Stating the obvious of course, but really…the transition has been rough. I’m probably not going to try to describe the day we left Provo or our first day in Ohio in too much detail because…well because I don’t really even want to think about it. Though there were some amusing parts…
We had to get up at 2am to be to the travel office at 2:30am with all our stuff – two large suitcases as well as a carry-on and a shoulder bag. All in all I’m sure we each had well over 100 lbs. of luggage, and as we maneuvered it all down the all we discovered that the elevator in our building was broken. The noises of exertion made by four extremely sleep-deprived girls in skirts hauling bags up two flights of stairs in the middle of the night, to say nothing of the grace and dignity we demonstrated, was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever witnessed and had we not been running late or in fairly wretched moods, we might have taken a picture to document it. But were so we didn’t. The MTC emphasizes how important it is to look professional and make a good first impression upon our arrival in the field, but I’m not sure how they expect that to happen under these sorts of circumstances. We made it onto the bus even more exhausted and drenched in sweat (all of us wearing our big winter coats to save room in our suitcases) only to discover about ten minutes into the drive that our bus had some kind of problem, we pulled over, waited for a bit and eventually the beeping alarm stopped and we got to the airport, but it was a little stressful there for a few minutes. When we arrived at the airport, many of the missionaries in our travel group of 13 didn’t have any idea what to do (most hadn’t traveled without their parents, and I’m not sure one had ever really flown anywhere before – he happened to be our travel leader and when we arrived in Denver for our layover he asked where our checked bags were. When we explained they’d be in Cleveland, he asked if they had been shipped for us. I suppose knowing the ins and outs of the airline baggage system isn’t necessary information for life, and certainly not to be a good missionary, but I continue to be baffled at how sending kids with very little world experience off to places all over the world with very little supervision can possibly result in the productivity and progress that does come through missionaries.)
Anyway, we eventually made it to Cleveland, arriving at about 2:30pm where President Brown and his wife picked us up, along with the two assistants, and took us to their home. We had interviews, were introduced to the office missionaries (one senior couple and two senior sisters), ate a delicious meal, had a brief testimony meeting, and were all asleep by 8:30pm. I contemplated hitchhiking back to the airport more times than I care to admit – and continued to consider that option during the first few days, but I haven’t even thought about it today, or even yesterday, at least not seriously, or at least not for very long.
Of course I knew this would be hard, and I’ve had harder times, but it’s a different kind of hard than I expected. Plus thinking about the fact that there is no out for the next 18 months is a different and not terribly encouraging thought in the midst of hardness. So I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m doing this and how I might find a way to keep doing this – and what I am trying to remind myself is what my grandma told me a few weeks before I left. She mentioned that she had been praying for me and then she proceeded to tell me how I would have a lot of days where I would hate this (and she helpfully enumerated all the various things I might hate) but then told me just to remember that I’m not doing this for what I can get (though she thinks I’ll get a lot from it), but that I’m doing this for what I can give, and she said some very nice things about what she thought I had to give. Well, I don’t know what exactly I can give but remembering that has definitely helped. I’m not worrying too much about how much I’m enjoying or not enjoying any given moment, and that is pretty freeing. This might be the pessimistic way of phrasing it, or maybe it’s a martyr mentality, but somehow it’s much easier to be uncomfortable or exhausted or whatever else if I think that I’m experiencing those things for the sake of other people. Who knows if that mentality will last, but it’s been very helpful these last few days.
Part of that, no doubt, has been interacting with people here and starting to realize that there is a lot of good that can be done, and actually a lot for me to gain and enjoy in these interactions. I don’t know if I’ll have time to detail all the interesting characters worth talking about, but I will mention a few. First though, a description of the area – Sister Morrison (my new companion) and I cover Madison and Geneva Ohio (about an hour East of Cleveland I think). I am attempting to learn factory and industrial vocabulary as a good portion of the people here work in that environment. For example, I now know that when someone says they work ‘second-shift’ that means they work from 3pm to 11pm, often six days a week. I haven’t quite been able to understand what people actually do – fusion machinist and coil distributor are two of the job titles held by our investigators so if anyone actually knows what that entails and can explain it to me, I’d appreciate it!
People also seem to be pretty genuine and pretty open about things that I would think would be too personal to share, especially with total strangers. My second day here we went to see a woman whose name had been sent to us (we get referrals from the mission office via text, without knowing who referred them or why), and despite the fact that she had no idea how we got her name and address, she ended up crying to us about some hard stuff in her life and welcoming the hug offered by Sis. Morrison, all within the first two minutes of our conversation. Bankruptcy and an autistic 14 year-old son are just two of the difficulties she’s dealing with, neither of which we can really help with, but she wants to meet with us so we’ll be seeing her later this week. One thing that’s hard for me is seeing how I can help someone in a situation like this, but I suppose I have to remember that the ‘help’ provided by the gospel (at least in my own experience) isn’t really about fixing problems as much as it is about introducing an awareness of the love of god and letting that create positive momentum. Sounds really simplistic I think, and maybe not all that helpful, but despite the fact that it doesn’t sound all that helpful, for me that awareness made all the difference. It’s not an end in itself, hopefully it is a catalyst for change and improvement in a variety of ways. Anyway, we also knocked on the door of an 80 year-old man (Swedish decent, named Bill, ‘dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran’ – seriously he was like a character out of News from Lake Wobegon) who ended up crying as he talked about his wife who died earlier this year and the fact that the Lord has taken care of him throughout his life. It’s still hard for me to believe that this kind of stuff happens in real life, but there you go. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing.
Another midwest thing – there are a lot of man rings here, big ones that almost seem like they could be used as brass knuckles. Kind of fun.
We visit one woman every week mostly to do service because, well because she needs it. Apparently when Sis. M and her companion first knocked on this woman’s door (I’ll call her K), K told them that she was starving because she didn’t have the strength to open the cans of food she had left. Her apartment had rats and all kinds of insects, K hadn’t showered in days, and she was probably slowly starving to death in her home. The missionaries got social services involved, as well as the Relief Society President (who is a saint), and have been going over to help clean periodically for about a month now. We went a few days ago (we got to wear pants and t-shirts because it’s dirty work – I say bring it on if it means more pants time!) and cleaned, and also talked a little bit about religion. K is really into reading (something she can do despite her various health/mental conditions) and likes Philosophy – specifically Emerson and Thoreau, which I was excited about. So she and I talked about Philosophy and the nature of God for a bit while we cleaned, pausing occasionally when she told us, in a panicked voice, not to throw that plastic bag or that can or that coffee tin away because she has no income and once something is gone she can’t just replace it. (We were able to convince her to throw away at least a few of the empty coffee tins since we showed her that she still had 9 left, with lids, not including the three unopened ones). We gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon to read and asked her to keep a list of questions she might want to discuss when we saw her again. Who knows if she’ll read it, though she said she would and she previously wouldn’t even take the book at all, and even if she does, she’s most likely not in any sort of mental/physical condition to explore religion much, but I appreciated being able to connect with her in a way others hadn’t, and I think she’s better off for our visits than she would be without them, so that’s great.
The Ward here is small and full of all sorts of interesting people – it’s not terribly glamorous to be a member of the church here, and that’s very clearly not why people go. That is definitely a different vibe than the Wards I’m used to where there is more of a ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality as it relates to the activities, the people who are there, etc. Here there are so many people who are so needed, every calling matters (there aren’t any fluff callings as they can’t even fill all the necessary ones – we, for example, are serving as the primary choristers). It’s almost like there are two groups – the ones who need the Ward and the ones who are needed, and I’m sure everyone has been in both groups at one point or another. The sacrifices made by the leaders in the Ward (the R.S. president especially) and requests made of them are far beyond those I’m aware of in Wards I’ve been in to this point – cleaning out a rat-infested apartment, dealing with extremely crazy people, driving people to church and to activities multiple times a week, feeding people several times a week, and all that while not being in a great financial position and working at least one very demanding job.
The Ward Christmas party was this last Saturday – it wasn’t a Federal Heights or Pepperwood-style spread of fancy salads, uniform entrees, and mini chalk boards with the names of different punch options. Nope. Simple ham and cheese sandwiches, Styrofoam bowls of condiments, creamed corn, potato salad, funeral potatoes, jello salad, a table full of pies, and I did see one bowl of fruit and one green salad (though when I went through the line it didn’t seem to have been touched much). Decorations consisted of plastic tablecloths and winter scenes drawn by the primary children. But it was really nice. The need-eds (who did all the work) didn’t complain about how much work it all was and the need-ers didn’t complain about what was done or wish for anything to be different. I appreciate that both groups seem to be involved in church things for reasons beyond the entertainment value or social interaction or quality of the treats.
Anyway, the point of all that is, I suppose, that there are cool people here and interacting with them more has been very positive. I’m feeling much better about being here and about my ability to do some good for the next 18 months and I expect I will continue to feel better and better about that. I’m almost to the point where I don’t miss the MTC – when I think about that now I just try to remember cleaning toilets in the residence hall and the revulsion I felt after an overly vigorous scrub splashed toilet water up into my mouth. Only one toilet to clean here is a definite blessing. It will also be fun to spend time at the Visitor’s Center, something I haven’t yet done due to the altered schedule of the first week. Sis. M and I are ‘satellite sisters’, meaning we live away from the historical sites and commute into Kirtland when it’s our turn to work there. We’ll do that two days a week generally, and we’ll stay in one of the homes there for those two nights. There aren’t many tours to give this time of year but there is a large nativity exhibit (over 900 on display) which is bringing people in, and we’ll spend most of our days there doing online teaching activities, which I have really liked thus far as I’ve had the opportunity to do that.
Now it’s time for the obnoxious request for mail 🙂 I have more time on the computer for email and such here, which is great, but it still means a LOT to hear from people more regularly rather than having to wait a whole week. If you’re not sure what to write, you can write about the current events of the world (I won’t have heard about any of it), or you can write about your day, or even describe your dinner in detail – I will read and appreciate it all.
I’m not going to post the address to my apartment here for safety/privacy reasons. (After we were knocking on doors one evening we got a call from a man who wasn’t very happy with us (we had been giving out cards with our number on them) and wanted to know where we lived so he could come and ruin our evening by knocking on our door, though the words he used were nowhere near as nice as that, and he also mentioned that he had called the police. He called us again – we think – to hear our answering machine and get our names, but that wouldn’t help him to know where we live.) If you want my apartment address just shoot me an email and I’ll send it to you – I can get mail there every day. Or, you can use the Visitor’s Center address below (and on the blog) where I can get mail the two days a week that I’m there:
Sister Jennifer West
7800 Kirtland-Chardon Road
Kirtland, OH 44094
Beyond mail, prayers are always appreciated as well. Also, if anyone has thoughts on the items below (because I can’t just google them), please share:
-ideas for primary singing time
-decent restaurants near Madison or Geneva, OH (Madison Family Diner is not one)
If I were to go home today I’d be an improved person and would value what I’ve learned thus far but I’m not sure it would really stick after so short a time. It’s been hard but I am looking forward to solidifying the good from the experiences I’ve had so far and absorbing the experiences that are ahead.
PS – No pictures today (again) – sorry, my biggest pet peeve is when missionaries don’t send pictures but I hope to be able to next week.