When we got to the Baltic Mission and settled into Riga, Latvia, we were told the Area Presidency had made a rule that no one in the Eastern Europe Area could post pictures of members, missionaries or others that could be identifiable. Further, we were not to take pictures that would put the government in a bad light. Perhaps this caused me to over-react, but I stopped posting anything on social media, Not Facebook or even my own personal blog. I didn’t even send any pictures home, Nothing. Nada.
This doesn’t mean that I didn’t take pictures. Nope, I took pictures of Missionaries and members and even some dilapidated buildings. But mostly I took pictures of the beautiful scenery which included Old Town, the forests and the sea shore, and the old castles, restored or broken down.
Julia and I worked in the office where she was the office secretary and I was the mission financial secretary. We worked with another couple, the Terry’s and they handled phones, apartments, supplies, passports and travel. I don’t understand how it happened, but we had the best apartment in Riga (compared to the other senior couples), a penthouse on the 5th floor where the elevator opened right into our apartment, which was OK because we used a key to get the elevator to go there.
The Terry’s used the mission van on some weekends but I determined not to drive given how the locals drove. This was all right because Riga has a wonderful bus and tram system, at least the downtown area was well served because all the busses from the outlying areas came down our street headed where we most often wanted to go. Another senior couple, Elder and Sister Atkinson, was in charge of CES headquartered in Riga and had a church supplied vehicle and took us on several trips and to the stores when we needed to purchase more than what we could carry on the bus, so between these two missionary couples we didn’t really need to drive.
The mission office was about a mile and a half from the city center, just off of Brivibas Iela (Freedom Street) which is the primary road into the city. Church was held in a rented hall almost downtown near Brivibas close to a beautiful Lutheran Cathedral so we rode the bus back and forth whenever we went to church. Downtown Riga is dominated by old apartment buildings built in the early 1900’s in the Victorian Style, laden with art deco, which I tried to photograph, except for the nude lady statues.
We enjoyed walking down into old town, passing the Freedom Monument, crossing over a moat then passing McDonalds, which dominated the first floor of the first building on the right. McDonalds may not have fit the feeling of old town but it was always crowded with customers. I suppose we cannot complain, because our favorite place was TGI Fridays, three blocks into Old town on the left, where we went for birthdays and other special occasions. We didn’t ignore the local foods visiting Lido’s often, to sample real Latvian fare. Old town really was a mix of the very old with the sparkling new. A modern mall is situated close to an old church which makes up a prominent part of the famous Riga skyline.
We were able to go into Lithuania to Siauliai (Sha-lay) and then go to Tallinn, Estonia, places we did not expect to make it to. Several times we visited the Gulf of Riga where I tasted the water, finding it not as salty as the Pacific Ocean. Another time, thanks to the goodness of Elder and Sister Atkinson, we were able to visit Kolka where the waters of the Baltic Sea meet the waters of the Gulf of Riga. Beautiful.
Since Elder and Sister Terry came to the mission office the same time as we did, and had selected an 18 month mission, just like we had, we determined we would extend 3 months and make our mission 21 months long so as not to cause a problem for the Mission President with both of us leaving at the same time. When it came time for the Terry’s to leave, Sister Tuck and I looked at each other and said “That could have been us.” We enjoyed our final 3 month extension but Sister Tuck’s knees worsened during that time causing us to worry about her having to walk between planes at the airports as we traveled home. We were able to go to a sports medicine place where Sister Tuck received some shots in her knees that made the pain bearable because she did ended up having to walk long distances in both the Hamburg, Germany and Denver, Colorado airports.
We were assigned to attend the Russian branch in Riga, Latvia but we normally attended both the Latvian and Russian branches which made for a long day. We found the Russian members to be extremely friendly, often kissing us on the cheeks. The Latvians were a bit more reserved until they got to know us. We loved both sets of people. We did not learn more than a few words in either language because we found most people understood English or there was someone who was handy to translate for us.
It appeared to us the only thing that kept Latvia from being a First World country is the fact that we couldn’t drink the tap water. Other than that and the fact that we could not find some of our favorite products in the stores, we had no problems. Some of these favorite products were available in specialty stores but were prohibitively expensive. The case in point being Rosarita Refried Beans being 4 Euros for a large can. When looking to make our own refried beans, we could not find pinto beans anywhere so we used the small red beans, which worked just fine.
We were blessed to have been there, someplace we would never have gone on our own.
We came home on September 1, 2015 but wanted to go on another mission, so we tried to not disrupt the lives of our children, especially Jeremy and his family who were living in our house, so we took over a down stairs bedroom and prepared for Julia to have double knee replacement surgery which happened the end of October. She felt that if she did not do both knees at once, she would only have one done then not be willing to go through the pain to have the other done.
At this time, two of our grown kids moved back to the Provo area, which meant all of our children were close by except for Alma who had moved to southeastern Idaho to start a business. When we visited him, we found we really enjoyed being in farm country in a small town, so while Julia was convalescing from her knee replacements, I rented a small home in Clifton, Idaho, close to Alma’s home and business, which worked well since once Julia got into the home, she did not have to go up and down stairs. As Julia recovered, we traveled back and forth between Clifton and our home in Provo, keeping our residence in Provo and using our doctors there. I started helping Alma with his business by writing a manual for his domes and traveling with him as he delivered them to his customers. We had thought we would spend about half our time in Clifton and the other half in Provo, but we found we loved it in Clifton and probably spent 75% or more of our time there. Some of our friends laughed at us saying we should be going south for the winter, not north where Clifton is, but we liked it in spite of the colder weather.
Toward the end of January, we began filling out another mission application and scheduled the required doctor appointments. At the end of February, when it appeared our medical work would be completed, we sent the application to our bishop, expecting the doctor would quickly complete the forms and send them directly to the bishop. First it was me, then it was Julia that slowed us down finishing the medical process, and soon three months had passed, causing us to wonder if this delay was purposeful and was to sync our submission to the church with some need some mission might have we didn’t know anything about.
We obtained our medical forms on Friday, May 22 and had both our Bishop and Stake President interviews on Sunday May 24. On May 28, we received a call from Missionary Medical asking for a clarification at which time the caller said the mission call might take another 8 weeks. Tuesday evening, June 2, we received a text message from our Stake President asking if we would accept an emergency call to report to some unidentified mission on June 13. We replied ‘Yes’ the next day and found out on Thursday the call would have to have General Authority OK but that it would be somewhere in the US. We were told the call packet would be sent ‘Overnight’ to us but it was not sent out until Monday. We spent the weekend trying to pack up our rented house and were visited Monday by our friends, Stan and Rose to help pack almost finishing that evening. We found out we would be in the south where it is warm, and that the mission would be a 3 day drive from Provo.
Tuesday morning, we received a call from our daughter-in-law, Katie, at our Provo home where she had received the call packet. We asked her to open it on Skype so we could watch, and found we were being called to the Alabama Birmingham Mission and were to report the Mission on June 13.
We finished cramming as much as we could into the car, and turned completing our move from the rented home over to Alma and left for Provo. That evening in Provo, we took several of our family out to dinner at the Black Bear Diner where unbeknownst to us Jorgen paid the tab, then since we were not dressed properly, we hurried over to the mall and bought some clothes, then went to the Stake President’s office at the Stake Center where we were set apart. The next day, we renewed my driver’s license and headed out, taking I-70 thru Wyoming and Nebraska then dropping down thru Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee before arriving at Birmingham, Alabama four days later, getting here Saturday evening. Fortunately, the other senior couples were waiting for us and took us to our apartment and helped us get situated so we could visit our assigned branch on Sunday, the next day.
Our assigned branch was wonderful but is a healthy drive from our apartment, part way on the freeway, then ending up winding thru several older neighborhoods to get to the building. Since we will be going there from now on, we will find a better way, even if we have to drive further. Jorgen would be impressed, the church building is on a street named Warrior Road.
We reported to the mission office on June 13 as we were supposed to and immediately started to do our assignments, As you might expect, every mission does things their own way so our prior experience didn’t prepare us completely but was a good launching pad to learn the rest. As it turned out, our first week here was during transfer week where 16 new missionaries arrived and about 26 missionaries left, and a whole bunch were shuffled around, so the office was busy around us, giving us as much time as they could but not as much as we would have liked. We can see why this was an emergency. The couple we were replacing had been there about 2 months but left in a rush the day they found he had stage 4 lung cancer. The cars couple stepped in to help with the finances but it turns out they complete their mission at the end of the month, just after the new Mission President takes over.
We got situated in our apartment but found we left a bunch of (needed) stuff back in Clifton, so this past week has been expensive. It does not help that Costco, Sam’s club and Walmart are all within a mile of our apartment, as is the biggest mall in Alabama, Riverchase Galleria.
The departing Mission President, President Hanks has made it a habit to have all the missionaries attend the Alabama Birmingham Temple every 3 months, and the 3 month mark hit this week and we were invited to attend a session so there would be enough couples to form a prayer circle. The young missionaries are not permitted to be in the prayer circle.
Alabama is wonderful. We have heard that Southern Hospitality exists, but we found it to be alive and well here. Everyone has been so nice to us and has gone out of their way to be of assistance. Some people back home could take lessons.
We will be here for 18 months and will actually update this blog every now and them, perhaps even including pictures.