March 29, 2015

We were in an obscure area at lunch time.  There was a nice-looking pub.  The menu said 'enchiladas!'  Stan said they were more like veggie burritos and had no sauce.  Never mind, they had a southwestern flavor -- and at least two whole potatoes worth of fries (which he didn't eat)!   The other is gnocchi, lunch another day.

The train is going downhill and is speeding up!   This week we were in Budapest again to make a payment and had appointments for potential service.  We are pushing to meet with several institutions this week and next and then we will spend the time getting the projects completed and all the paper work finished before we leave in just over three months.  Some projects take 2-3 months, and we can’t leave anything unfinished since at this point there is not a humanitarian couple coming to replace us.  In fact, we learned this week that the number of younger missionaries arriving in the six few months is down and apartments will need to be closed.  Sad!  Hungary needs the missionaries.  Perhaps the younger missionary age surge is now leveling off.   Also, we heard that for seniors, age 65 is now 70.  People are working longer and perhaps in 3-4 years there will be a surge of seniors serving.  Hope so.

We also had three projects approved this week, and will start working on those.  One is just ordering some medical equipment, another is outfitting a children’s activity room for a family shelter, and the other will require shopping in quite a few different places – craft materials for a home for disabled adults. 

This building in Budapest was home to the Postapalota (Posta Palace). It was built right after WWI, but has been empty since 2008. The round tower on the corner of the palace used to have a practical purpose: it was the machine room of the elevator.  The building is in a prominent place overlooking the main transportation hub in Buda. Some have thought this would be a great building for the Church to buy and turn into a temple/mission home/meeting house.  Interesting idea. 

About the main transportation hub – Széll Kálmán tér (square) -- was pretty old, quite dirty, and very dilapidated.   Currently it is a war zone as it is getting a much needed renovation!!!   That whole part of town is absolutely 'upside down' to drive through, and many of the trains are not operating; but it continues to be busy because of its location. We see noticeable progress each time we are in town.  By this time next year, it promises to look like this:
Yesterday one of the senior couples (who served a previous mission in Kaposvár) drove down from their city in northern Hungary and she made a presentation about the history of Relief Society for our RS celebration.  She did a nice presentation, but unfortunately there were only 7 sisters there.  If these sisters come from their villages to town on a weekend, they may not come back on Sunday.  But Sister B said she was glad to see some of their friends from their time here 3 years ago.   And we appreciated them coming.

Today was the change to Daylight Savings Time in Hungary.   There were a couple of members who ran in at the last minute to church, but most were there early.   Hungarians are morning people.   When I’m out early, the streets and sidewalks are already full of activity.

This week will be transfer week – which is an unhappy thought.  We have loved and enjoyed the four elders who are currently serving in Kaposvár.   What great missionaries they are.  We have attended many of their programs with them; we know those they are teaching, and we are praying for them to have a witness of the Spirit.  Today the elders came for lunch – the last supper!   They took photos, but we didn’t and won’t get their copies until after this letter is posted.   After lunch we watched “Meet the Mormons.”   We watched it once before, but the elders were excited to see it.   It is much better the second time.   I can think of several ‘friends’ who are learning about the Church who should see it (those who speak English).  We will plan a time before we leave to have these friends over to see it.

Since we have been here, there has been an elder who either played the piano for Sacrament Meeting or who could operate the electronic piano (with hymns programmed in it).  We’ve wondered who would be doing this after Elder R gets transferred this week.    Today one of the members (who was less active when we first arrived) was sustained to be in charge of the music.  He was there ½ hour early, had the hymns chosen, put numbers in the board and played with a huge smile.  He is quite shy, but he sang out – I know because I was leading.   This is exciting because slowly, the branch is becoming self-sufficient.  We can see lives slowly changing for the better and it is heartwarming.   We love these friends and so want them to have all the blessings of the gospel in their everyday lives.  We know the Lord loves them way more than we do and is just waiting to bless them as He is waiting to bless each of us in our obedience. 

March 22, 2015

Lovely restrooms at a Shell station along the road -- had to pay though!

Awaited for months, spring fills the world with the cacophony of life when it comes.  And waiting for this season is not in vain: sooner or later it does arrive.  Like a playful distant relative, you never know when it will knock on your door.  But when it arrives in your life, it comes irresistibly, with cheerful fervor.  It tells stories with laughter, filling the rooms, streets, squares and cities with the taste of sun and wind. 
                                       (Delightful quote from a Hungarian Herend Porcelain Brochure)

Top ten reasons we know it is spring in Hungary:

            10.  Birds are singing – every morning around 4:30 a.m.

              9.  Flowers are planted, buds are becoming visible.
              8.  Many fields are green and many are being plowed – getting ready.
              7.  Tractors and other large farm equipment are out on the roads –under 40 mph.
              6.  The snow fences in fields are being taken down.

              5.  Colorful Easter decorations are at the malls.
              4.  Street workers are out en masse – cleaning, sweeping, pruning, planting.
              3.  Sidewalks are teeming with bicycles -- coming up behind without warning.
              2.  Restaurant decks are coming outside.
              1.  Ice cream shops and stands are opening!

Another full and fulfilling week.  We traveled four hours to Szolnok and met with two agencies – a hospice and intermediate care and a home for disabled adults.  Two elders accompanied us to translate.  About mid-afternoon they indicated they hadn’t had lunch yet! Our second appointment was out of town a ways, so when we finished we hurried back to town and had some quick dinner before the weekly English class they teach at the church.  We don’t always have or take time to walk around a city and take photos.

But on the way, we saw some interesting buildings:

Close up of the intricate window design.
 Then it was on to Békéscsaba to spend the night.
There we met a senior couple, Elder and Sister Smith (Randolph, UT) and enjoyed a visit and refreshments at their apartment.  Above is Hotel Fiume (built in 1867) where we stayed, a very nice place right on the walking street.  Across from it is this city government building.

Above is a glass telephone booth and an intriguing antique desk inside the hotel.

Before appointments the next morning we went for a walk and saw:

A very blue government building,

The Békéscsaba LDS meeting house.

The Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church, which seats 3,500 (5,000 SRO). 

The next morning Sister Smith brought a lovely lady (and her husband) to whom she teaches piano to translate for us.  We visited a hospital and then another home for the disabled – of all ages.  

Afterwards we had lunch together at the hotel dining room --  some very delicious vegetables and almond potatoes. 

And then we headed home.  On this trip we finished the book, Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly.  It was most interesting, but oh, so hard to read and know much more detail about Roman leaders and torture and the time of Christ.  It is incomprehensible to even try to imagine the pain and suffering He willingly endured for us. Oh, how grateful we are.
Elders Heilein (Frankfurt, Germany), Martineau (Santa Clara, UT), King (Orem, UT) and Roberts (Pleasant Grove, UT)
Friday we went south with our Kaposvar elders to zone training in Pécs.  We were asked by Elder Kearon to meet soon and review the principles learned at Zone Conference.   It was probably the best zone training we have attended.  Three items we are asked to focus on:
  •  Mornings are very important – attack them!
I frequently say to missionaries in the field, ‘You make or break your mission every morning of your life. You tell me how those morning hours go from 6:30 a.m. until you are on the street in your mission, whatever time it is; you tell me how those hours go, and I will tell you how your day will go, I will tell you how your month will go, I will tell you how your year will go and how your mission and your life will go.’                                                                                    Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
  • Baptisms – Make it personal; bring them home.
  • Choose to be happy!

Saturday morning I left on the train at 6:00 a.m. with Sister Balint (our Relief Society president) to the stake RS celebration in Budapest.  That was nice to see a few people I knew in Budapest and be there with these humble, wonderful sisters.  There were some talks, some impromptu role plays about visiting teaching (the sisters were quite hilarious and dramatic).  It was fun to watch them.  They also showed a Church video about hands – in service throughout life. Have you seen it?  It is very touching. 

We had 12 ‘friends’ (non-members) at church today!  We are really praying that some of these will ask and have a witness of the Spirit so that they will make a commitment for baptism.  Our elders are doing a great job.  They are finding and teaching and we enjoy being with them at their teaching discussions (programs) whenever we are in town.  It is a privilege to bear our testimonies of the truthfulness of the Gospel to those whom they are teaching.  It is a privilege to serve here. 

March 15, 2015

If we were in Italy, we would wish you “Happy Ides of March.”(We were reading about this fateful date of Julius Ceaser earlier this week.)  However, since we are in Hungary, we will wish you “Happy Hungarian Spring.”  This day in Hungary stands for democracy and freedom and commemorates the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, a bloodless fight for freedom from Habsburg rule, which then grew into a war against Austria and her allies.  Hungarians were only asking for freedom of the press, to establish a parliament and government, freedom of religion, a jury, a national bank, a Hungarian army and the withdrawal of foreign military presence (freedoms most of us take for granted).  In 1849 Russia intervened on the side of Austria, and won!  Independence for Hungary was short-lived once again – really until 1989.  These tri-color ‘cockades’ are now proudly worn by Hungarians on this day. 

Today is the start of a new Hungarian law – stores begin today to be closed on Sunday.   While that sounds wonderful, and hopefully it will be, there are quite a few exceptions that are controversial.  Apparently, small family-owned businesses have a choice, malls with theaters can stay open and businesses that cater to tourists or are near transportation stations can also stay open.   You see the conflict / discrimination – especially  for those people and stores who depend on the weekend employment and shoppers.

Monday at family home evening we celebrated Elder Heilein’s birthday with his favorite banana cake  -- his family’s special German recipe his mother sent me.  The bottom is sort of like what we call German pancakes, next a layer of sliced bananas, then a layer of pudding mixed with whipped cream, and drizzled with chocolate on top.  He was happy. 

Tuesday we headed to Győr to a carpet store to buy and pay for some carpet (with roads and villages) for a kindergarten room and drop off some books and earphones to a school we are helping.  They are waiting for the delivery of some cabinets and some gym equipment for the kindergarten, so the ‘closing’ will be the next trip that direction. 

We continued to Budapest and took Elders Parkinson and Depallens with us to ‘close’ a project with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Catholic Order.  This is a home for mothers in crisis, and the Humanitarian Fund provided them with 3 small refrigerators, a washer, a stove, some baby bottles and thermometers.  Some directors make a big deal out of ‘closings,’ and others just express their thanks and appreciation and it takes 5 minutes.   This was the latter.  Here the appliances are not yet in their specified rooms.    

We hoped to visit something of note that evening, but places were closed.  We even tried to find an English language movie, but the only one available didn’t start until 9 p.m. – too late for this night.

The next morning we met at the mission home for Zone Conference, with visiting general authority President Patrick Kearon of the Europe Area Presidency.  We felt the Spirit throughout the day.  Elder Kearon is a master teacher, as he reviewed and taught principles from Preach My Gospel.  A few of his comments: 

  • The miracle of having 85,000 missionaries is that the best and brightest are out at a time they turn from caterpillar to butterfly. . .
  • Nothing happens in missionary work until you find people to teach. 
  • Long before you speak, impressions are made; look the message, become the message. 
  • ‘Investigator’ is such a harsh word.  What does it bring to mind?  Let’s call those we are teaching ‘friends.’ 
  • Don’t ‘drop’ the friends we are teaching; ‘rest’ them for a season if necessary.
  • When meeting with less actives, ask them how they joined the Church; let them relive their conversion.

Back home, we attended programs with the elders on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 

Friday our interpreter came to help us make appointments in a couple of new cities.  It was rather discouraging as it seemed that principals and directors were out of the office and we were told to “call back next week.”   Later, we realized that this is a holiday weekend.   We will try again Monday and are hoping to head out this week for areas in Hungary we have not yet served. 

Because today was a holiday, there were fewer attending church today.  But afterwards it was the branch ‘linger longer” – a pot luck meal on the third Sunday of each month.   It’s a rather casual meal after the meetings, and the members are participating better (bringing food) each month.  Our high counselor and family members were visiting today; they surely helped the attendance numbers. We sang Happy Birthday to Zsuzsa; her cake had the traditional Hungarian 'sparkler.'

We continue to pray for senior couples to serve missions.  The lack of replacements is true also in the  Europe Area humanitarian missions.  Of the 13 couples who are serving in countries in our area, only four are currently being replaced.   We are told the budget money is there, so we can do practically unlimited projects.  In the next few weeks we will try to meet with many new potential projects – and then with no one coming to complete them, we will need to wrap everything up before we leave.    

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  We are grateful for that witness.   We are grateful to represent Jesus Christ and in some small ways help His Church and His work be known and go forward in the country of Hungary.   And, we have truly been guided and blessed in our experiences. 

March 8, 2015

Are these in America?  We've only seen them twice in rather obscure places.  
Hazelnuts are indigenous to Hungary.

Another wonderful Sunday.  It was branch conference today, and the stake presidency visited.  We heard from our branch president, who is amazing and always speaks from the heart with great messages related to the scriptures – and never a note!  He spoke about water being near Christ or being mentioned in the scriptures and related it to living water.  The stake president’s talk was also wonderful.   He is a very humble young man and became quite emotional as he bore testimony to the words we had sung in the opening hymn, How Firm a Foundation:

Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

L-R, Dori and Balazs Balint, branch president, Mirko Kovacs, stake clerk,
 Christopher Southwick, stake president, and Stan
We invited the stake and branch presidency to lunch afterwards.  We knew they would have some meetings afterwards and didn’t want to send them off for a two-hour drive back to Budapest with no lunch.  Meetings and interviews took quite awhile; they didn’t end up here until after 3 p.m., and then left after 5 p.m.   What a long day for these men.  But we did enjoy our visit. President Nemeth-Toth is missing from the picture as he went to 'rescue' a branch member's car issues (long story).

Earlier in the week we were in Budapest where we spent a day paying for orders, shopping for three different projects and closing the project for a children’s home.  The Humanitarian Fund provided the home with a fridge, microwave, stove, a projector and sound equipment.  They have classes that make movies and they wanted to be able to show them to the students and to visiting students.  We were looking forward to knowing how excited the students were to have this equipment.  However, the director apparently forgot the appointment or double booked as he was away at a conference at appointment time.  They called the assistant and she showed us around and we ‘closed’ with her, but didn’t get his personal touch. 

We met with a new potential project – a home for mothers and families in crisis.  This usually happens when families lose their housing, their job, etc.  Yes, there seem to be quite of few of these places for which the government then becomes responsible.   We are waiting to hear from them. 

While in Budapest, we went with Elder and Sister Peterson (fairly new senior couple) to visit the House of Terror – a rather poignant and grim experience.  Again, we could not take photos.  The House of Terror is now a museum, but the building and the block were “witnesses to two shameful and tragic periods in Hungary’s 20th century history.  It was truly a house of terror.  In 1944 it was the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis.  Then between 1945 and 1956, the notorious Communist terror organizations took up residence there.”

We thought we would see actual torture chambers and devices, but thankfully, there were none. We saw empty, but horrific cells in the basement.  Experiences were talked about tastefully on video clips; there were newspapers and photos of victims and the ‘victimizers.’  Uniforms were displayed, showing the change from Nazi to Communist rule, but the terror did not change.  The leaders executed anyone suspected of being against the ruling party.  Many of these leaders were never brought to justice; and some are still living.  Sad statistics show millions of people perished over the decades in the camps of the Gulag; and 600-700 thousand former Hungarians citizens ended up in Soviet captivity.  Many of them were not allowed to return to their families even after the expiration of their punishment. The last Soviet advisers left Hungary in 1989.  The last Hungarian prisoner-of-war, András Toma, returned home from Russia in the year 2000.  

Oh, what a sad and tangled history Hungary has had.  Elder Russell M. Nelson dedicated this land for the preaching of the gospel in 1987.  The mission was opened in 1990.  The country is young in the gospel sense.  It is only the current generation of youth that do not have the background of thoughts, teachings and traditions to overcome. 

Slowly we see some progress being made in our little Kaposvár Branch.  Members are starting to attend more regularly.  There were 8 non-members/investigators there today.  In fact, the father of a family that has not attended since we’ve been here came and even stayed for priesthood meeting.  We and the elders have visited several times to let them know that we need their family and their family needs the Church and the gospel.  It was thrilling to see him walk in.  We all so need the support and strength of the Church and its members and we also need to give of ourselves to the Church and its members.  We are so blessed and so thankful for our Savior’s love, mercy and His Atonement for us.  We must spend our days – and far beyond – serving with our whole souls and hopefully this will help us become at least somewhat profitable servants.