Saturday, May 27, 2017

Hark all ye nations, hear heaven's voice, thru every land that all may rejoice...

Attending the Tbilisi, Georgia branch was an honor.  There are around 200 members with about 50% activity.  Much of the reason for this is that travel to the building comes at a great cost and many are 90 minutes away from the building one way.  There are eight Elders that serve in the branch and six sisters.  They have the same proselyting privileges as American missionaries.  They do not have the restrictions that our mission has.  

Entrance to the branch building.
The Georgian Saints do not yet have the Book of Mormon translated in their language. The process is underway, and we all are praying that it will happen soon.  

There are two young women in the branch.  One of them was there on Sunday.  She is in the middle.  She is flanked by two sister missionaries.  The sister on the right is the Young Women's President.  I asked her if when she was a Laurel getting her YW medallion if she ever thought she would be a YW President at the tender age of twenty.  You can guess the answer.  In our mission in Moscow, we have three Elder's (volunteers) who are serving as branch presidents.  My message to all YW, and YM leaders; "train them well".  They are needed to build the Kingdom.

 The hymns are sung in Georgian, Russian, and English.

I think the Georgian written language is beautiful. 

Sunday was branch conference.  The mission president was there, Allen B. Bostrom, to present this group of saints with their certificates for completing the self-reliance program.

 Tbilisi Georgia Branch
On the front row, far left, was our interpreter.  She is one of the saints responsible for the ongoing process of translating of the Book of Mormon in to their native language.  We were able to do an oral interview with her.  

We loved visiting with these two converts of just two years.  They are from Nigeria and found the gospel in Georgia where they are attending University.  It was great to hear that African accent. 

Put your shoulder to the wheel...

I love the movie (both of them) called National Treasure.  Who doesn't love a great Treasure Hunt.  Today we found the greatest tresure hidden in the basement of the branch building in Tbilisi, Georgia.  One large box filled with mission records, branch records, handwritten testimonies of the pioneers of Georgia.  Oh my heart!  

 It started like this.... 

We found a room in the building and went to work, sorting, categorizing, and documenting.

While James was doing oral history interviews, we were trained one on one by Matt Heiss.  Matt has been with the church history department for 30 years.  His knowledge is vast.  He and James are over all of Africa, all of Europe, and a small portion of North America.    So much of our training in SLC was solidified as we had hands-on experience.

These are now ready to be cataloged and preserved in an RPC Center in the Ukraine.

Tbilisi, Day two...

Wow.  What a surprise.  We were under the impression that we were in Georgia for a Humanitarian Project Friday.  Wednesday and Thursday were training days for the Humanitarian couples.  We caught the FUN Friday, and it was that and more. This day turned out to be a cultural experience.

Our first stop was to the Jvari Monastery or Monastery of the cross built around 590 BC.  It stands on the rocky mountaintop at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers overlooking the town of Mtskheta.  

Just consider hauling the stones up that mountain to build this amazing structure.

Paul lit a candle for you there.   We introduced ourselves to Ray Huntington and his wife who are serving as humanitarian missionaries in Turkey.  I recognized him as one of the panel members from BYU Discussions on the Book of Mormon and remembered that he is a professor of ancient scriptures at BYU.  We say by them at lunch and found out that he is actually from Springville and was raised one street over from Paul on “C” street in Brookside.  We had a great time reminiscing with him.  

A female Evangelist erected a large wooden cross on the site.  the cross was reportedly able to work miracles and therefore drew pilgrims fraom all over Caucasus.  The women always had to cover their heads in the cathedrals.  Good thing I had my rain coat. 

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was out next destination.  According to Georgian legend, in the 1st century AD a Georgian Jew from Mtskheta names Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified.  Elias bought Jesus' robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha and brought it back to Georgia.  Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia who upon touching the robe immediately died from the emotions engendered by the sacred object.  The robe could not be removed from her grasp, so she was buried with it.  Later, from her grave grew an enormous cedar tree.  Ordering the cedar chopped down to build the church, St. Nino had seven columns made from it for the church's foundation.  The seventh column, however, had magical properties and rose by itself into the air.  It returned to earth after St. Nino prayed the whole night.  It was further said that from the magical seventh column a sacred liquid flowed that cured people of all diseases. 

Monument under which the robe of Jesus is said to be buried. 

Now comes the fun part.  After a VERY enjoyable authentic Georgian luncheon (more later). We visited the "Music Therapy Center" for mentally challenged children.  LDS Charities in Georgia has worked with this organization and donated the instruments for the students.  They appeared on "Georgia Has Talent" and stole the hearts of the audience.  For sure, they stole our hearts. 

  Favorite Georgian foods:  


Walnuts wrapped in fruit leather.  A sweet treat.


Hot deliousness wrapped in a dumpling.  You pick it up by the little stub and bite in to a juicy meat filling seasoned to perfection and smile.


O.K.  I am danish, and I love bread.  This delightful bread baked in a brick oven filled with cheese just brings a tear to my eye.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Warning & a trip to Tbilisi Georgia...Day One.

I must preface this post with this statement:  
 I write this blog so that I may recall what an absolutely fantastic, wonderful, remarkable, spiritual experience serving a mission is and that we will always keep in our remembrance what we have learned.  With that said, Read or read not. (Do I sound like Yoda?)

Tbilisi, Georgia was never on my bucket list. Who knew that this charming, ancient country could captivate my heart.  Our purpose as Church History Missionaries traveling with Matthew Heiss and James Miller was to gather the first oral histories EVER from the pioneering saints in the branch.  We were also joining a group of Europe East Area Senior Humanitarian Missionaries as they concluded their conference.  Well, that happened and much, much more.

Elder Wheeler singing....."Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through.
An' just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind." in front of a flower display of the Georgian National Flag.

Our First Day in Tbilisi was a visit to the Metekhi St. Virgin Church where Elder Jeffrey R. Holland dedicated the land of Georgia for the preaching of the gospel.  He stood at the base of the statue.  Notice the position of the arm of the man on the horse.    

Pictured here is the Metekhi river.  I call it the Beheading river.  Christianity came to Georgia in the 1st Century.  I learned this history from Bob and Barbara Jones who visited Tbilisi on their mission to Armenia.  

In 1227 an army of Turkmen attacked Georgia. After terrible atrocities were inflicted upon men, women and children, the sultan ordered that the cupola of Sioni Cathedral be taken down and replaced by his throne. And at his command the icons of the Theotokos and our Savior were carried out of the Cathedral and placed at the center of the bridge across the Mtkvari River. The invaders goaded the people to the bridge, ordering them to cross it and spit on the holy icons. Those who betrayed the Christian Faith and mocked the icons were spared their lives, while the Orthodox confessors were beheaded and thrown over the bridge.  

 A hike to the Narikala Fortress was interesting and refreshing.  This ancient fortress overlooks the Kura river and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi.  

View from our hotel room at night. 

Were we in luck...It happened to be Cultural Day in Tbilisi.  Parades, costumes, and performances of traditional dances.  

 We had a wonderful conversation with these two young men.  Both are juniors in high school.  They speak five languages.  Georgian, Russian, German, Turkish, and English.  They recited historical facts of Georgia with such pride.  Impressive.