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