Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Week 7

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
February 14-20, 2011

Sister Blattman has been cooking up a storm this week. She fed the Elders who live next door, made refreshments for our classes, baked loads of cookies for Zone Conference, and finished off with cream puffs for the singles branch ‘Munch and Mingle’ this afternoon. With all this baking our apartment has been toasty warm. And even though she isn’t excited about cooking, the both of us are still quite fond of eating.
Our service time at the library was short this week. We will have to build some trust there so the librarians will let us work during the hours the library is open to the public. The librarian has us enter by the back door before hours and as soon as it opens we are ushered out. Maybe they think we’ll be peeping through the stacks at people and saying stuff like, “Hey buddy, want a free Book of Mormon?”
Joseph Bannano was baptized Sunday (20th) in our branch. He claims he is no relation to the Italian mobsters from New Jersey but he’s a big guy, he looks tough, and he definitely speaks with a Jersey accent. There seems to be lots of converts in this mission compared to home. There are many Africans, African Americans (not the same groups and not always friendly to each other) as well as Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Koreans, and other nationalities that predominate some of the wards here.
A couple times for our daily exercise we have walked about the neighborhood and admired the big old turn of the century homes. There must once have been some sort of zoning ordinance that homes had to be made of stone, 3 stories over basements, and about 40’ wide x 40’ deep. Even subtracting for the thick stone walls, these homes must all have over 6000 sq. ft. of living space. The narrow roads in the neighborhood were built, we are told, following cow trails along creeks between rolling hills. When we walk along we are often on sidewalks with stone retaining walls and we look even farther up on the hillsides to see the big stone homes surrounded by huge trees. Some trees have branches that stretch over the roadway and shade the neighbor’s yards.
A minor miracle has happened to Elder Blattman this week. The dentist’s office manager called at the last minute and said there was a problem with too many appointments and could he wait a few days for the root canal. It felt like the governor calling at 5 minutes before midnight to reprieve an inmate on death row. Meanwhile, although tender to cold, the pain has all but disappeared. It may not be on the scale of raising Lazarus from the dead but we are counting it down as at least a tender (pun okay) mercy. More than the healing miracle, it saved us $1200 since we no longer have dental insurance.
We’ve picked up more students in our classes, nearly doubling the numbers from last week. Some of our students are from the poorer part of Philly and ride a train to get to class. We are starting to feel the pressure to keep up in lesson preparation. If we were smarter it wouldn’t take us so long to develop our plans and make our power point slides.
Keep up the letters and art work. Our apartment walls and cupboards are starting to look more homey. If we get enough children’s art work on our walls we can call our apartment a gallery and charge admission.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 6

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
February 7-13, 2011

We went in to volunteer at the Jenkintown library this week. Starting next week we’ll help out on Thursday mornings. The place isn’t exactly Hogwarts-like, but there are really old portraits hanging above the bookshelves on the walls and at the bottom of each frame there is a little brass plaque that probably has a name of the person in the portrait but both the painting and the plaque are so darkened with the soot of age it is impossible to figure out who are these people. There is a big double sided fireplace in the middle of the library that must have once been very inviting on these cold winter days. The cracked varnish on the ancient looking library tables has been scratched with the names and notes of thousands of people who must have studied there over the years. Mounted on the tables there are 1920’s style reading lights with green shades. I think we will enjoy working there even if there are no magical or secret books.
We went for dinner at a member of the branch presidency’s home. They invited another couple. We were the oldest but not by so much and we had a nice visit. They were vegetarians apparently. They didn’t want us to bring anything but we brought along some flowers and who knows but we might have eaten them too..
Sister Blattman made an impression at the beauty parlor when she got her hair cut yesterday. She overheard the woman at the desk tell the stylist that the ’nun’ wanted her hair cut. Everywhere we go we are like walking billboards for the church, but our name tags are so small that it sometimes comical to watch people keep making furtive glances at our chests, or screw up their faces trying to focus on the small lettering. I guess small badges make for second looks.
The car needed new motor mounts and one can spend only so much time at PepBoys looking at car magazines so we took a walk. We climbed over piles of snow and ice, shivering in the wind until we found a Hoagie shop run by an Indian or Pakistani where we had our second Philly Cheese. So far Arby’s wins the contest for sliced meat sandwiches. It was so cold with the wind that on the way back we ducked from store to store trying to warm up. When we finally got back, Sister Blattman made a friend in the waiting room at PepBoys and gave her a card.
We had dinner with three other senior couples at the mission president’s home last night. We felt like the odd ones out in what could only be described as an odd group. Double negatives in this case do not make a positive. Nonetheless, the food was good and the company was pleasant. One senior couple is planning to recycle and serve what will be, if one counts their mission as youth, their fifth time.
Class size is increasing slowly but steadily. We went from zero to two in one class, and one to two in another with a promise of more people coming this week. Our students range from graduate dental students to unemployed young people living in pretty ghetto conditions. But all seem to have a testimony of the gospel and hope in the future.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Week 5

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
January 30-February 6, 2011

After feeding the Elders yesterday evening they split up and we took one of the Elders to meet Milton and his family. Milton could easily have been named ‘Rocky’ as his small living room in a crowded Philly suburb was filled with trophies and belts from boxing. Both the dad and the oldest boy were Miltons and both had impressive boxing records. The younger Milton, just 10 years old, had recently returned from Puerto Rico where he had won his third world boxing championship.
At first the dad sat slumped on the couch still in his work clothes, perhaps just tired, but letting his wife answer all the Elder’s questions. He occasionally gave short one word responses. The missionary was explaining many of the things from Preach My Gospel about enduring to the end, that is, the temple, patriarical blessings, the priesthood, etc. Sister Blattman asked them how they came to join the Church. The mom first started to tell the story and then he took over the thread of the story in a strong Philly accent. It was like listening to a humble Sylvester Stallone. He had read the Bible as a youth and had an intuitive understanding of the plan of salvation. His Pentecostal minister couldn’t answer his questions. One day after a big snow storm, the Elders were shoveling snow in his neighborhood and they met on the sidewalk. When they taught him the plan of salvation he knew the Church was true. He read the Book of Mormon and they became active for a time but had drifted into inactivity until recently. During the lesson the missionary mentioned father’s blessings and one of the little boys asked for a blessing to help him win his wrestling match. The Elder stuttered a moment, perhaps concerned that Milton didn’t have the Melchezidec Priesthood, and I jumped in and said, “Sure, you can have a blessing.” The father responded to the invitation to stand in and we ended up giving a blessing to two of the boys. Milton opened up after that and told us about growing up, moving away, and then returning to the neighborhood. He had been a sober young man who, unlike his friends, read the Bible often, and he attended the Pentecostal church. As a young man, a coach took an interest in him and sponsored him in wrestling and boxing and even paid his way to tournaments. That saved him from some of the trouble that could have entangled him. We enjoyed making friends with this family.