Thursday, October 15, 2009

Elder Hays is now in Bulgaria!

(photo of Elder Hays with his MTC companion Elder Spencer)

Tuesday Holden was able to call us from the Salt Lake airport before boarding his plane to head out on the long trip to Bulgaria. Flight/travel time is 29 hours. It was so great to be able to talk to him. We were able to conference call in Noelle too and I let the kids wait to head to school until after the call was over. He was very excited about getting to finally go to Bulgaria after his 2 months in the MTC. He really did love the MTC though and he loved his companion Elder Spencer. He said that he and Spencer felt like that had been friends forever even though they just met 2 months ago. That even though they are very different in a lot of ways, they just totally got along.

He talked a lot about things they had been told about the Bulgarian people or what to expect on his mission. He said that there are times when you might be the only members (almost) in a pretty big area. The missionaries are often called to be Branch Presidents of the areas where they serve because there are not enough members to hold those callings all the time. The Bulgarian people have trouble with the idea of becoming baptized, even when they have felt the spirit, read the Book of Mormon and believe in what they have read. They are very attached to the idea of being Orthodox - when the church split originally between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox church it was the Bulgarians who were all Orthodox and so it is a big part of their cultural identity. Asking them to become a member of the LDS church is like asking them to not be Bulgarian anymore. The two things Bulgarians are most proud of is their alphabet and language (St. Cyril started the Cyrillic alphabet which is the alphabet both Bulgarian and Russian use) and their Orthodox religion. The only problem is that many of them who consider themselves to be Orthodox, never go to church at all and are, in fact, actually atheist. So it is an interesting dichotomy.

When he finally had to get on the plane he said that he might be able to call us from JFK in New York, but he wasn't sure. So we waited around by the phones all afternoon and finally, he was able to call for about another hour. They had stayed up in the MTC all night the night before leaving and so you could hear in his voice how very tired he was becoming. He was trying really hard to stay awake so that he could sleep when it was night time in Bulgaria and attempt to get adjusted to Bulgarian time (they are 10 hours ahead of us). The time with him on the phone seemed to fly by so fast. We all had questions for him - it feels like, even though he is able to email every week and send letters, the communication is hard because you never quite feel like you get the whole story or he forgets to answer questions you ask in your letters - so it was really nice to be able to talk to him and have an actual conversation.

Finally he had to get on the plane.

I was so pleasantly surprised yesterday morning to get another phone call from him! His mission President had each of them call their families to let them know they arrived safely in Bulgaria. I was able to talk to him for maybe 5-10 minutes. He was still exhausted. He said he had slept maybe 4 hours total on the planes. He flew from JFK to Vienna and then they had a couple of hour lay-over until they could fly to Sofia, Bulgaria. He estimated he had been awake about 60 hours at that point.

He said President Roth and his wife were very nice. President Roth is from Austria and so English is actually a second language for him. Holden said he speaks very fluent English but that he occasionally would use a word and then ask them if there would be a better word that conveyed his meaning more - like he used the word 'concentrate' and then Holden suggested 'focus' in the context is was being used and he said "Thank you! That is the word I was looking for".

Holden said he spent some time getting know each one of the missionaries individually so that he could get a feel for their personalities, strengths, language capability, etc. and then make assignments to new companions accordingly. They would be staying in the mission home (which is the former Cuban Embassy) overnight and then the next day they would be going to a park where the mission was actually dedicated and they would be praying there in the park to consecrate their mission. From there they would meet their companions and travel to their new areas.

They had already been to a park shortly after getting there - they were actually taken to a park and practiced street contacting, which is a lot of what they do in Bulgaria.

I asked Holden if it looked roughly the way he imagined it would or seemed from his the photos he had seen of it before. He said "yeah, kinda except it looks a little more bombed out than I thought it would - but it's COOL!"

One thing I think a lot of people don't understand about Holden is the more it seems different or interesting or totally unusual or not the norm or something he hasn't experienced before, the more excited he is about it. He is looking to have an adventure on this mission. To him, that's part about what is exciting about going somewhere else. So he was not disappointed that it looked bombed out - that actually made it more interesting to him. He said the housing is soviet bloc style block after block after block of it. He said it sort of looks like they said "we need a box to keep to all these people in" and they just built a concrete box. Later someone threw a bomb at the box and broke the windows. But the people still live there. He said there are stray dogs everywhere. We had heard that before - that there are a lot of stray dogs everywhere, that the woman all look like models and the men all look like Italian maffia. He said the stray dog thing at least is very true. He said they do not look like the stray dogs in Mexico (those of you who have been to Mexico know that there are a lot of stray mutts - stray skinny mutts - roaming the streets of Mexico) but he said these looked more like people's pets. He said there was a stray Chow Chow in the park - so it almost looks like people just decided they couldn't feed their dogs and just turned them loose.

We do know that the maffia does control quite a lot there. Somehow the church has managed to have a good relationship with them. Holden said that they were told that the maffia like that they the missionaries are well dressed.

He had to get off the phone, they were going to be having dinner and going to bed soon (it was about 6:30 pm there at the time I talked to him - I was thinking they probably let them sleep longer than a normal night on that first night to try to get them rested after that long travel).

The other thing was he was super confused about what day it was. Since he hadn't slept it was all very confusing to him. He said he felt like he was missing an entire day somewhere. I said something like "Yesterday you said..." and he said "YESTERDAY!" "What do you mean yesterday? wait? What day is it there?" - he was having a hard time wrapping his head around it all. He said it felt like he had talked to us from Salt Lake 2 days ago, not yesterday. Hopefully they let him have enough sleep that he is less confused about what day it is!

We love him, we miss him, but we are so excited for his new adventures!


Jenny-Jenny said...

Great post! I'm so excited to start hearing from Barry. We at least know that his flight arrived in Buenos Aires so I'm sure he's in the MTC. Thanks for sharing, it will be fun to share this with each other.

Cynthia said...

I bet it is comforting knowing he is there and settling in. That was nice that he was able to call when he arrived. I enjoy reading the e-mails you post from him. He is going to have quite the adventure.

Noelle said...

I seriously can't believe he is there already! What a relief though :) And we have almost made it to double digits in weeks. Go us!!!

I think people think I'm totally crazy when I say I'm really excited he is there and I'm not all that sad about it. They give me this look like "It's ok, you can admit you are immensely depressed!" lol.


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