The Call

The Call

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Rakvere is about 100 km East of Tallinn. This place has a prominent landmark in the form of the ruins of a castle that is found there.  But just as important is the history of the land and it's people that have occupied it over the centuries. 

The earliest signs of human settlement in this area date back to the 3rd century A.D. when Estonia became subject to Denmark.  In 1302, Rakvere was given Lübeck rights meaning they were allowed to have self-government.  However, in 1346, the Danes sold Estonia to the Livonian Order and a large castle was built on a prominent hill.  During the Livonian War in the 1500's, Rakvere was under Russian rule.  Sweden managed to capture the town in 1581 only to have the Poles destroy the castle in 1605.  In 1703, Rakvere was burned down in the Great Northern War.  After the Treaty of Nystad was signed in 1721, Estonia and consequently, Rakvere, passed back to the Russian Empire where it remained under Russian control until after WWI.

Before we left Estonia for home, we were given an invitation to visit Rakvere by a prominent family living in the village of Laekvere, about 40 km South of Rakvere.  We were given a personal tour of the Rakvere Castle and a tour of some very historic places along the way.

Ruins of the Rakvere Castle

Another view

And still another view

From a distance

From the side

The giant bull

Perspective added with Sis. Allred

 Video close up of the bull.  Touching a certain anatomical feature of the bull would bring prosperity and fertility.

Near Laekvere, is the Simuna kirik or church.  It is one of the oldest church buildings in Estonia and has a peculiar history in that it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over from all the wars and battles that have been fought in this fair land.  To me, it symbolizes the determination of Estonians to keep getting up after each time they have been knocked to the ground (which has been many, many times).  They are resilient and strong and persevere through very hard times.

Simuna kirik (church)

Church graveyard

Side view

Perhaps some of you have thought that we have returned home from our mission in the Baltics.  To be honest, we're not sure if we ever will return home.  After becoming acquainted with this land and her people, we are wondering if maybe we have Estonian roots, as we have felt such a strong connection to the rich black soil, the forested lands, the salty sea, the music and dance and all the festivals and observances.  These things remain embedded in our hearts and in our minds.  We have come to know the people and we have been the recipients of their kindness, their love and loyalty.  We are often asked, "Tell us about your mission."  We can tell about our adventures and remember the wonderful activities we participated in, but a short conversation can never express the deep feelings we have come away with.  In reality, we may have left Estonia, but Estonia has not left us.  We are constantly reminded of this wonderful land by the Baltic Sea and her beautiful people when a salty tear, quite often, will find it's way from our eyes.

Hüvasti, kuni me uuesti kohtume

Sunday, November 5, 2017

At the Northeast corner of Estonia, bordering Russia, lies the city of Narva.  This area was first settled in between 5,000 and 4,000 B.C. and was a critical trading center.  By the 14th century, Denmark possessed the land known as Estonia.  After a few conflicts with Russia, the Danes had a castle built in Narva to defend it from invaders. By 1345,  the city of Narva obtained Lübeck City Rights to become a free city to establish their own local government. [Lübeck City Rights allowed a city to be free of royal control by vassals, dukes or other aristocratic privilege 
The next year Denmark sold it's Northern Estonian lands to the Livonian Order and so Narva remained under their control until the 1558 when it was taken by Russia during the Livonian War.  Later on, in 1581, Sweden conquered Narva.  Under Swedish rule the city underwent many refinements and the defence structures at Narva were strengthened and refortified.  It became a thriving center for commerce.  However, by 1704, Russia recaptured Narva during The Great Northern War.
During the middle of the 19th century, Narva became a beehive of business and trade and became the most industrialized city in all of Estonia, boasting more workers than the capitol city of Tallinn.
In the 20th century, Narva, once again, became a prize to be won or destroyed.  By 1941, Germany had invaded, and Narva had escaped major damage.  In 1944, however, a Soviet-led air invasion bombed Narva and destroyed 98% of the town.  It became a closed city and occupants who had evacuated were not allowed to return until after the war.  Why, you ask?  The Soviets had planned on turning Narva into a secret uranium processing plant and only workers from Russia were allowed to move in.
In modern times, 1991 was a banner year for Estonia as they reestablished their independence from the the Soviet Union and once again, Narva became a border city.  Over 90% of the Narva population speak Russian and less than half are Estonian citizens.
Americans are relative babies when it comes to history.  Living here has opened my eyes to places and events I had never heard of before.  My regret is not having the time to see it all.  Always appreciate your history. Repeat it often lest it be forgotten.

One of several canon used for defence

Large castle walls across the Narva River

Cute Russian posing for me

Surviving bells from churches that were destroyed

Looking across the river from the old to the "not as old"

Just a mandatory selfie with history in the background

An old, decomposing boat anchor

Not too sure what this is about, but it looked cool

Found this classic Estonian mill on our way back to Tallinn.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Big Brother Was Listening
The Sokos Viru Hotel in Tallinn, was a marvel in its day.  Built in 1972, it was the first high-rise building in Estonia. Wanting a piece of the "millions" circulating in the tourist industry, The Soviet Union planned a modern hotel that would attract foreigners, especially from the West.  They hired a Finnish company and it was built in 36 months (the Finns are known for quality work). It had every modern convenience that westerners were accustomed to and attracted many famous people as well.  To keep it a "pearl", doormen were hired to keep the locals out so as not to give a false impression to would-be guests (you have to remember, this is during Soviet times).

The hotel claimed to have 22 floors.  Looking at the hotel from the outside, one could easily count and see what they believed was a 23rd floor. When guests asked about the 23rd floor,  they were told that it was only filled with technical equipment and would be of no interest to anyone or the existence of such a floor was flatly denied.  Since this was part of the Soviet Union then, every floor had a floor  guard who sat a desk on every floor.  They took note of anyone coming and going on each floor, what time they left and what time they returned and with whom.  These were usually married women with children.  The Soviets knew that a married woman with children would not take off with a foreigner and skip the country, and therefore were considered a low risk.  This was the most coveted job in the hotel.  Floor guards had access to all the guests and could easily buy anything "western" from them (anything western was very coveted).  However, a westerner could not leave the country carrying Rubles.  Someone selling things to the floor guards for Rubles would have to find a way to use the currency before leaving and many would just end up giving them back to the floor guards.  It was a very nice job to have.

Fast forward to August, 1991 when Estonia won back its independence.  The Soviets began to move their operations and troops back to Russia.  In 1994, when control of the hotel was no longer under Soviet rule, secret rooms were discovered on the 23rd floor.  Found in these rooms were several electronic systems designed to listen and eavesdrop on unsuspecting guests.  For many years it was suspected that Soviet KGB agents were operating out of the 23rd floor, and now they had the evidence to prove it.  Apparently, they left in such a rush that they left much of the equipment behind, purposely damaged and broken.  Upon further investigation, many listening devices were found in various places throughout the hotel.  Certain tables at the restaurant had serving plates or ash trays that were "bugged".  In the ceiling above, pipes were found with antenna wires running through them to capture conversations emitting from the plates below.  These wires went straight to, you guessed it, the 23rd floor.

Although there was money to be made in the tourist industry, there was much more to be gained politically by having a "listening" ear.

Listening Room

KGB Office

Thought I'd listen in too

Great views from the 23rd - looking Southeast

Looking Northwest over Old Town

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Situated along the Russian-Estonian border, lies Lake Peipsi (sounds alot like Pepsi).   Over the centuries the border has changed a few times and so it is not uncommon to find many Russians mingled with Estonians in the lake villages.  Along the western shore, is a small fishing village called Lohusuu.  It's one of the oldest communities along the lake and has a rich culture that goes back at least 500 years.
Last week, we had the privilege of serving a family in Lohusuu and becoming acquainted with the people there.  We received a tour of the village along with a narration of who lived there and who was related to who and what people did there.  We saw The Church of the Epiphany, a Russian Orthodox church that was built there in 1898 and has since been designated as an architectural heritage site.  

We had some young missionaries with us and together we helped the family stack their winter firewood [Note: most Estonian country houses are still heated with wood] and repair a muddy and slippery road with sand and rocks.  We were fed a hearty meal that was cooked in the outdoor kitchen.  Somethings must really be experienced firsthand to appreciate.

The Church of the Epiphany

Sister Allred learning to stack

Wood Stacker level: Expert!

Young missionaries at work

Fixin' the road

Outdoor Kitchen with wood stove/oven

The house in the woods

Sponge Bob! Who knew he was an Estonian?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A 10,000 mile wedding trip

It seems that our youngest child decided that he was homesick to see us and so he scheduled a wedding for himself so we would come home and visit.  In reality, we knew before we left home over a year ago, that this could be a possibility, so we aren't too surprised.  As the months rolled by on our mission, we witnessed this slow but steady romance unfolding in Provo.  Later on we watched a video of a stunning and musical proposal (and a bit funny) in front of the Iguazu Falls in Brazil while touring with BYU's Young Ambassadors.  And so a deal was made and the date was set and so we made our plans to attend the wedding of our last unmarried child in the temple.  With approval from the area president to attend, we counted down the days with anticipation, not just for the wedding, but for the opportunity to see our other children and grandchildren as well.

We made this long trip before when we first reported to our mission in Estonia.  The thought of sitting in one place for the majority of a 24 hour experience was not looked at with relish.  But we were smart this time and took our melatonin to help offset the jet lag that would be our companion for a day or two.  We were happily surprised to find that flying westward has less of a sleep pattern problem.  This was enhanced by some very hearty meals that were served aboard SAS airlines from Stockholm to New York.

When we arrived, we braced ourselves for the 40 degree temperature change from where we live to Utah's summer heat (please, can we go back to Tallinn soon, I'm melting).

We were hosted by two of our sons that live in the SLC/Provo area and between them and a rental house, we were well taken care of.  All of our children came except for one.  His excuse: his wife was 8 3/4 months pregnant at the time.  I say "was", because three days ago, she gave us grandchild #23. That makes for 3 babies that have been born while we have been gone.  The Lord does truly love us.

The wedding was at the Payson temple.  It is a newer one and we had never seen it before.  It is beautiful and the inside reminds us a lot of the Gilbert, AZ temple.  Many guests had been invited and so the sealing room was very large.  The bride's grandfather, who is a sealer in the Halifax Nova Scotia Temple, received permission to administer the sealing ordinances for them.  We sensed that some relatives, who have passed long ago, dropped in to witness the event.  It was a sweet time.  

Afterwards, we met outside for pictures and then off to prepare for the luncheon.  I had been asked to make the dessert.  I made three pans of brownies and 3 pans of carmelitas - sugar overload I'm sure.  The main meal was catered and boy was it good.  After the meal, there was a program that included activities that helped the audience get to know the newly wedded couple a little better.  It helps to have friends who know some very interesting things.

That evening was the reception and it was quite the party.  Many of their friends and several Utah relatives came to celebrate.  There was the usual cake cutting event that went rather nicely and the bouquet toss and a few other customary things as well as the dancing and musical renditions from friends.  The final salute was a sparkler tunnel as they raced for the get-a-way car.  Wow, I needed a taco after all that.  It turns out, I wasn't the only one.  We found a 24 hour Mexican food joint and filled up.  It was very satisfying after a 15 month drought from some serious Mexican food.

While the kids honeymooned in Florida (near a hurricane), we spent a few more days helping them move into a new apartment and getting the car repaired.  I'm tired already from the travel and now we move very heavy stuff up a flight of stairs! The brides father, Mark, is much younger than I and I let him prove it.  He carried most of the load.

The remaining time was spent with family and doing a little shopping for friends back in Estonia.  I was able to get 40 male initiatories completed for a friend in Tallinn who had given us some temple cards. 

The flight home was uneventful and quite nice.  I actually slept on the plane for a couple of hours (very unusual for me).  After another 5,000 miles, we stepped out of the airport in Tallinn, and experienced that 40 degree drop in the temperature.  Home at last.

New York City skyline

Enjoying a pre-nuptial picnic at the church pavilion

Those eyes!

Fun times with grandkids

One of the three that were born while we've been gone

Always has a smile for Papa

This little Nutter Butter was my shadow

Our good friend Tyler Hill who interned this summer in Tallinn

Mom, Dad and siblings (minus one)

Siblings shot

Apparently, this is a brotherly tradition

With adoring sisters

The luncheon line begins

Wonderful lasagna with some special treats

Wedded bliss

Good friends from Mesa

A smattering of some of the best kids on earth

Finishing temple work at Oquirrh Mountain

The morning we left SLC.  Fire in the sky!