Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Week 12

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal March 20-26, 2011
It’s not about where you go so much as the people you meet. Sister Rennie, the wife one of the counselors in the bishopric in the downtown Independence Ward is one of the friendliest and kindest persons we have met. She makes everyone feel loved and she is especially kind to missionaries. She invited us to dinner Sunday evening and while we were waiting for the four Elders to arrive to eat with us, and as she was pulling pan after pan from the oven for a meal that was more like a feast, we talked and Nancy asked her about her family and how she came to be a member of the Church. We already knew that Sister Rennie is Cambodian and the only member of the Church in her family. Nancy was also intrigued because in Relief Society meeting Sister Renny had said that her mother had never spoken the words “I love you” to her or her siblings but that she knew that her mother loved her deeply. Brother Rennie began the story by telling of her father, a teacher at a university in Cambodia. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge over took their city. Her father was warned at school that if he went home he would be killed. (The Khmer Rouge killed all intellectuals knowing that this group would oppose them. The Khmer Rouge would kill 1.7 million of their own citizens, more than 1 in 5, in what was one of the bloodiest genocides of the 20th century.) Her father said he could not leave his family, knowing also that if he did not go home, his family would be killed. He could not be dissuaded by his friends to try to escape. He went home, was beaten and arrested. He and his wife and seven children were marched to an open field where he was forced to dig his grave. The family was told that if they cried or showed any emotion towards this traitor they would be shot too. They all stood there stoically as their father was shot and pushed into the grave he had dug. For the next several nights soldiers sneaked up to their hut by night to listen to hear if anyone cried or mourned for their father. Her brothers were forced to go away to work and the family became desperate for food. Each morning the soldiers would drag a body through the streets in their town to show what happened to someone who was caught foraging for food. When the boys were allowed to come home for a visit her mother took them away into the jungle to escape. She tied the seven children together in a line with string so no one would be lost. Sister Rennie was only two years old. She said she didn’t remember much except the big thorns that cut her barefeet and made them bleed. She also remembered hiding in the leaves looking at the feet of soldiers as they walked by just inches away. Later in summer time she recalled the blisters on her feet from the hot pavement. The trip to a refugee camp should have taken a couple months but it took the family three years to get out because they were caught and put back in different detention camps in Cambodia. As a tiny child Sister Rennie ate centipedes, crickets, and termites to supplement her meager diet. At one point she said she remembered eating dirt because she was so hungry. They made it to a Seventh Day Adventist refugee camp after three years of walking. There her mother was taught to be a cook. At the end of her shift she was allowed to take one donut and a piece of banana bread home with her. This she sold and bought vegetable which she pickled and then sold. With this income she bought rice for the children. In the refugee camp the family received a weekly ration of a small bowl of rice (she showed us a bowl like we would eat breakfast cereal) and a small fish. They were always desperately hungry. Sister Rennie scoured the dirt along walkways looking for any bit of dropped food. She laughed when she told us that once a year, for a birthday, children were given just one grape. Eventually, a sponsor was found and the family was found be healthy enough to emigrate. When they got to the United States, the sponsoring family in Philadelphia stole the money they would have received for clothing, bedding, etc. She started school in Philadelphia in the winter without shoes and was sent home because you have to have shoes to go to school. The Elders arrived at this point and she would have quit her story but we asked her to continue. When she was 20 years old she was sitting on the steps of her apartment with her sister and two Mormon missionaries walked by. She turned to her sister and spoke in Cambodian that she thought they were cute. To her surprise one of the Elders turned to her and greeted her in Cambodian. At an earlier time we had remarked to her about meeting Elder Ang at the MTC, also a Cambodian who was going to Boston, that he must be the only Cambodian missionary and she had said that there was at least one other one years before who had taught her the gospel. After joining the Church she went on a mission to California. Her biggest challenge was eating American food. Cheese and dairy products in particular made her gag. Mac & Cheese was impossible for her to swallow so she kept a little zip-lock bag in her skirt to discretely slip away the American food. With prearranged stealth, when her host wasn’t looking she would plop the dessert from her plate to her companion’s. At that point we asked her about all the food she had prepared that night for us and the Elders; chicken pot pie – a real pie with a special sauce, a big pan of funeral potatoes, piles of handmade Philly cheese steak egg rolls, a rich chocolate & cream cake with sliced strawberries decoratively laid on the frosting and drizzled with chocolate sauce, and food on and on. “Oh no, I can’t eat this food. I make myself some rice later. I guess I have a food fixation. I have to make sure that everyone has plenty to eat.” Her husband didn’t seem to mind but he confessed he had a hard time keeping his weight down. Her children, we noticed, were kind of picky eaters but she didn’t seem to mind. As she finished her story and told of meeting her husband at the Philly singles ward, the house they had just bought and how she was remodeling it, we realized the only time she teared up was when she talked about getting her father’s temple work completed. We understood why she said that her mother, who also now lives here in Philly loves her and brothers and sisters even though she had never repeated those words.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Week 11

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
March 13-19, 2011

Sunday, we spoke in sacrament meeting in the inner-city ward, named the ‘Independence Ward.’ The name probably derives from the historic area, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Independence Mall, but it might also reflect the independent nature of the people. There are certainly a lot of distinct individuals. I guess you’ve got to be tough to be a church member in a war-torn area. The crazy guy who calls himself the ‘ward president’ wasn’t there to tell everyone to sit down and be quiet, but all were fairly reverent even without his coercion.
Tuesday we went to Valley Forge with our director for CES as part of our ‘cultural excursions’. He is very thoughtful and kind to us. (no photos yet) We went to the home that George Washington rented for his headquarters and saw the area of encampment. It is a beautiful park with open areas, deer, walking paths, monuments, etc. We plan to go back and get more detail now that we’ve figured out how to get there. We are close to many of important historic sites but it isn’t like Nevada where you can see it for 40 miles away or you are on the only road in the valley and know it will get you there.
Salt Lake City has LDS chapels almost on every block. Jenkintown, PA, has Jewish synagogues at about the same frequency. There are two stores in town that exclusively sell Jewish items. The grocery store has displays of foods for Passover. Libraries and bookstores have tables with books about Jewish traditions. It is all very interesting but also very complicated. The synagogue across the street from our apartment has a museum associated with it. We’ll have to check it out.
Good news this week: Our apartment building will have air conditioning. We are told that they shut off the boilers for hot water to the radiators and switch over to cold water pumped through the system. I’ve never heard of such a thing. It is especially nice in that we won’t have to pay extra utilities for the AC.
Checkers = chicken, Liberty Man = taxi advertisement

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Week 10

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
March 6-12, 2011

Saturday we left our mission boundaries – to go to the Washington DC temple. We took a couple young adults from the Susquehanna Branch along to do baptisms while we enjoyed an endowment session. We didn’t do any sightseeing beyond the temple. It’s a very impressive building, much larger and imposing than it appears in photographs. The smooth marble exterior shoots straight up out of the hilltop like a building from the Crystal City. Unfortunately, we forgot our camera.
On Friday we took the train down to the city center to see the Liberty Bell. There was no way I was going to discard my pocketknife to enter the building so we stood outside and pressed our faces against the glass to peer at it between the bodies of the weaponless wimps inside. Anyway, the real fun of this trip was riding the train and finding our way around the maze of buildings. Next time, to emulate Nicholas Cage and ‘National Treasure’ we’ll go out onto the grass of the mall, triangulate a position from landmarks, and bury the pocketknife. Then make a map…. Unfortunately, we again forgot the camera, another reason to return.
Here are some other photos from when we did remember to bring our camera. The first picture is of the library where we volunteer on Thursday mornings. The little part of the building in front was erected in 1810. All of the churches in Jenkintown started in that little building before they built their own churches. The next photo “Divine Lorraine”, we have no idea of what it means except it shines over North Philly. The last photo is of the William Penn statue which was supposed to be the highest point in Philly until they build lots of taller buildings around him. We drove down town after our Wednesday morning class but stopping and getting out seemed out of the question at the time.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

some birthdays!

We have had some birthdays in our home these last few weeks.
Morgan turned 9 and Emily turned 11.
I have started to realize that my girls are turning into beautiful Young Women. I get a little misty eyed thinking about them in this way...where did the time go?
But then I realize this has been happening before my very eyes...
Emily came home the other day and ask me where I thought she should go to college...I stumbled a little since I had not even began to think about this. "Well," she says, "I think I want to go to BYU Idaho. That is a good place, right?"
You know, it is a good place and if there is her goal in the 5th grade....well, I say a prayer of thanks!
Morgan said in the car that one of her guy friends and her decided that "it was a Christian thing".
"What is?" I replied.
"I can't even remember now," she says, "But then my friend said 'But you are Morman...'"
"Oh?" says I...
Morgan says, "I told him I was Christian, TOO...and he said NO I wasn't cause I was Morman..."
She paused a little as if she was a little uncertain of what to make of this, so I said, "Well, you are a Christian since you believe in Jesus Christ. Next time he talks about this with you, you should let him know."
"Ok, that makes sense..." says Morgan.
I was pleased that Morgan had some foundation to say she was a Christian and help her little friend understand. But even more amazed that she was having what I consider a large conversation in the 3rd grade...guess that is a sign of the times.

Week 9

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
February 28 – March 5, 2011

The New Church – the Swedenborgs
Last Saturday we went to the Bryn Athyn Cathedral of The New Church, the Pitcairn castle like homes; Glencairn, and Cairnwood. Imagine being so wealthy that you could build a castle to keep your collection of medieval artifacts and Christian relics. Imagine that you could take the pictures of a castle from a fairy tale book and turn it into your home. Then, on the rolling hills down from your castle on the hill, build yourself a real gothic cathedral and fill it with the most beautiful stained glass (you do own PPG – Pittsburg Plate Glass), intricate wood carvings, and marvelous metal castings. Then to complete the picture, you have your own farm, school, and lovely little community for the people who attend the cathedral services. It is truly a beautiful place, idyllic like old European made new in America in the first half of the 20th century. In all its beauty and pomp, there is a hollow tone to the place.
We toured the grounds amazed at the art, Egyptian, Greek, Byzantine, French, German, and English artifacts. In some cases, carved shrines were lifted along with the surrounding castle stones from their European castles and put right in to the walls of Glencairn. We were given a tour of the cathedral by a member of the New Church and the members seemed to be largely devoted to worship of the beautiful architecture and ceremony of the cathedral and that any specific church doctrines mentioned were bland and almost incidental to the worship. It certainly would be an awe inspiring place to attend Sunday services. The grounds and buildings are kept immaculately clean and in good repair. There is free gourmet coffee (how I hate to miss out on free stuff) and there are no fees except for one special tour. There must yet be a large endowment from the Pitcairn family or other rich church members still in place.
We took these photos.

Week 8

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
February 21-27, 2011

Apartment Living
As we drove home from class last night I commented that I don’t worry about passing up our apartment building because we approach in the darkness it looms up in my imagination in front of us like a great ocean liner. Nana, steeped as she is in the scriptures lately, remarked that it looks to her like the ‘great and spacious building’ from Lehi’s dream. There is an iron fence around the complex but it’s nothing a person can hold on to.
Apartment buildings are ‘great and spacious buildings’ where strangers live closely without interacting very often. We try to break the unspoken rules of apartment anonymity of non-engaging each other and we give a cherry ‘Hello!’ in the elevator once in a while. At first we grinned at everyone and ‘Hello-ed’ like the fresh country bumpkins we really are, but now we give more business-like greetings, “Good Morning”, etc. Otherwise, in quiet mode, we all just stand so close in the elevator we can smell each other’s deodorant yet we pretend the others are not there.
The doors in our hallway all have louvers that vent the smell of what’s cooking among the 25 families on our floor. Stepping out of the elevator reveals tantalizing aromas of corned beef & cabbage, exotic Korean dishes, & baking cookies (that’s Nana). It’s a mystery how can we all be so intimate and yet so distant. Some days when we enter our floor it’s like coming into the church for a potluck dinner only everyone has taken their hot-dish into separate classrooms.
Down Town
Saturday Nancy had a Relief Society service project to make blankets to give to the hospitals for new-borns. I used the time to clean trash from around the building. The church really is a lighthouse in this area of the city. People really seem to want to just come in and relax with other members. In the evenings the foyer often has people sitting there talking as if they were in a living room at home. We’ve had two non-members who have come in to our classes and take part like everyone else. The basketball court is especially important in the inner-city. It’s in use most every evening.
We took a sister home after class the other night. It turned out to be quite a distance that she would have had to ride the bus and then walk through a neighborhood that was pretty scary. In the daylight the streets look just narrow and dirty. At night, they look dark and ominous. Every corner has imagined menaces. Last night Nana made dinner for a woman who was bedridden after surgery and we again made the journey into the dark streets of North Philly. When we got to the public housing, Nana hopped right out and went over to a group of young men to ask for directions to the correct apartment. The boys were friendly and helpful. The bedridden woman’s door wasn’t locked (she couldn’t have gotten up to open it) and Nana went right up. I think our fears are generated from watching too many episodes of “COPS” on TV. Sister B is in front of the church. Brother B is on the road behind the church.