Tuesday, March 3, 1992

An Evening with Zhenya

Original Event: 17 March 1992
Updated: 19 May 2010

On March 17, 1992, at the invitation of Ventura stake Relief Society President Judy Hule, I gave a concert for her sisters to celebrate the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Relief Society. She had originally wanted me to sing Russian love songs to her sisters. As I thought about it I felt that this event was far more important than simply entertainment. The program was to have a "homemaking" theme.

Little did I know that this concert would come within minutes of being suppressed by Stake President Richard Bryce. I was to learn later that Bryce had given out a directive to stake leaders that I was not to be allowed to sing in any stake function. Obviously Bryce forgot to inform the Relief Society president.

See here to listen to the concert.

After the first song I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger is sung, you can hear the door to the room creak open as I invite the local bishop to come in. Ventura Second Ward Bishop Hooker had been alerted by the First Ward Bishop that I was giving a concert in his ward and came to investigate. I had never met him before. He obviously expected some kind of nefarious activity was taking place. However, after the concert he came to me with tears in his eyes and gave me a hug.

Still later that same night Stake President Bryce had heard about the concert and furiously called Bishop Hooker to call every one of the ladies who had attended to warn them that I was a dangerous person. Rather than refuse to obey an obviously unfounded order and stand on his own experience, Hooker buckled and did as he was ordered.

The voice introducing me on the above link is Saijin, who was then one of the RS sisters named Becki Jack and present at the performance. She had kept the concert notes that I had handed out and came across them in 2006, 14 years later. Feeling this would be a good flagship entry for her new venture called Telling Touch, she did an internet search to find me and ask permission to post my stuff on her site. I was delighted with the request and asked if she would like the sound recording that went with it. That was an added bonus, she said.

A year later, in response to the Los Alamos stake president's request for Becki's story, Becki sent a letter for his information describing her experience at the concert and the late night phone call from Bishop Hooker. Below is her letter:

Dear Eugene,
You have requested my accounting of your performance of An Evening with Zhenya in Ventura, California in March of 1992. I have pulled together my writings of that time and set them forth herein. Additionally you requested me to mention how it was that we came once again into contact with each other just over a year ago. That came about as a result of my search for your name on the internet during the construction phase of my website, TellingTouch.com. While going through old journals, pulling together memoirs from my past to include on the site—for the mission of TellingTouch is to preserve these wonderful stories of our past for future generations—I came upon entries from that period of time in Ventura. Finding a recording of Evening led to a search for you. I was absolutely delighted when you agreed to permit me to place the original recording of An Evening with Zhenya on my website for all to enjoy.
Since then we have been emailing and doing further work on TellingTouch together. (And yes, I did suggest an interpretation of one of your dreams… It just peacefully and clearly seemed to unfold before me as I read your report of the dream from your webpage. Not knowing why I saw the interpretation, yet the experience had occurred and I felt it best delivered into your hands. If there was any truth or reasoning behind this awareness, certainly that would be determined by you. Now allow me to preface the following accounting in this way:
No experience of our lives is set off as an island, but rather is overlapped and interlaced with other events, situations and interactions in which we find ourselves. And there appear to be some periods in our lives in which these variables seem to take on heightened significance. It is during these times that, with awareness and reflection, one may seize upon a cornucopia of growth opportunities. Not to be the exception, this was precisely the environment in which I found myself in Ventura, California during the year 1992. Thus, in order to recall that time as accurately as possible--specifically the circumstances surrounding the March 1992 performance of An Evening with Zhenya by Eugene Kovalenko-- I would like to provide the contextual setting in which I found myself at that time—the intent being that thereby my recollection may be more fully comprehended and, thus, honored.
I had been employed by Eugene as a transcriptionist for his CREEI dream workshops starting just weeks after leaving my position at the Bank of A. Levy in January 1992. I had been the executive administrative assistant at the bank for over a year, since our family’s arrival in Ventura. (My husband was an F.B.I. agent and we had been transferred to the Los Angeles division and had taken up residence in Ventura a year prior.) Feeling needed at home, I had left the bank and resumed running my home-based business, LaserWord, which I had opened in Denver, CO prior to our transfer. Although I was transcribing for Eugene, I had never attended any of the CREEI meetings in person. Eugene would deliver the audio tapes to me and I would transcribe and print them for him. He would pick up the documents and pay me for the services.
I was not, however, unfamiliar with practices or interests such as dream analysis and interpretation, having grown up in a family well-exposed to alternative ‘New Age’ practices—which is what I considered CREEI to be. As such, though I found it quite fascinating (and not at all contradictory to Church teachings or doctrine) I had made the choice to not get involved, as it was reminiscent of my upbringing in ways with which I had made an exerted effort to disassociate at the time of my baptism twelve years earlier. This disassociation had in fact separated me from my family altogether in regards to spiritual matters. I had not spoken of spiritual beliefs or practices with my mother, in particular, for many, many years. Now, by transcribing the CREEI tapes for Eugene, I found myself much less fearful and actually amenable to the opportunity of having deeper conversations with her once again.
Saturday, 3/14/92 (italicized words added)
Judy Houle [Ventura stake Relief Society president] stopped by unannounced. I did have some work to do for her, and she said she was in the neighborhood and thought she’d drop by. I told her it wasn’t finished yet, but that I had intended to do it that day and would get it to her the next day. (It was the program for Eugene.) The following words were struck through in my journal entry—She seemed hesitant to  leave and finally asked if I had received a phone call from Bishop Hooker regarding-- I never finished those thoughts as if uncomfortable with what I would write next, and instead started a new paragraph.
She seemed like she had time to kill and started talking and telling me about a seminar she had just attended. I folded laundry and listened. We talked for over an hour. She did ask me a few questions about Eugene—like what did I think of him. I told her that I took him with a grain of salt—he wasn’t your typical Mormon, but that I found him interesting and very intelligent. We talked about the program some. She shared with me how the whole evening had come to be. That in her Ward Correlation meetings with the Bishop, she had gotten it approved—it had been brought up at more than one meeting.
My recall of An Evening with Zhenya:
The evening of the performance I arrived while Eugene was setting up his recording equipment. The sisters were coming in and by the time we started I would surmise that there were 20-30 sisters present. Eugene was the only brother there to my recollection. The program was already underway—introductions and opening prayer had already been given—when Bishop Hooker arrived. It was an awkward moment, as the door through which he came was to the side and rear of Eugene, and as such, the Bishop’s entry naturally distracted everyone’s attention from Eugene to him. Eugene cordially invited him in and the Bishop silently took a seat towards the rear of the room. I was mildly perplexed by the peculiarity of his late arrival. These feelings were furthered by the odd omission of any words of apology for his interruption, which of course would have been customary and polite by anyone’s standards. And yet Eugene graciously welcomed him and brought us all back into the moment by continuing with his performance without further adieu.
Eugene’s performance was truly wonderful. Without any accompaniment whatsoever he sang the entire evening--a cappella! The rounds of applause following each song were testimony to the enjoyment being experienced by one and all. He shared song, verse and prose, encouraging the sisters to provide input and insight along the way; providing us with rich cultural background to his pieces of music; teaching us Russian words and Ukrainian customs; describing scenes and lands he knew well but which perhaps most of us might never see--we communed together with a spirit of the understanding of Rodina, or home, as Eugene taught us through words and music. Bishop Hooker apparently felt the wonderful spirit present there that evening, as did we sisters, for I noticed as I waited in my seat while everyone was leaving the room, that the Bishop approached Eugene, with tears in his eyes, and thanked him for his performance.
Later that evening when I returned to my home, I received a phone call a brother in the stake (I do not specifically recall the brother’s name). However, he made it quite clear that the call was being made at the request of the Stake President. I became immediately defensive for the question being asked was if there had been any inappropriate behavior displayed by Eugene during the evening. I was absolutely aghast at this suggestive line of questioning! Evidently not even Bishop Hooker’s presence was enough of a witness—someone was obviously and aggressively trying to dig up something—anything—to sabotage Eugene and the wonderful evening which we had all just enjoyed. That the source was Stake President Bryce.
My mind was in a flurry. How could this be justified? I had been in the Church twelve years and never had I had a phone call like this! It left a terrible distaste for the leadership and the methodologies being employed. But far worse--it threatened my testimony of the priesthood brethren and cast a shadow upon my faith, initiating a struggle to support my priesthood leaders. I remember discussing the upset of the phone call that evening with my husband. I acquiesced to his counsel and laid my indignation aside, being told to just stay out of it—that whatever was going on was not my concern nor privilege to know.
My journal entry that evening states simply: My thoughts tonight are self-centered. I’m feeling defensive and protective. I’m tired…exhausted. I need rest; I’ve taken on too much—helped out with the road show, Girl Scout Cookie Chairman, headed up the Ward Activity, PTA, home-schooling Alina in the afternoons, Randy and family here for a visit, LaserWord, etc. The worst is passed now--I think I’ll be ok. It’s all a matter of prioritizing and scheduling. Mike and I have committed ourselves to getting out of here—Ventura, short-term—California, long-term. We just don’t fit the mold here. I am especially concerned with the kids’ education. Well—too tired to write more tonight.
Thus in spite of my own mixed feelings and struggles, I painfully chose not to go to Eugene’s disciplinary council held just months later. I stayed out of it as I was counseled to do by my husband. The responsibility for this choice I endured with feelings of failure—as if having let down a friend—someone in whom I saw no guile and no guilt—for whom, when support was needed, I was unable to stand up for and be counted. I was ashamed and I vowed then that it would never happen again.
In the year 1992 I not only became acquainted with a dear friend, one who has forgiven me for my un-Christ-like treatment of him back then, but one to whom I owe the initial steps of reconciliation between my mother and myself. The ensuing years would bring about a series of major battles in fighting for her liberty—for her curiosity and practices became boundless and eventually took her nearly past the point of return. I am ever so grateful that my relationship with her was restored in perfect timing that I might be of assistance to her.  And lastly, I have been able to resume a friendship and acquaintance with Eugene, whom I hold in the highest esteem.
My God is not beholden to the fallibilities of man—not even those upon whom he has bestowed leadership privileges and power in the Church. For no matter how far the lambs may stray from the flock--or even when they are chased off by wolves in sheep’s clothing—yet will He leave the ninety and nine and bring them safely home--even unto Rodina. I now know from personal experience that anything—any power whatsoever—left unchecked can have the potential to destroy. But more importantly, He who is the Great I AM, has all power to bring even that which is destroyed back to Life once more.
Becki Jack, October 27, 2007


  1. It has always puzzled me that Santa Fe stake president Russell Pack did not think Becki's account warranted further attention after forwarding it to him at his request. It was he who had originally asked for this account in writing when, during a many month correspondence, I mentioned that Becki was one of the sisters called the night of this concert. That Pack did not consider Becki's long remorse over her own failure to object to the Ventura stake president's action the night of the concert or think there was anything amiss in the subsequent "disciplinary" proceedings against me, confirmed my original impressions of Pack as a leader when we met in early 2005. These feelings inspired my February 2005 poem "Trying the Church before the family" after his and my first meeting in the company of my wife Birgitta and oldest son Nick. These feelings were reiterated and amplified in my 2006 poem "Indictment".

  2. And then, early last year (2009) while reading Orthodox priest Pavel Florensky's 1922 magnum opus "Iconostasis", I learned the Russian word "prelest" and suddenly understood my puzzlement. Everything fell into place! See: http://orthodoxodyssey.blogspot.com/2009/03/prelest.html