Last Few Days and Final Reflections
I just wanted to add one more post to the blog to wrap up our final few days, our return to America, and add some final reflections on our time in Minsk.
Sunday was a bit sad, as it was our last day attending the Minsk branch. We have really enjoyed being a part of this amazing branch the past 4 months. The Minsk branch has definitely strengthened us while we have been so far from home. Getting to/from church with all of the kids each week has certainly been more of an adventure than we ever experienced back in our home ward in Lehi (it takes a little over an hour each way, including a lot of walking and multiple metro transfers)! But the branch is so strong and filled with such wonderful, faithful members, who have gone out of their way to welcome and take care of us. Because of the government/legal situation of the church in Belarus, which does not allow Jacque or I to hold callings in the branch or even participate much in the meetings, we have loved being there with the faithful members and having the chance to renew our baptismal covenants each week (and our children are very adaptive and loved primary!). This extended trip abroad and attending the Minsk branch (with so many dedicated, sacrificing members) has given me a valuable opportunity to reflect on my love for the gospel, my service in the church, and my overall faith journey. We are going to miss our good friends in the Minsk branch.
Monday was a packing and cleaning day (at least in the morning). We were able to get quite a bit done and still have quite a bit more to do. The afternoon was more casual and everyone had rest time. It was super rainy, so we basically were stuck in the apartment for the day.
Tuesday was our last full day in the country so we had to get all of the packing done, which is particularly tricky when trying to keep the different suitcases under the 50 pound limit! But by late morning we had everything packed up and suitcases lined up by our apartment door, ready to go. We decided to go on one final family outing for lunch and I must admit that it was a bit sad as we were walking back to our apartment for the last time. After the lunch the kids had rest time, we met with the landlord and returned keys, we met one more time with Sergei (from church), and then we had a wonderful dinner with the Johns. After dinner I helped them back to their apartment with all of the household stuff would had bought for our stay over the summer, which we would not be bringing home. We figured the missionaries would be able to make good use of all of it. There was more than I had originally thought, so we were all quite loaded down. Luckily, their apartment is only a 5+ minute walk, so it wasn’t too bad. We dropped off the stuff and then we said our final goodbyes, which were very sad; we have come to love the Johns over this summer and they have been great friends to Jacque and I and like surrogate grandparents for the kids. After I returned back to our apartment we got things cleaned up and the kids to bed. Then Jacque and I Skyped with a friend back home before trying to get to bed early.
Wednesday started super early and was a very long day! The alarm went off at 2:20 am and by 3:00 am we were loading up the U.S. Embassy van and were off to the Minsk Airport. We were there quite early but it just took forever to get through all of the different security checks and everything. By the time we finally got through everything they were boarding the plane and we were off just 20+ minutes later. Our biggest concern of the day was the transfer at the Frankfurt Airport. We had just a 65 minute layover, which may seem like a lot of time but is not when you are taking various shuttles and trains to move between gates trying to get 5 little kids and a bunch of carry-on bags through the security checkpoints and everything. We were worried that we would miss the connecting flight. In the end, we got to the gate almost exactly 30 minutes before departure. They had already given away our reserved seats and said we would all have to be scattered in seats around the plane (not sitting together), which of course was not an option. In the end, there were nice people around us who were willing to change seats so we could all sit together and before we knew it we were on our way to Chicago. In anticipation for this day of travel, we honestly were not concerned about the transfer in Chicago, as we had a two and a half hour layover. However, once we arrived we found out that the departure time to Salt Lake City had been moved up half an hour and then just changing terminals, getting our checked baggage, going through customs, rechecking our baggage, and going through security (where they let us cut in line with all of the kids) took us most of that time. We got to the gate just a few minutes before boarding, which was a relief, and soon we were on our way to Salt Lake City. The final leg of the flight was just fine and before we knew it we were in SLC with all of our checked bags and then were able to relax just a little bit before our friends came to pick us up (since the flight left half an hour early, we arrived half an hour early too and ended up with a little time). By around 5:30 pm we were home (just in time for the buyers of our home to do their final walk through before closing, we got some food and things a bit situated around the house, and then by 7 pm (4 am Minsk time) we got the kids down to bed; Jacque followed at 8 and I got a few final things done and was in bed by 9. It was a long day, but we were so happy/grateful to be home safely and to have all of the traveling behind us.
Due to the time difference, Thursday morning I was up with the two little girls by 2 am and everyone else was up by 4 am. By 6:30 we were all dressed and had breakfast already, so we decided to take a family shopping trip to get groceries! It was actually more like a shopping spree and we pretty much got anything that looked good, particularly if it was something we weren’t able to get for the past 4 months in Minsk. Once back from the store, I went to pick up Toby and everyone was excited to see him again! We spent a good part of the day just unpacking and getting more settled in, the kids had a great time playing in the front yard, and then we had our house closing in the afternoon. After the closing (our house is now officially sold!), we got some pizza for dinner and by the time we got home the kids were all mostly zonked out. We got them fed and to bed, and then Jacque and I were in bed by around 8 pm, exhausted from the long day and the jet lag.
Thursday night/Friday morning was much better for everyone. I was still up with the little girls around 3 am, but the older girls weren’t up until 5 and Jacque and David actually slept until 7 am. We got everything ready and then Les came to watch the four girls while Jacque, David and I went to look at houses. We spent a good part of the summer thoroughly researching houses online and had narrowed our initial list of 15 homes down to just 7 to look at once we got home. We had a great time looking at houses, and by 2 pm we were home and had ruled out 4 of the 7, leaving 2 we really liked and a 3 that would be a really good fallback if necessary. Our realtor went to work finding out more details about the homes/seller situations so that we could consider everything and ultimately decide which home we wanted to make an offer on. Friday late afternoon our oldest daughter had an Activity Days activity and had a great time with so many friends she hadn’t seen all summer. We had dinner and got the kids down to bed and then Jacque was off to a book club for the evening and I was in bed by 9 pm.
Friday night/Saturday morning was still a bit better in terms of sleep for everyone (pretty much everyone slept until 5 am or later). I played some Frisbee golf with my younger brother and by the time I got home our realtor had called with a lot more background details on each of the three homes. Jacque and I spent the next while talking over everything and ultimately we decided on the home we wanted to make an offer on. After lunch we spent some time at our next door neighbor’s house with the kids and then by mid-afternoon we had an offer on the table and a counter-offer from the sellers. By dinner time we had accepted the counter offer and we are now under contract. Not comes the appraisal, inspection, etc., so we are just crossing our fingers and hoping that everything goes smoothly the next couple of weeks so we can be in the new home by the end of September (when we need to be out of this house). Saturday evening our neighbors had a movie night in their backyard, but Jacque and I were falling asleep not too far into the movie so we came home and went to bed. It was a great day, and we are super excited about the house!
OK. So that gets us caught up on this busy week; now for some final thoughts/reflections on the past four months. Basically, the trip to Minsk was awesome! Aspects of the trip were definitely a challenge/difficult and as soon as we got home we were quickly reminded of the many luxuries here in America that we so often take for granted, which we did not have for our 4 months in Minsk. That said, we do not view the time in Minsk as a hardship at all. Rather, it was a fantastic learning experience for all of us. We were able to get back to the basics in a lot of ways, spend a ton of time together as a family (where we had to rely on each other so much), learn so much about a different country/culture, and we had the chance to meet so many wonderful individuals during our stay. Jacque and I both had some amazing professional opportunities and I hope that I may be able to make future visits back to the country. We also loved our time with the Minsk LDS Branch. Attending church each week with the faithful and dedicated members was an absolute pleasure and we all learned a lot from their examples. Overall, pretty much everything about our trip (except some frustrations with the government paperwork/bureaucracy and the negative interactions with our downstairs neighbor) was extremely positive. We love the country and the people (who are amazingly kind and helpful) and we count our time in Minsk as a tremendous blessing.