. The elder's even threw a party for the sister's and me at district meeting in Gyumri when we got back from Vanadzor. Maybe I should write to whoever is running for President in the next election to let him know how we celebrate in Armenia. It would probably get him so extra women votes if he introduced this on his running ballot. I have really bad news for the men. There is an Army Day that they celebrate for men that were in the army but no Father's Day. Most men however, get to celebrate this because all men have to serve in the army. 

February 28, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

There is a young girl in Vanadzor about 13 years old that is learning English in school. She is always asking the missionaries how to say things in English. In fact, she will call them when she is doing her homework to see how to say things. Since the alphabet and sounds are different, that really is quite impressive that she is able to do it as well as she can. When we went there to teach on Saturday, she was asking how to say, "What's up?" so I thought I would try it on you. She joined the church when she was 9 with her grandma. They were baptized together. That was five years ago. They have youth activities for them every Saturday after school. School is six days a week here. The youth here have it pretty hard and a lot of them start smoking and drinking when they are only 12 years old. The leaders feel like if they have an activity on Saturday and church on Sunday, it will help fortify them. I think of what her life might have been like without the church to help guide her to know she is a daughter of God of great worth. In the Christmas and New Year’s program, she danced an Armenian dance as she sang. She also taught her five year old nephew how to sing Jingle Bells in English for their duet at the Christmas Program. One of the 14 year old girls, who plays the piano like a professional, is teaching her how to play.

Music is really important to the Armenian people and you hear it everywhere. On the mar/shoot/knees, in the cabs, stores, coming out the doors of their homes and large speakers on the street playing the music. I am getting so I can even sing along a little to some songs because I have heard them so much. They also have a great beat that makes you want to move to the music. They play their favorites over and over again. In fact, we had a special blessing after 9:30 last night as we were waiting for a mar/shoot/knee to come in the cold. They usually quit for the night between nine and ten so we weren't sure if one would come. A cab pulled up in front of us and the door opened and it was our Branch President who drives a cab. We were on the other side of town from where we live, he lives in a different area and what would be the chances of him driving by as we were waiting for the mar/shoot/knee. There are angels among us helping us! He doesn't speak English so he motioned us to get in the cab. He had music playing, of course, and started to laugh as this 65 year old missionary was singing along saying "Chay, chay, chay" on the chorus, which is easy because chay means no.

We had just left one of my favorite families that are members to visit because we are laughing most of the time. It is a mom, daughter, son, and a father who had a stroke, but is always sleeping while we are there. I was telling the missionary who had never been there before to prepare himself for a fun time as we knocked on the door. I was right as I have never seen him laugh so much since he got here. One example of their humor happened when the mom were translating for me. The brother had a beard that he was growing out. I told him that my son had a beard and it looked really nice on him to encourage him to not give up because his was just getting a good start. The mother who doesn't like the beard told him that I said, "Why don't you shave your beard off because that beard doesn't look very good on you at all". The missionaries burst out laughing because they could understand both languages and what she had said to him. They translated to the son what I had said and everyone was laughing at the prank that she had pulled on him.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 19, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

We all love that Primary song, "Once There was a Snowman, tall, tall tall". After my experience on Saturday, I think I will change it to "I Want to be a Snowman, fall, fall, fall". We had a snow storm on Saturday that gave us about 10 inches of new snow in Vanadzor in about 6 hours when it finally stopped. Of course, that didn't stop us from keeping our appointments. However, by the time we got there, we did look like snowmen. That evening, our last appointment was at 6:30. I really thought that the elders would cancel that one because it is on the top of a mountain side (like Stan's house for those of you in Logan). But our missionaries are like Helaman's Army so we took a cab up the mountain on this narrow road. About 2/3's way up, the cab couldn't make it so the elder's let the cab leave us and told us that we would hike up to our appointment's home. Those Idaho missionaries are hard workers and determined. There was a small path up the side of the mountain that is faster than the road so we took that. One missionary was the leader, my sweetheart is second, I am third and the other missionary was behind to help me if I need it or fell. Half way up, I had to stop to rest but then kept climbing. Climbing up several flights of stairs to our appointments and to our 4th floor appointment paid off and I made it. The view over the valley at twilight was beautiful as you could see a white, crystal clear little village as you looked town.

We knocked on the door and no one was home. He had gone to town and had forgotten about our appointment. So we started down which started with 3 flights of outdoor metal stairs that were straight down. That lead to the huge straight hill we had had to climb up that looked even steeper going down. I tripped and fell twice as we ventured down. That great part is that my coat is like a big sleeping bag so I didn't get hurt except for laughing so hard that my sides hurt. It reminded me of when I was a little girl making snow angels. An elder helped me up both times. Unfortunately, when he fell two times later down the hill, I couldn't help him up because he jumped up so fast because his companion was laughing at him. I guess he had teased his companion earlier that week when he fell so felt like he was getting even. When the cab came back to pick us up, some of us looked like snowmen before we brushed off for our next two appointments.

For Family Home Evening at an appointment, I had made some cards to use to play the matching game with the Plan of Salvation. I had had to write them in Armenian so they could read them and match them. We don't have colored paper here, so I had to tear pages out of a notebook I have. The house was so cold that one of the ladies was wearing gloves and we could see our breathe. It is the little things you miss like heat or plain or colored 8x11 size paper with markers that write. When they got a match, I had a bowl of candy in which they got to pick their favorite kind. The game was so exciting for them that the 30 year old brother even came in to play. They are such a happy people. Next time you use or enjoy the little things, be grateful.

I love how they are so warm and friendly at church. When you go in, the sisters all hug and kiss each other on the cheek. The brothers all shake hands and kiss each other on the cheek if they know each other very well. They always ask each other how they are doing and usually answer "shot love" which means very good. Even on teaching appointments when we go in, I shake hands with the men and hug and kiss the ladies on the cheek and ask how they are. We do the same hugging, kiss on cheek and shaking hands when we leave as we tell them good bye. On the street, the couples always walk with the women's arm linked to the men's. Most of the time two women or girls walking together link arms. You also see a lot of men or boys walking with their arms linked together. Here it is strange if you don't. One of our elders was telling a new missionary that he needed to do it with him when he was training him, but the new elder said, "I just couldn't do it." Of course, the trainer was just teasing him. It is nice to see how they are not afraid to show affection to each other as their tradition.

In church today, three sisters got up to sing a special musical number. They sang," I Need Thee Every Hour". On the chorus, everyone in the audience sang along. It is a song they all love and is usually sung 3 times at least a month. They also love to sing Come, Come Ye Saints and Silent Night year around. They sing at the top of their lungs with great love and enthusiasm. What is nice is to be able to sing along in English or Armenian and everyone thinks is great just as long as you sing and enjoy the music with them. They love music. So next time there is a special number, feel free to sing along and think of us in Armenia as we think of you all so often.

Love, Your Armenian Senior Couple:)

February 14, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

I understand that most of you are experiencing an different kind of winter this year. You need not worry any longer. I have found your winter weather and it is in Armenia. We got 12 inches of snow this last week to add to what we already had. Everyone here is saying that this winter is colder and with more snow than normal year for them. I didn't dare tell them that it is because I brought it all with me from America. One absolutely wonderful thing about the snow is that now the roads and walk way paths are covered with packed down snow instead of ice. It is really a joy for all of us which seems silly I know. But here, it really is the little things that mean a lot when you are used to snow plowed roads and sidewalks. Here all the bumps are filled in with snow for smoother walking and riding.

We entertained our first visitor from Bountiful, Utah on Saturday night. He was Patriarch Rodgers, along with the Mission President Carter, his wife and their driver. You are probably wondering why President Carter didn't just drive. It was because they were on a 5 day trip in the worst snow storm that Armenia has seen for several years. They went to the country of Georgia and a mountain village at one of the highest points here along with their other cities. As they were coming down from this village, Sister Carter told the driver to feel free to slow down as needed. He told her to close her eyes tight and pray. Patriarch Rodgers comes 3 times a year for two weeks to give blessings to Russia and eastern Europe. It is very rare to be able to get the blessing since he can only give 3 or 4 at a time usually at each city since there are so many that want them and such limited time. He got his doctorate at Yale and eventually taught Russian at BYU for 30 years. The first time he got to use his Russian was as a mission president for 3 years after he retired. He said he was so excited to see all the things he had taught about and meet the Russian people.

After 5 days on the road in the worst storm of the season and eating out in restaurants, the hot homemade potato soup, bread, salad, juice and cakes tummies. Everything in Armenia runs late so we thought that would be a good thing that we could keep warm until they got here. It was delightful to talk to someone from Utah that spoke English without a translator.

In the middle of this last week, we went out to teach a family at one of the villages. It was snowing, windy and freezing so walking part of the way was inspiring after the cab dropped us off. When we got there, they had warm milk with a bowl of sugar for us to sweeten it with to drink. Now, I am not a big fan of warm milk but it was wonderful all the way down. The milk was the best I have tasted since I got here. It was really creamy like the kind I used to drink as a child. I am not sure since we were in the village if it was fresh from a cow since it didn't taste like the milk (either Russian or Armenian) we usually get from the store. After our lesson, the sister was sharing with us some of her struggles in life at this time. She really does have it hard with her sweetheart just dying a few months ago along with her family and their children. She wasn't really complaining but was trying to teach us a new way to pray. She said that she closes her prayers in the name of Joseph Smith or Thomas Monson because they are righteous men and they will help take her prayers to Heavenly Father better than she can. She even thought that because Brother Griffiths and I are longtime members of the church and on a mission that Heavenly Father would listen to our prayers and answer them over her prayers because she has only been in the church for 3 years. We had a hard time convincing her that we are all Heavenly Father's children and he loves us all the same. We tried to convince her a fervent prayer from the heart is all she needs to do and that he would hear that prayer just as much as anyone else’s. We taught her that he knows her and loves her and that is waiting for her prayers so he can bless her with the desires of her heart that are best for her. In the end, we were able to teach her that it is not different for Joseph Smith, Thomas Monson or her to pray. Just keep the commandments to have the spirit with you and keep praying to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ. She seemed very relieved but a little disappointed that President Monson or Joseph Smith couldn't give her the inside edge on answering her prayers.

That night we had an appointment to teach back out by that village at 7:30. It was still very windy and cold but the work always goes on. My sweetheart was calling the elders to see where to meet on the mar/shoot/knee route so we could finish walking together when he dropped his phone. It fell completely apart and would not turn back on. We had no way to contact anyone and tell them our problem so my sweetheart emailed the President to tell him to have them call us. We didn't know that the President at that time was on the road so we just waited. We were thinking that if this was a night to drop the phone it was a good one because we didn't have to experience frost bite that night or the elders we were supposed to meet. Well, about 10:15 that night, our door bells starts to ring. It is the Zone Leaders who we were supposed to meet. They phoned into the President (who had finally got to his motel which didn't have the internet) each night when all the missionaries are safely in. Our other two sets of missionaries had been trying to get a hold of us also to set up appointments for the next day. We usually don't call in because we are seniors but since we didn't call them to set up a place to meet and no one could get a hold of us, they told the President. He asked them to bundle up, find a cab (which is hard at night) and go out to find us(the lost sheep). My sweetheart showed them the phone and they showed him how to hold down the red button to turn it on. "and a little child or elder shall lead them". We fed them cake for their efforts and we felt bad that they had had to get out in the cold. We put them in a cab and they called us when they got home. With this parable of the Lost Senior Couple Sheep, I will close with my love to each and a wish for a Happy Valentine’s Day which we don't have here so eat some extra candy for me.

Your Senior Armenian Couple:)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February 5, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

We just in back to our apartment after a two day adventure in Vanadzor. It is always, as close as it can be at this, like going to visit Logan for a couple of days since it is a small town with beautiful mountains closely surrounding it. The branch is very friendly and make you feel like family like our ward back home. It was very cold this time including the hotel where we stayed. The little bit of warmth in the shower and the church were the only warm spots on this trip due to a cold front and recent windy snow storm. In fact, on the way home we passed snow drifts where they were craving the road out higher than 6 feet. We felt very blessed to have our heat still on when we got home; It has been shutting off quite often if we are not here to charge the "boxie" twice a day when the water comes on. That is the box on the wall of our kitchen that heats our water and our hot water radiators in the rooms. We have two little portable heaters about the size of 12 inch circle. One is next to the computer and the other one is in the bathroom since it does not have heat. When we got home, both of us were freezing so my sweetheart took the heater in the bathroom and I took the one next to the computer. At this point in my letter, my toes are toasty and warm and am able to take off my coat.

I really feel guilty about sharing our discomfort with you except I wanted you to understand the empathy for the family we visited first in Vanadzor yesterday. It was a grandma, her son and his wife and their 3 year old and 9 month old daughter. When we were visiting with them, I could see the little 9 month old daughter breathe in the air. They had turned off the gas and the electric in their apartment because they weren't able to pay their bill. The husband teaches music lessons and hadn't been able to find work enough to pay the bills. He is hoping to play with the army band this spring as a permanent job but right now things are really tight for them. As we visited with them, the grandma shared with us that they were so grateful that they still had water. The grandma is a member and we are teaching the daughter in law. Everyone was so positive and happy with their extra warm clothes on inside. I was thinking of them that night in the hotel with two little girls in the cold and dark trying to feed them what little food they had and entertaining them. The people here are so resilient. It is like they are in the wilderness and this the way life is here. I am learning many great and important lesson from them.

I was writing my newsletter and my sweetheart came into the living room and said we have to leave and be north of town to meet the elders in 30 minutes. I jumped up and dressed since I was in my pj's since it was 7:30 at night and no one had called. The missionaries have to be in by 9:00 and there is usually a transportation factor that needs to be figured into that time deadline. I am getting good at dressing in missionary clothes quickly and bundling up with coat, scarf and gloves. We were out the door in 10 minutes. We were able to find a cab and my sweetheart remembered how to give him directions to where we needed to go. As we pulled up to the spot where we had agreed to meet, there were two red faced with cold elders waiting for us. We were on time but they had come 10 minutes early. They jumped in our cab and we rode for 10 more minutes close to our appointment. When we got out it was another 10 more minutes of walking in the cold and dark to find the right building. It is always a pleasant surprise when you knock on the door and it is the right place.

We were teaching a member's mother. She told us for 5 years I have gone with my daughter on the same marshootknee to town. She would get off at the church and I would go shopping. I have watched how she lives and how it has changed her life. I want a life like that so could you teach me about the church. It taught me to remember how important our example is to everyone including our family. She had come to church that day and the teacher taught about the Tree of Life. The teacher had given the class paper and pencils to draw what she was talking about as she taught. She proudly showed us her picture and told us that she wanted to be at the top eating the fruit and not in the other places. I thought it was a really good way to teach the Tree of Life as a lesson. Paper and pencils are precious here so I was really impressed. When we got home we warmed up our dinner and changed back into pj’s. Ah, the life of a missionary.  It is never dull:)

Speaking of by your example, you are a light to others. I wanted to tell you (my sweetheart just came into the room to tell me the sister are coming in 20 minutes so I will have to make this quick-this has been a super busy week as this is my first time to write since Sunday). Do you remember about the bride I wrote you about recently who was baptized a couple of weeks ago? We went with the elders over to teach her and her 8 years old nephew who was baptized with her the other night. The elders had been asking us to come with them to teach them but we had been already busy or in Vanadzor. Eventually, the family had been asking for us to come. I took some leftover brownies from district meeting with me. We were teaching for about 20 minutes when there was a knock on the door. It was the bride's father who had wanted to me us. We figured out later that this must have been the reason that they kept asking for us to come. She had told us that she had wonderful parents and he was a very friendly man and very humble at the same time.

The father had come over to meet us and to see what kind of people we were. He came from a large family of 5 boys and 4 girls which was the size of our family so that was a plus in our behalf. He and his wife had two children. One was a son who was in the army for two years. His time is up in November of this year. His daughter was of course the bride we had just baptized. His wife is an invalid and is sick in bed most of the time. He said that since his daughter got married, life is pretty lonely at his house. He has a dog that he loves and is just like a member of the family that helps keep him company. He got out his pictures to show us his dog. Everyone in Armenia has pictures with them to show you their family and things that are important to them and they want to see yours. My sweetheart loves the mountains, so after admiring his beautiful dog and showing him pictures of Toby and Charlie, he commented on the mountains in the picture. There was an instant bond between these two men. They were soul brothers! He invited my sweetheart to come to the mountains to see his mountain cabin and hike this summer. The conversation continued on their love of the mountains. As we left that night, he agreed to come to Family Home Evening at our house with his family to learn more about our church. He was so impressed by the example of his daughter and her love for the gospel and the Book of Mormon that he wanted to know more. My sweetheart just came to get me to tell me that the sisters are running late so now we are supposed to meet them at our appointment. Onward, ever onward as we glory in His name.

We love you, Your Senior Missionary Couple in Armenia

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 29, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

Today was a special day for our branch in Gyumri because we had our 5 new missionaries in this area bear their testimonies. My sweetheart, myself and the zone leader were the only missionaries left that have been here for two months. The president moved the sisters from Vandazor (our other area) on Thursday. They were really excited to see such a strong branch compared to what they have been used to. The members were so excited to have sisters as they haven't had any for two years. Two of the male missionaries have been out for at least a year. One will be a zone leader and the other will be our district leader here. He will be training a new missionary that just came out 3 days ago from the MTC. He is just terrified would be the best way to describe him.

All the other missionaries know the language well and have been out for at least a year. They are at the stage where they are not sure if they want to go home because it feels like home here. He is at the stage of what have I got myself into. I barely can understand the language and I want to go home where I am safe and things are normal. All of us missionaries can identify with him and within a couple of months, he'll be one of us:)

It was really had to let the three missionaries go that trained us and have been working with us. They are our fathers (your trainers in missionary talk) It was almost like losing my sons again when we left to go on our mission as we left our home in Logan. The good news is that I will get to see them again here in the mission. They are incredible missionaries that were strong in the gospel. strong language skills, their testimonies and love for the people. They were great examples for my sweetheart and I to follow and learn from. Whenever I would get discouraged when we first got here, I would look at them and think to myself that if a 20 year old can do all that is required here surely I can at least 50% to try to keep up with them at my age.

During transfer day (Thursday) for the missionaries, my sweetheart and I had a free day. I decided to be brave and try the beauty shop on my own. My sweetheart dropped my off and went shopping which he loves to do except that it was snowing outside and he was going to the outdoor market. The lady that colored my hair last time remembered me and went right to work. I showed her the ends of the boxes of the color that she used last time and she smiled and said chay (no) that she didn't need to look at them. I thought to myself that she really has a great memory. While I was waiting for my hair to process, they had a lady who spoke English from the cafe next door come and tell me that they didn't have hot water to rinse my hair with and that they would get some from the cafe. So they brought in bucket after bucket to get ready to rinse my hair with when it was ready. She finally called me over to have it rinsed. It reminded me of water in a very, very hot whirl pool. At first I thought I would scream, and then I thought to myself of how often do you get to feel really hot in Armenia and endured it well.

When I sat back up after having my hair rinsed, I was really surprised to see a much, much older version of Pippi Longstockings looking back at me in the mirror. That would be the color of my hair close to the scalp about an inch or two and dark brown with red highlights for the rest. The girl was thrilled with how it turn out and knew I would love it. It is quite a surprise every time I see it in the daylight in the mirror. I have Senior Council in Yerevan tomorrow so they will get to see the new and improved me. My new motto for having my hair colored here is from a modified version of a saying from Forest Gump’s' mother. Having your hair colored here is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get:) The good news is that my sweetheart could enjoy his shopping trip because it only cost $7.00 to get your hair done here so there was plenty of money for him to spend.

I miss you all and hope your day is colored with lots of sunshine and smiles.

Love, Your Senior Armenian Couple

January 23, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

I am taking advantage of this window of internet service and hoping it won't go down before I send it. This is the fourth time to try today. I have great news about the bride I wrote you about last week. They were able to get their marriage license last week and she proudly showed it to all of us when we went into the home. She has finished all the lessons along with the 8 year old nephew in the home. The district leader interviewed them and they will both be baptized on Wednesday. I was really impressed with our last visit at the questions she was asking about the church and the Book of Mormon. She is helping her new nephew to understand as well. She was asking us if after she was baptized, she should go to the branch president and ask for a calling in the Primary or wait for him to come to her. She loves children so I am sure it would be a great place for her but there are only at the most 10 children in the Primary including the nursery if everyone comes. There is a great feeling in that little Primary. I will never forget how generous they are each time we teach them with their food. I know that they don't have much but always insisted on putting out food for us and us eating the food. These are truly a very generous and sharing people.

We visit a new family that afternoon that the elders had met on the street. Their son was in the living room on the couch as he had just had a nose operation due to his nose being bent. I told him that we were very familiar with that operation as some of our children had had it. He looked a little different though as he had white adhesive tape across his forehead, down his nose and across his nose. He looked like he was in pain. In Armenia, men go into the Armenian Army when they are 19 for two years. It is required and he wanted it done before he left. He couldn't join us for cookies, fruit and candy but ate some warm soup. They all seemed very excited about the gospel including him as he had studied about churches in school.

We met with a member and her daughter next who are very active. They have been members for several years. They have family that live in Glendale, California. They would love to go to be with them, but cannot since it is very hard to get a visa. Their family in Glendale send them money to help support them as that is the Armenia way. If I have a good job in America, I will bless your family too because we are family. You would do it for me if the situation was reversed. Her and her husband want to go on a senior mission someday. Her scriptures are well used and you can tell she loves them with all her heart.

 When we left the member's home, we took a mar/shoot/knee to our next visit. It was a new route that we had never used before and the last thing the elders said was "Are you sure you will be ok"? We confidently reassured them we would be fine after all it had been two months since we got here. We were breezing down the road enjoying the new area we were in with the few lights that were lite along the way. All of a sudden the mar/shoot/knee died and the driver pulled it over slowly to the side of the road before it stopped. There was one other man on it with us. As they try to communicate with us, they found out we are Americans with almost no language skills. They signaled us to stay seated while they worked the problem. If we tried to get off, they would signal us again it will be ok and stay seated. After about 15 minutes of trying, a car much small than the van pulls up and they hook a rope tow to the bumper. They reassure us again and off we go down the road being towed on the mar/shoot/knee route to our stop. They wanted to make sure that they had taken good care of us and got us where we needed to be. The man that was riding the mar/shoot/knee with us got off at our stop also as he had gotten us to our stop and could now find his way home. I feel well cared for here by everyone even complete strangers.

We met with our other set of elders and headed off for about a 3 or 4 block walk to our next appointment. It was a mom and her daughter who were members. They were bright, fun loving and happy. The mother shared with us about her experiences at being a bride going into her husband's home. She laughed as she told us how hard it was since there were 3 other brothers which meant 3 other brides. Eventually, they all moved out and she endured getting the family home. The parents had both died and 3 years ago her sweetheart had had a stroke. She has been caring him in their home the last three years. We talked a lot about faith and she shared some funny stories. She talked about her job. She said. "I thought to myself, I have a brain and no phone. My boss has no brain and a phone." The next day as she was walking down the street, she found a phone just like his. She felt like the Lord had answered her prayers and helped her. I asked them about how come they were both so happy and had such positive attitudes. They said that it was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that had made them so happy. They were very sincere when they said it. On the bumpy ride home, I thought about what they had said and how often I have just taken it for granted and not felt the joy that they felt. It is like water, I have never really appreciated it before. Life is full of wonderful treasures that I am learning to love and notice, but I have to agree with them that the gospel is the greatest as it includes of all I treasure and hold dear in my life that bring me the greatest joy.

All our love, your Armenian Senior Couple Missionaries

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 17, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

Dearest Loved Ones;

Today is grandpa's birthday. He has been gone since September and we really missed him even though we are far away from home. We talked for a long time today about some of our favorite memories of him. It was kind of like spending some time with him. It is hard to believe that he won't be there to meet us at the airport when we get home. However, sometimes it almost feels like at times, he is here with us. It will be interesting when we get to the other side of the veil, to ask him about it or if we just had hope in our hearts that he was getting to share some it with us.

I had to close this email and go teaching as we got a phone call from the elders so it is now the next day. It has been a busy one as we had a cab pick us up to go to Vanadzor at 9:30 for district meeting. We had a surprise for the missionaries over there. We had made them a taste of home- Brother Griffiths homemade chili, salad (cukes, tomatoes and cabbage since there is no lettuce this time of year), cake from bakery, Armenian juice that you can buy that is wonderful and of course, 4 big loaves of flat bread bigger that a pizza. So it wouldn't spill, my sweetheart engineered a travel box due to the bumpy roads for the hour trip. He put the chili in bottles with very tight canning lids and then into a container that would seal. We were very pleased that there were no spills especially since when we got there, we had the assistants to feed also. 12 hungry missionaries and one cab driver were super excited for the meal and did not even leave one little bread crumb. We cleaned up as quickly as we could and hurried back over to Gyumri to our district meeting over here. We finally got home about 4:30. I just heard the water come on, I will be right back. I had some darks that needed to be washed and we were gone last night teaching during water turn.

The family we taught last night was combined with a Family Home Evening. The family consists of a mother, the father just died 6 months ago, a daughter and her two boys which are 10 and 8, a 18 month old little girl whose mother (a daughter) is a journalist working in Yerevan to support the family 7 days a week from 10 to 8 while they babysit her. The son just got married a month ago. That means that his bride moved into the house with the rest of them a month ago. It is a tradition that the bride brings with her bed and a closet with her clothes which is about 20 feet long and 10 feet high and has room for all their personal things for the years to come. They have applied for the official marriage license a month ago and now need to go back and pay for the official paper to show that they are really married by the government. It only cost about $10 for it but they usually don't worry about it and just live together. However, these are members of the church. He has been inactive but now because he married, he has introduced her to the church. She is taking the lessons along with one of the grandsons. She is very interested in the church and wants to join. She is going to church, reading the Book of Mormon and taking the lessons.

Let me tell you a little about her life now. She fell in love with this handsome young man and they decided to get married. She moves in with this family and will stay in this home the rest of her life because he is the only son so it will be his home when the mother dies. They will raise their family there. The mother will teach her how to care for her family with the garden and fruit to preserve for the winter. She will teach her how to cook and clean the way their family likes. She calls her mother-in-law, "mom" because that is her mom now. We had a lesson for Family Home Evening and then a beet, onion and carrot salad, hot homemade bread she is learning to make daily, fried scones, juice that she learned how to prepare along with the desserts we brought from the bakery. The company is always the honored guests and gets the best plates and eats first. Afterwards, My sweetheart played chess with the ten year old while grandma helped him and the other grandson played backgammon with an elder. I helped (against much protesting) clear the table and played with the little girl. I tried to help with the dishes but they wouldn't let me saying that that is now Gayonee's job. (the bride). The sister missionaries talk about it like the bride becomes a slave. But I think that it is their tradition that more that she is to learn and some day after she will be the mother-in-law keeping the family support system going. They are extremely dedicated to their families and the family unit. It is almost like an oath. The joy that they get when they are able to go to the temple as a family and be sealed is so over-whelming for them. Life just couldn't get better. Well, there goes the phone and I am on my way. I will hang up my wash when I return.

I love you and miss you, The Griffiths Armenian Seniors:)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

January 12, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

It seems like the last time I wrote you it was New Year’s Eve and there were fireworks going off all over the city that we were viewing from our apartment window. Father Winter comes to visit the children on New Year’s Eve with a few toys while they are sleeping. I haven't heard about any other gifts given except for the children and a few of the high school youth. I think for the rest of Armenian it is food. The women start preparing it a week before New Year’s Day because it takes so much preparation. It has to be already New Year’s Day to put on the New Year Table. The tradition is to make things like dolma, which is either hamburger, chicken or pork mixed with grated carrots, onions and spices wrapped in either grape leaves or cabbage and cooked in a large pot with stewed tomatoes. They are both really good but I think that I like the cabbage one the best. I probably tasted 10 different dolma's last week.

They usually have several different salads, crepes filled with cheese, meat or omelet like eggs rolled up and deep fried, which is one of my favorite things. They have chicken shredded after cooked and mixed with carrots and mayo and then deep fried in a corn meal coating. There is always mixed nuts which are always raw, dried fruit, plates of jerky and sausage, cheese, and lots of bread and lawash. They have plates of homemade desserts that look like they came from a fancy bakery. This is all served with homemade juice that they bottled this summer that you toast the New Year in with. It is all spread out with their best dishes and glasses on a fancy table cloth and fancy napkins in a beautiful holder.

It reminds me a lot of our Thanksgiving except for one little catch. How would you like to have Thanksgiving for one week? It is the biggest holiday time of the year. What happens is that family, friends and neighbors all visit each other and eat some of the food on the New Year’s table during that week. People save up for it all year like we save up to buy Christmas presents only they buy food. All the stores, restaurants, government buildings. schools or closed from New Year’s Eve until January 7th. We ate at several New Year’s tables and the food was wonderful except it was like going to 3 Golden Corrals a day for a week. Some people were very poor and only had nuts, dried food and soda while others had a buffet but they all had something on their table. We went to one home that had 6 children that were very poor. I am sure the children were told not to eat the food on the table as it was for the visitors that stop by.

On the 6th of January, they celebrate the birth of the Savior as that is Christmas Day. Many people goes to church the day before to get candles, light them and bring them home. That represents them bringing the light of Christ into their homes for Christmas the next day. It is beautiful to see all these lite candles going down the street at night. At our branch in Vandazor, they had a Christmas program on Christmas day. The branch president talked first and mentioned because we had visitors he wanted to let them know that although people call us Mormons that the real name of the church is after Jesus Christ and that Mormon was just a prophet. He talked a lot about the Savior as did the other speakers. They then had a nativity skit with the children in the branch. My favorite part was when they have 5 little ones under 4 years of age come in pretending to be sheep. We watched the church video of the birth of the Savior and had lunchmeat and cheese on a big hunk of bread sandwiches and cream soda.

Everyone was quiet and reverent as they honor the birth of the Savior. We even had a little snow for Christmas. I was surprised with the difference between the New Year’s program of dancing, singing, Father Winter, and celebrating and the quiet reverence of the Christmas celebration of the birth of the Savior. I also liked how the whole town shuts down and everyone focus was on being together with family and loved ones for a week except for the cabs and mar/shoot/knees that had to get people from house to house. How often in your life do you get to have two Christmas seasons back to back?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 3, 2012 - Sister Griffiths

My sweetheart is sleeping this afternoon because he doesn't feel well due to a flu bug with a cough. Our afternoon appointment cancelled because she was sick. Here in Armenian, the belief is that if it is cold outside, you will probably get sick if you are out in it. One of our investigators is a guard at a bank they are building. They shut off all the electric so he has no heat or lights where he guards. He got the flu really bad and told us it was because they shut off the electric. So if someone is sick, it is due to the cold weather you were out in or cold buildings. I felt bad for him as he is pretty miserable without heat or lights and to be sick on top of that. However, the great news is that he brought his 4 year old son and 9 year old daughter to the New Year’s Party/Christmas party for our branch in Gyumri on December 27. That was not a typo, Here in Armenia, the holidays run from 31st of December (New Year’s Eve) to the 6th of January, which is Christmas. So while we are on our mission, we get to have two Christmas celebrations.

The day after our Christmas celebration (December 25th), we went to a Christmas program at the elementary school, There were about 25 children all dressed up in costumes like different toys and snow princesses, The music teacher was with them on stage leading them in their songs and helping them to know when to say their lines. After each line was said and song sung, there were cheers from the audience. Some of the songs were even in English like Jingle Bells. The teach the children English, Russian and Armenian in the schools. At the end all the children chanted calling for Grandfather Winter to come for about 5 minutes. When he showed up, they were all screamed with excitement. To end the play, they sang a song in English called Happy New Year and lite sparklers several children were holding on the stage. Everyone in the audience knew the song, and sang along with them.

That night, we went with the missionaries to teach a man who lives by himself. His electric is shut off so he had us come into his kitchen to be taught. He had moved his bed in the kitchen to keep warm so three of us sat on it while the other two sat on the kitchen chairs. The room was warm since he had three of his gas burners on the stove on for warmth and the room had light due to the stove and 4 candles lite in the room. As the missionaries started to teach, he was having a real hard time focusing. But as he felt the spirit of what they were saying, all of sudden he really focused and started to listen. As they taught, he wanted to hear more and got excited. For some reason, it reminded me of the play earlier that day when the children got so excited when Grandfather Winter came on to the stage. Isn't it great that we can all get excited about our feelings and what happens in life no matter our age.

On Tuesday the 27th was the Gyumri branch party at 3:00 in the afternoon. We have one large room that we use for a chapel on Sunday and a recreation hall for activities. All you have to do is hook up the sound system, to put up some balloons and streamers and then move the chairs to the side of the room. We sang Christmas songs out of the hymn book, watched people dance some Armenian dances, watched a couple of skits about New Year’s Eve and Grandfather Winter coming and listened to several people sing songs. But the highlight for our family would be when the children called for Grandfather Winter to come and it was my sweetheart dressed up in a Santa outfit. We were worried when the asked him since we don't speak Armenian, but here all he had to do was pass out some boxes of candy they had for the children and have his picture taken with different groups for old to young. One of the sisters came to get me to help him since his pants were coming down. He had put his costume over his clothes but the pants didn't have a belt and kept slipping down. He has already got it planned how to handle it for next year. I helped with the refreshments. Every plate had an apple, orange, 2 pieces of candy, cookie, and a tortilla with chicken and grated carrots inside is the best way to describe it-it's really good! After eating, they all dance to Armenian music. Everyone dances - old and young, missionaries old and young. It was really fun!

On Wednesday the 28th, we squeezed 4 of us into a cab to go to Vanadzor, our other area an hour away. After our district meeting and teaching appointment, we found out that it was Vanadzor's day for the New Year’s/ Christmas Party at 3:00. Much to my sweetheart disappointment:(, they have a professional Grandfather Winter in the branch so he could just relax and enjoy the afternoon. They turned the chapel into the recreation hall, had the same sound system, tree, balloons and streamers so I think that these are the typical decorations for New Year’s/Christmas. The program was about the same with carols, skits, musical numbers, dances and Grandfather Winter arrival just before the food was served. The food was just about the same and there was lots of fun dancing after. I wonder at my age if there is a need for an old American Dancer in Logan? After the party at about 6:00, we helped teach a lesson at the church until about 8:00. He was a businessman with lots of good questions that we were able to help answer. My sweetheart was really able to help with this lesson a lot.

On Thursday the 29th, we woke up in Vanadzor at the huge hotel downtown. It is close to the church and the missionaries so it is walking distance to everything. It is 4 stories high and huge. However, they only use the 4th floor at this time. You tell them what time you'll be coming in so they can turn the heat on in your room and warm it up. There is a bucket of water to flush the toilet if there is no water. You tell them what time you want warm water in the morning so they can get you back up water turned on if there is no water for your shower. We always buy some bread, apples and juice to have for breakfast before we check in at night. Our first teaching appointment was at 11:00 to a cute little old Armenian sister who is 76 years old. She joined the church a couple of years ago and had wanted the missionaries to come over. They have to have a priesthood holder with them to visit so we were a perfect fit. She gave us some of her homemade peach juice that was really good. She sang and danced for us which was delightful. It reminded me of an old medicine man dancing and singing. We looked at pictures of her performing in the past in her much younger days. It was amazing to her story about joining the church and how it changed her life for the good.

It was one of our missionaries birthdays, so we took the six missionaries out for lunch in a place near the church they had never been before. It was really nice and even had a water fall inside it. We had salad, soup and main dishes with juice to drink. For main dishes some had buffalo wings (basically fried chicken wings) with lots of fries, steak and fries, chicken stew and pork pot pies with hot home bread on top (my favorite). It cost about $6 a person for all of that in this nice restaurant. After that wonderful meal, we went out to teach two lessons. One sister had lost her mother a year ago and was having a hard time. She was interested in the temple and taking out her endowments. Since we had worked there, we were able to share with her some things that really helped her. The second sister had had an operation and was recovering. She had some family member's visiting her so we were able to tell them a little about the gospel. The aunt was laughing as she was telling us that she had a degree in math and had ended up having a business making noodles. At 5:00, we all met back at the church to sing Happy Birthday and eat a beautifully white decorated cake. The cab picked us up at 5:45 and we headed back to Gyumri. On the way, the driver had to stop for natural fuel for the car. It is about 10 miles out of town and you have to get out of the car and get several feet back while they fill up the car just in case it explodes. The moon was beautiful and I thought of all of you:)

It was getting cold in the room I am in, so I turned on the little heated by the computer and warmed up some Armenian cherry juice which is wonderful. I will really miss it when we go back home as I have never tasted anything like it. It is not just me either as all the elders love it also. There is a certain kind of cherry tree they have here that we don't have in the US. It was really fun to watch all the excitement of everyone getting ready for New Year’s/Christmas. The stores and the street markets were jammed with people buying for the last minute preparation. Just like we save money for Christmas, they save money or borrow money from family for this celebration. The women in the home all talk about the week before all the cooking they have to do for New Year’s Celebration. The store carry special things also. We found mozzarella and Swiss cheese and ham which we hadn't ever seen before in the store on Saturday. The elders were thrilled to get ham and cheese sandwiches with the chili we served them.

One of the hardest things about being on a mission so far away is that you can't be there for the really hard times for your loved ones. We have been very concerned about Ed's father, Muerto. I can remember when we first met him, how impressed I was with the kind of gentle, loving man he was. I could see why Catherine loved him so much when she talked about him. It was very apparent that he loved his sweetheart, sons and their wives and grandchildren. You could tell that he had been a hard worker all his life providing for his family. Having a handicapped child myself, I was so impressed that he would go visit Louey so often. I remember how thrilled Catherine and Ed were when he decided to get on his very first airplane ride and go and visit them. I thought of the courage that would take for me to be able to do that especially by myself. I loved looking at the pictures of him during the visit and the expressions on his face. He was having so much fun and loving every minute of it. I was inspired by the picture him to going down the giant wagon at the park when I decided to try it following his example. Catherine told me how much the boys loved it when he would go out in the backyard to spend time and swing them. None of us knew at that time that that would be the greatest gift he could give their family in this life was his time. He will truly be missed by all of us that loved him. The only way to comfort myself at this time so far away is to think about how great the reunion is on the other side with his loved ones that have passed on. Thank you Ed and Catherine for sharing such a wonderful man with us.

Our electric went off twice on Saturday which caused us to lose our heat Saturday night about 10. We were planning to stay up for the New Year’s fireworks at midnight but it got so cold in the house that we got in bed to stay warm. We both fell asleep and woke up at midnight with fireworks booming over our head. We live on the top floor of our building and someone was on the roof above us shooting fireworks off the building. Our kitchen window overlooks the city, so we were able to watch the great show that Armenians put on for New Years. The fireworks were the kind they shoot off for the 4th of July only this was all from individuals. What really surprised us was how long it lasted. We finally went back to bed about 1:00 a.m. I was thinking of all the excitement of the children in Armenia as I drifted off to sleep. The parents had probably just been able to calm them down and got them to sleep. Grandfather Winter comes on New Year’s Eve while they are all sleeping. I was thinking of their excitement as they woke up the next morning. I remember how excited my own grandchildren were when we watched them on Christmas morning. Thank you parents for making that possible for us to treasure.

New Year’s day started off with church at 11:00. Everyone was full of the holiday spirit and one sister even gave us some candy out of her purse to get us in the spirit of it. "Snore haw vor nor daree" was said over and over by all. For church we had an opening song, prayer. the Sacrament, closing song and prayer. Most of them were so excited that they were thrilled. My only concern was about a sister loves the gospel and church so much. She lived in the village of Artic which is about an hour away. She had got paid the day before and was so excited because she could afford to go to church the next day. The mar/shoot/knee didn't fun on New Year’s so she took a cab which I am sure was most of her pay with transportation both ways. But still she was just happy to visit with the members and talk to the missionaries for a while. She is such a happy person who just loves life. She is a great example to us all. The missionaries spent the day with us eating pancakes, playing Zarahemla, watching It's a Wonderful Life and eating stew, bread, salad and cake. My sweetheart found that if you use T bone steaks the meat is tender enough for stew meat if you boil it for several hours. They had to be in by 7:00 both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

In Armenia, New Year’s Day is a big family day so they encouraged us not to visit on those days. They all make big tables full of food and go visit each other enjoying each other's tables of food. The first day is with family and the rest of the days are when friends are included to come and visit until January 6th which is the day they celebrate the birth of Christ. The tables of food are full for anyone who comes to visit. Most of the businesses are closed during this week except for a few stores, cabs and mar/shoot/knees for transportation. It is a time to visit each other and relax together.