Saturday, June 21, 2014

Young Women camp with Helsinki stake

We had a camp with Helsinki stake! They had 60 people who came. We had 12 people. It was a nice camp. Girls liked it. The weather was not great but they still got to swim in the Baltic sea. I planned the housing, transportation, printing and the hike (it was raining all day that day...). They had a beach hike! Here are some photos of the test hike I did early in the morning when our baby was asleep.

Something I learned from the Fins: you do not have to run faster than you have strength (Mosiah 4:27). There are people who stay inactive because they are exhausted. I see it all the time. Also - do not do things alone, find other people to help you out. They had so many leaders there with the girls. We had a couple: me and a YSA Evelin helping out. :D I try to run as fast as I have strength because I know I am running a marathon. I have helpers who serve with me but they were all at work this time. My strategy was to import help from Finland. (Thank you, Heini, Annika and Outi!) :D  Their activity rate is higher than ours and no wonder. They take it easy! My key is planning and delegating. I used to hate planning. Now that is all I do all the time and I love it. And I like when girls have responsibilities, like teaching, planning, helping out when needed.
Heavenly Father sure knew what I needed to develop. It is amazing how much I have learned these past 5 years!

Seminary graduation and BOM themed cakes

Yesterday we attended our branch´s seminary graduation activity. It was the first time in Church history in Estonia that we had early morning seminary! Some kids had to be driven to Tallinn to seminary and then back to their home town near Tallinn so they can go to school. It was such a sacrifice for most kids and families. I am so proud of them all. I also went a few times to show my support to the youth. It was great! We rotated with Matthew, one week he went, the other week I went. The last day of seminary we went as a family, our sweet baby included.

This Friday we had a graduation party. I had to plan a cake decorating activity for the youth. They had to design the cakes, I bought all the materials. I found a great store in Tallinn where they sell everything you can possibly need for baking and decorating cakes. I even found Crisco there, 6 euros a piece (small can)! One senior missionary from the States said they went there with her husband and when she bought Crisco he said she is crazy for spending 6 euros on a small thing like that. She said if that is all she can get that is all she will pay.

Here are the cakes, all Book of Mormon themed, you can guess what they are about:

Visiting family in Tõrva; relatives´ wedding anniversary party in Taagepera

In the beginning of June we visited my family in southern Estonia. Beautiful weather and gorgeous nature. These photos are taken at my mom´s house:

My mom:

 My mom and my "little" brother:

The main reason we went was to attend me relatives´ 10th wedding anniversary. They rented a house in a so called tourist farm in Taagepera, a small place where my grandmother used to live. They have a nice castle there.

Matthew loves storks:

 I took a photo above, Matthew decided to also take a photo of another window he liked :):

Coordinated cats in the castle garden:

Taagepera castle/hotel/restaurant:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When core meets periphery in the church

Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Estonia is an interesting experience.  We are in the periphery of the church, far away from the Mormon corridor and also far away from the Europe East head quarters in Moscow (I have no idea why we are not in the Europe area).  It is interesting because many hot topics that are partially based on the political environment in the US such as gay rights or women and the priesthood, and luxury shopping malls seem to have almost no importance here.  The concerns here are smaller and in some ways more meaningful such as how to have unity in our branches, how to keep people motivated to serve and so on.  Every now and again Church leaders stop over a visit and we are reminded that even though we are far away, we are still loved and important in the church.

This was the case recently when many Church leaders visited the Europe East area.  The church newsroom did a nice write up on their travels.  There was a priesthood meeting that was based in Riga and then broadcast to the entire area.  It started at 10:00 AM in Riga which was 6:00 PM Vladivostok time on a Saturday a few weeks ago.  I have been able to hear apostles talk on numerous occasions, but this was the first time in a smaller setting.  There were about 150 priesthood holders from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  Elder Bednar was the presiding authority and it was a neat experience to not only listen to what he had to say but to observe how he said it.  He did not come with an agenda from Salt Lake, rather he listened to our concerns and we then together addressed them.  This seemed to be a new enlightening format for teaching differing from the past.  Before the meeting started he said he wanted to shake everyone's hands.  He shook every hand, looked every brother in the eyes for what seemed a very long time and said good morning.  At the end he bore testimony that Christ lives.  It was a powerful testimony and I felt that Elder Bednar really is a special witness of our savior.  Maris was sad the meeting was only for priesthood holders and I totally understand why, it was a great meeting.  One brother who hadn't come to church in years came to the meeting and has been every week since then.  He now wants to have his kids baptized. 

As great as that experience was the next day on Sunday when Bishop Causse came to Tallinn to speak at a district meeting.  For some reason I liked this meeting even more than the priesthood meeting.  Bishop Causee was very warm and personable.  He told some great stories about the church in France when he was younger and about how the Paris temple received approval from the city council.  Saturday night I realized what an incredible situation it was going to be.  A European member of the presiding bishopric was going to be in Tallinn!  I revised my BYU-England proposal and printed it off so that I could give it to him the next day.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) I chickened out and did not give it to him.  I did shake his and did have the opportunity to give it to him.  I figure these church leaders have enough stuff to deal with.  I did give the proposal to the manager of temporal affairs in the Europe East area whom I had met on an earlier occasion.  The only problem is that he is in the wrong area!   It felt like one of those situations where you know you did the right thing but still regret it. 

All in all it is an interesting time for the church in Estonia.  We will be getting a new mission president in July and they will be expanding the Tallinn chapel.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Mixed messages from Salt Lake

Recently ground breaking news hit the Mormon bloggernacle.  Two Mormon activists Kate Kelly and John Dehlin will be facing church discipline and may be excommunicated.  Normally all church discipline is done at the local (stake) level.  However both activists are facing church discipline at the same time which gives the perception that this is happening under the direction of Salt Lake.  The reception has not been positive by LDS bloggers.  You can read about it here, here, and here.  To put it short I’m glad I am not working in the church PR department right now, they have their hands full.  

I thought I would share a few of my thoughts as well.  First, I don’t know Kate Kelly or John Dehlin and am not too familiar with their situations, their relationship with the church, or the specifics of the ongoing church discipline. That said my reaction to the situation is disappointment in the decision to hold the church courts.  From what I have read this appears to be a classic lose-lose situation.  Church discipline happens when an individual is accused of a serious transgression and generally has three aims.  First, to save the souls of transgressors, second to protect the innocent, and third to safeguard the integrity of the church.  
If we look at all of these options church discipline doesn’t seem to be the best option for this situation.  Both Kate and John have expressed a strong desire to stay in the church. I am not sure how excommunication will help them repent or change.  To members in the US having a desire to stay in the church might not sound like a big deal, but in the 2011 Estonian census only 185 people self-identified as Mormon! To put this in context this was about half of those who self-identified as Pagan (341) and a little more than those who identified as Satanists (120).  This is after almost 25 years of intensive proselyting and hundreds of thousands maybe millions spent on translation and buildings.  My take on the issue is that anyone who is happy to be a member and trying to be a good person should be welcome in the church.   

The excommunication of these two members would be harmful for the church image that has been carefully honed in recent years through the expensive ‘I’m a Mormon campaign’.  This campaign celebrated the diversity of its members.  Unfortunately these recent developments give the perception that the ‘I’m a Mormon’ media campaign is just that, a media campaign and nothing more.  

That leaves the reason to protect the innocent the last reason to hold a church court.  One aspect of protecting the innocent is apostasy which, according to media reports, is the reason both individuals have been called to a church court.  This is the classic wolves in sheep’s clothing concept.  Here lies the golden question, are Kate Kelly and John Dehlin sheep or wolves?  Kate and John certainly believe they are sheep and have a sincere desire to remain within the church.  Church leadership obviously thinks otherwise or they would not have called for church discipline.  In the minds of church leaders their status as members gives their message some legitimacy.  Thus to protect the innocent they need to be disciplined thus giving a clear message of what is right and wrong.  While I can understand the church’s concern with members who advocate beliefs that do not align with church teachings, excommunicating them in this situation doesn’t seem to be a productive solution for protecting the innocent.  Kate and John have become popular not because they have been leading others astray but because there are so many who have the same concerns about gay rights and women and the priesthood.  In other words they are a result of thousands of doubters not the cause of their doubt.   

What then can the church do to protect the innocent?  On a personal level local leaders could discuss the status of their temple recommends.  If both of these individuals have problems sustaining church leaders or other issues then that could be grounds for the invalidation of their temple recommends.  This would be a sign to other members that their message is not approved by the church despite their status as members.  Yet, this would enable them to remain members and continue and ongoing dialogue with the individuals in the future.  Another way would be to constructively engage the thousands of doubters.  While many conference talks have been given on these issues they don't explicitly address the concerns and doubt people have.  Concerning women and the priesthood, have church leaders received clear revelation that women should not hold the priesthood or is it just a continued tradition similar to the ban on Black's holding the priesthood?  What about other situations when women have held the priesthood (the priestess Deborah in the Old Testament), and what about the times when women have performed priesthood ordinances? (in the early days of the church blessing the sick, currently performing temple ordinances).  Regarding gay marriage and gay rights, to what extent are members supposed to support legislation based solely on religious beliefs?  Can members choose to support legislation that differs from their personal religious convictions?  Perhaps more church leaders could participate in subject based forums where they could go into detail on some of the topics.  Of course at times it is beneficial for church leaders to not get into the detail of some topics.  Church leaders in some cases are wise to teach correct principle and let people govern themselves.  In some ways the diversity in the Mormon bloggernacle is a reflection of this.  

The decision to discipline Kate Kelly and John Delhin will probably not help save their souls, it will probably not help protect the innocent nor will it safeguard the church. A classic lose-lose situation.  To make it a win-win situation the church could instead do what President Uchtdorf recommended in his talk “Come join with us”.  The church should continue to welcome Kate and John as members but deal with any apostasy concerns on a personal level that would not endanger their church membership.  Church leaders should continue to engage and encourage doubters.  Church leaders should continue to teach correct principles but also realize that by letting members govern themselves a wide diversity of opinions will be the outcome.  This diversity should be managed and guided not purged.  When this happens thousands searching for truth will be impressed in their hearts to join the Church and thousands contemplating leaving will decide to stay a little longer. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Cultural imperialism at its finest

Living in Estonia and studying International Relations has helped me notice how much the United States influences the rest of the world by exporting its culture and ideology.  Some might call it globalization others might call it cultural imperialism or an ideological hegemony.  Whatever you want to call it, Estonia is more than happy to import everything the US has to offer (with religion being one of the few exceptions).  Estonia loves free market capitalism, loves the US military, loves US cars.  In fact some have commented that Estonia even acts like the 51st state of America. 

Despite all of this there have been a few things that I have missed, mainly the peanut butter culture.  Europeans just don't like peanut butter.  The situation is much better than it was in 2002, when I first came to Estonia, which makes me cautiously optimistic.  About a year ago or so we discovered that Marks and Spencer's sells great peanut butter for a good price.  But things got a lot better when we discovered last week that the grocery store in the Solari mall was selling tons of US goodies! A member of our branch told me about it on the trip down to Riga for the priesthood meeting with Elder Bednar.  We normally don't go to this grocery store at all, finding this out was a small tender mercy.  I tried to be frugal but still ended up spending 20 euros.

To many of our US blog readers this picture might not seem super amazing, but let me tell you eating these foods was just incredible.  The Nerds were tart but sweet, crunchy but not hard.  The laffy taffy was super chewy and not old or brittle.  And of course how could we not mention the great jokes "why did the tomato blush?  He saw the salad dressing!".  The best was the Reese's minis.  My strategy is to eat them like pop corn.  Just throw as many in your mouth as fast as possible.  No unwrapping just eating. 

It seems that the peanut butter culture is continuing to seep into Estonia.  For those Estonians worried about losing their own tradition and culture I invite you to  think if the Estonian traditional sweets are really better than Reese's.  Remember, there is no wrong way to eat a Reese's.  Maybe some day there will even an Estonian way to eat a Reese's. I look forward to that day and until then I'll be doing my part by eating as many Reese's as possible.