Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Beautiful District - First Week in the Missionary Training Center

My beautiful district! Anziano Robertson, Anziano Gunderson, Anziano Lemmo, Sorella Baer, Sorella Ervin, Sorella Holloway, Sorella Haslem, Sorella Bollwinkel, Sorella Pace, and Anziano Axson
Hey everyone! So basically the MTC is amazing. You might think I'm kidding, well guess what . . . I'm not! My companion's name is Sorella Baer, and she might possibly be the cutest thing you have ever seen. This is a fact. First day was pretty intense. After I received my nametag (officially a missionary), I dropped my stuff off at my dorm and went to my classroom. Our teacher is Fratello Carrington and he rarely speaks English. Which is ok, because Italian is pretty rad. I met my dear companion and the others in our district. Sorelle Bollwinkel, (best name ever! am I right?) Pace (basically our mom), Holloway (I love her-end of story), and Haslen (super sweet girl) and Anziani Lemmo (an adorable little Californian with the greatest sense of humor), Axlan (a mezzo gigante from Canada), Gunderson (our dear district leader), and Robertson (this boy gets more precious every time he opens his mouth). I love all of them and can't wait to tell you about the crazy things we get up to. Anziani Gunderson and Robertson are going to Rome, but we love them anyway. Our first night we taught three lessons, basically we had a ton of missionaries in the room teaching one investigator. There is obviously a reason we teach two by two.
Our Board. I feel like our board should have Italian on it . . . oh well, this is just way more awesome. BTW Fratello Carrington is our wonderful teacher.

Second day we woke up early to go to yoga. Best decision we've made yet. We are so blessed they give early morning classes for sisters. We also learned tons of Italian and had a beautiful testimony meeting with our branch. It's made up of fifty Italian missionaries and three Romanian elders. The spirit that filled that room was incredible. We all had specific reasons we chose to serve missions and every single one was inspired of the Lord.

On Friday we taught our very first lesson as a companionship . . . in ITALIAN! Let me just say, I am so blessed to have Sorella Baer as my companion; she speaks enough Italian to push me along.  Our investigator is Nico. Seriously such a sweet person. When he prays, you can feel the spirit well up inside of you. Almost every lesson we've had since, either Sorella Baer or I have cried because of the beautiful spirit in that room.

Saturday our wonderful Fratello Carrington gave a beautiful spiritual thought. All ten of us were crying. I then got a bloody nose. Great way to start a day.

Sunday might have been the best day of my life. So basically what everyone says is true, if you can make it to Sunday, you can do anything. Sunday was emotionally and spiritually exhausting, but in a good way. Moment after moment there was something else happening that was beyond belief. I'm pretty sure I filled a good ten pages in my spiritual journal because of it. As sisters we're able to attend Music and the Spoken Word. I didn't know how much I missed music until I was able to listen to the sweet music from MoTab. Afterwards we had Relief Society with all of the sisters in the MTC. We then had sacrament meeting in our branch, and a dear sweet elder sang a beautiful rendition of I Know that My Redeemer Lives. Thank goodness for him. Devotional that night was fabulous. The head of the missionary department spoke, and every word he said was inspired. Last we went to a recorded devotional by Sheri Dew. I love her; she is amazing.

Monday was incredible. We had an amazing lesson with Nico about the plan of salvation. Love that lesson so much.

Tuesday was a service project day. Cleaning the bathrooms has never been so fun. We took this hose and connected it to the sink with some crazy acid cleaner. Basically we were ghostbusters, no big deal. For the first part of my day, I had a companion exchange because my beautiful comp was in SLC. It's ok though - I love the other girls. We also had a devotional at night. Crazy good.

Companion Exchange
Wednesday was fabulous. I was able to escape the MTC for the morning. A few of us Italian missionaries had to go to the Consulate in Salt Lake City in order to get our visas. So basically we just slept in the car. Oh my goodness, it's been a week, and I already miss naps.

Escape from the MTC. So we escaped the MTC for a day! We had to go to the Italian Consulate to get our visas. Basically amazing. The short dude between Haslem and Holloway is Anziano Hillyard. The two beautiful girls at the end are Sorella Nelson and Sorella Roth. Love them! The extra two Anziani, I'll let you know their names if I ever find them out. Ha ha.
There were many new missionaries arriving, and their excitement is infectious. Sorella Baer and I prepared a lesson for Nico in which we were basically going to just read the Book of Mormon and have him pray about it. We had taught him all of the basic lessons (can you believe I've already taught six lessons?) and the only way he was going to progress was by knowing for himself whether or not the Book of Mormon is true. (It is by the way, I promise.) First of all, Nico slipped up and was wearing an Italian CTR Ring (most beautiful thing I've ever seen, hint, hint)  We were going to ask him about it after the lesson, but he took it off during the last prayer. Sneaky Nico! I was trying to ask him how to say ring, and he just ignored me and stole my pen. The boy doesn't break character for a minute! Which is fantastic. During the lesson when Sorella Baer and I bore our testimonies, Nico started crying. I should tell you this kid doesn't ever show emotion on his face. It was incredibly spiritual. Beautiful day.

Today was P-day, meaning I've been wearing pants almost all day. So wonderful! After laundry, we were able to go to the temple and let me tell you, it was much needed. I already feel refreshed and rejuvenated and cannot wait to finish out the day with language study! Go Italian!

Computer Time! Anziano Lemmo being awesome.
I wish I had more time to write, but alas, I don't. I love you all and cannot wait to tell you more about this wonderful experience I've been having. The Church is true!

Mom I love you! Please fix my typos. I think I forgot English.

Temple walk on Sunday.

Another picture at the temple.

Picture at the temple.
Look who I found! The dear Sister McGinnis, serving in the Ukraine, Russian speaking!

Templo. Just a normal day in the district.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Primo Giorno (First Day)

Primo Giorno (First Day) in the Missionary Training Center

20 March 2013

Dear Mom,

So this day lasted forever! But it was super wonderful. Sorella Baer is my comp [companion-see below]! Basically she's adorable.

After you dropped me off, I went through this crazy long line, got my name tag and the badge for all the buildings. I then picked up by books and headed to my classroom. Our teacher only spoke Italian today. I had to go through entrance questionnaires and orientation. We had a short lesson in Italian; then we went to a devotional. They basically just stressed the importance of our companions. We had dinner and then unpacked until a teaching experience. Basically there were twenty of us in a room teaching an investigator. We taught three. We then went to meet our branch president [see below] and his wife, the Millers. They are adorable. Then we finished unpacking. We have quiet time from 10:15 to 10:30. I'll write you more soon!
Mom and me at the MTC. 

I love you so much!!


P.S. Tell grandma I love her. I wish I had time to write more letters.

“Ye shall go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, in my name, lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump, declaring my word like unto angels of God” (D&C 42:6).

"Preaching the gospel two by two is the pattern established by the Lord. The testimonies of two companions support each other in proclaiming the truth and bearing witness of it" (Missionary Handbook, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006, p. 29).

"Small congregations are called branches and are presided over by a branch president" (Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000, p. 57).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

MoTab and the Three Nelson's

        Last Sunday in Relief Society, it was mentioned how missionaries will witness at least five miracles a day. I was set apart this last Wednesday and already this holds true. It's incredible and today especially, I have been blessed by the Lord.
        On Friday, I had the opportunity to go to a performance by the sister missionaries serving on Temple Square. The Spirit filling the Assembly Hall was immense. My best friend, Sydney Brown, has a very close friend who is serving on Temple Square. As I looked into the faces of the missionaries, I recognized Sister Hailey Nelson from pictures I had seen. After the performance, I looked for her and was able to have a brief conversation with her. This experience alone was enough to let me know the Lord loves me, but apparently he really wanted it sink in.
Sister Nelson and Sorella Ervin at Temple Square
        This morning, my mother and I decided to go to Music and the Spoken Word. Now if you know my mother, you know she cannot stand the organ. It's probably her least favorite instrument ever created. As we walked into the Tabernacle, we saw something to make both of our hearts soar. Today, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square. Looking at the program, we realized today there was a large focus on missionary work. Not only was Called to Serve sung, but the short talk by Lloyd D Newell focused on Adam Geibel, the composer of the work.
         We were planning to leave Temple Square immediately; however, I decided I wanted to take a walk around. My mother decided we should walk towards the South Visitors center. On the way, Sister  Nelson caught my attention, and we had another opportunity to talk. For forty-five minutes, she and her companion, Sister Romney, gave me advice. It is very obvious to me that Sister Nelson is an inspired missionary. Her words were so filled with the spirit, and everything she said was something I needed to hear. After only two conversations with this incredible sister, I have grown to admire and love her. 
         Because we had chosen to attend Music and the Spoken Word, we weren't able to attend Sacrament Meeting with our friends so we decided to attend in the ward sharing a building with them. Because we had spent so much time talking to Sister Nelson, we barely made it in time for the Sacrament. My mother took my hand and asked me to look on the stand. Sitting at the end of the row was Elder Russell M. Nelson. As I looked at the other faces of those seated around him, I realized Kim Nelson, a sister entering the MTC with me on Wednesday was seated on the other end. What are the chances I would find myself at the farewell of a sister serving with me in the Italy Milan Mission? I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know the Lord was behind it all. Kim gave a fantastic talk and repeatedly I found myself looking forward to getting to know her. 
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

         The last speaker was Elder Nelson and it's important to know he is not related to either Sister Nelson. His talk focused on the mighty change that is coming in regards to the missionaries. We have 10,000 more missionaries serving now, then we did at the same time last year. 10,000! Elder Nelson spoke of his love for missionaries and the spirit which accompanies them. He then gave advice for serving in Italy and mentioned the members love for the Lord. How blessed I am to serve in such an incredible place. After the end of the meeting, I talked briefly with Kim. Again I feel lucky that I will be serving with this young woman who answered the call to serve immediately after hearing of the age change. Although I am twenty-one and my papers were already started when the announcement was made, it has affected me greatly. I now am able to serve with many more sisters whose testimonies touch my heart. I was then able to speak to Elder Nelson. Let me tell you, there is so much love surrounding the apostles of the Lord. The Spirit is so strong with him that you can feel not only his love for you, but the Lord's love for you. 
        Many people would call the experiences I had today mere coincidences  Let me testify to you this is not the case. The Lord knows us and he knows what we need. Today I have seen the Lord's hand in my life, and I know I will continue to see it throughout my mission.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Farewell

This morning I had the opportunity to speak in church, as it was my last Sunday before leaving for my mission.  It was a wonderful meeting and I was deeply moved by the love I felt from those in attendance. Two of my very best friends surprised me and drove from Rexburg in order to be there.

Sydney, Me, and Amber

When I was fifteen, my mom and I went to Disneyland with some family friends. We were in a line for a ride that had opened that week, so the wait was about three hours. Around fifteen minutes into waiting, two girls, sisters in their late teens, early twenties turned around and asked us to tell them our life story. Needless to say, it didn’t take very long for the Church to come into conversation. The girls had a lot of questions and it was nice, because they obviously had heard about the Church before and had very specific questions. Most importantly they truly wanted answers and weren’t just asking so they could argue about the answers. For a while, I was content to let my mom talk, occasionally nodding or chiming in with “Yeah, Joseph Smith, he was pretty cool.” After a while though, one of the girls turned and asked me a direct question. I froze; I didn’t know the answer. Why didn’t I pay more attention in Seminary? Although only a few seconds, it seemed to last for hours. I realized my mom was talking and I turned to look at her and silently thank her for rescuing me. But I was mistaken. She was just looking at me, smiling. I was talking and answering the question. The girls were nodding, like they understood. As I listened to myself speak, I recognized the words as truth I had known all along. After I was finished they asked me another question. Again the words came to me. The rest of the conversation went smoothly, both of us answering question after question.

            Later as I pondered the experience, I realized a few things. God loved those girls. He knew they had questions, and He made it possible for them to find answers. God loved me. This was something I had been struggling with, but this experience showed me the power of His love. When we are struggling, or lacking, God will make up the difference. I know it was the Spirit of the Lord that caused me to speak the correct words when I was too nervous to even process the question. He is with us, and He will not abandon us.

            As a child I loved the words of C.S. Lewis and have enjoyed hearing the leaders of the Church quote him. I particularly like the religious symbolism in his work, including his children’s books. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he tells the story of a young boy, Eustace, who is unthinking, rude, and greedy. It is this greed that gets him into trouble, for after being told not to, he takes a gold bracelet. When he puts it on he is cursed and turns into a dragon. Unable to return to his family, he ends up in a cave, alone, his arm injured and becoming worse. He starts to realize how terrible he acted and wants more then anything to be returned to them. Aslan, the king arrives and leads him to a mountain pool. He tells Eustace he will be able to heal him, but he must first remove his dragon skin. Eustace starts to scratch at his scales and the skin slowly comes off, much like a snake. When he’s finished, he looks down and realizes there is another skin, so again he scratches it off and again there is another. After removing this skin and finding another underneath it, he becomes down trodden. Aslan then comes over and says, in essence,  “You will have to let me do it.” Eustace says the only thing greater than the pain of the skin being removed was the pleasure of having it gone. He could then enter the waters, be healed, and return to his family. It would be great if we could say Eustace was perfect after that, but sometimes he reverted to his old ways. The important thing is that he tried and day-by-day he grew to be a better boy.

            In this short excerpt, there is much symbolism—the atonement, baptism, and the traditional use of the number three to represent repentance—but my favorite moment is when the King says, “You will have to let me do it.” How often does the Lord say that to us? For me, I feel He says these words daily. We aren’t perfect, we cannot be, but when we give our all and it isn’t enough, the Lord will step in and gently say, “You will have to let me do it.”

             In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Ammon says, “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12).

            There are many ways in which the Lord will strengthen us. In all of these ways, we must be making an effort.  For example, the Lord has already atoned for all of our sins. But if we do not repent, it won’t make a difference. His great sacrifice will not benefit us, because we haven’t done our part.

            One of the ways the Lord will multiply our efforts is through the help of others. A few years ago Deseret News published an article by Howard Collett entitled Selling Bananas to Pay His Way. The article tells the story of Sedrick Tshiambine a twenty-year-old boy from the Dominican Republic. When he was sixteen, he started saving money for his mission. In his town there was very little work to be had and his family was unable to help him finance his mission. This boy had a bicycle and every day he would push his bicycle with 200 pounds of bananas to the market. It would take him two hours. He would sell them for the best price he could and then ride back home, pick up another load and start over. For four years he had made the journey again and again. Each trip earned him about $3. He had to use this money to repair his bicycle and pay for his food. What little he had left over would be used for his mission. All of that work and his savings was only enough to pay for a passport. The rest of the money for his mission came from the General Missionary Fund. Members of the Church from all around the world donate money to help those who would not otherwise be able to serve a mission. Without that help, Sedrick would have been unable to serve a mission.  He could have given up, but he pressed forward knowing that everything would work out.

            Gordon B. Hinckley said, “It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out. If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us. He will not forsake us. If we will put our trust in Him, if we will pray to Him, if we will live worthy of His blessings, He will hear our prayers.”

Everyone I know keeps asking me if I’m nervous, if I’m scared to serve a mission. There are a few things I’m nervous about. I know serving a mission will be the hardest thing I have ever done, and I fully expect to have days where I feel like I am useless. I also know that it will be difficult to learn Italian and to have the courage to each and everyday proclaim the truthfulness of this Gospel. Even with all of these things, I am not afraid for I know the Lord is with me.

            I am grateful for those in our ward who have served missions; the sisters especially have greatly influenced me. I love that when I first met Sister White, she told me how much she loved her mission and she gave me advice on how to love those I will serve. She still has the demeanor of a missionary and she looks you directly in the eyes, letting you know that she is actively listening and cares about what you have to say. I have always loved that Sister Kendall sings Called to Serve in German. I have never heard her sing it in English and I don’t ever expect to. I was so excited when I opened my call to serve in the Italy Milan Mission. Immediately I wanted to go to the Bressan’s house and share the news with them. Sister Bressan had often talked to me about her mission and I was so excited to tell her I had been called to the mission she loves so dearly.  Minutes later, I found myself standing on her doorstep as I told her that I too would be serving in Milan. She took me into her arms and then pulled me inside their home to show me pictures from her mission. I know these women had challenges while on their missions and it wasn’t always easy, but I also know you will never hear them complain about their experiences. They have nothing but kind words for the people and the places they grew to love. Because the Lord was with them they learned great things and they have been able to share those lessons with me.

            When Boyd K. Packer wrote of missionary work, he mentioned our desire to share the Gospel with every single person in the world. He stated, “Some who measure that challenge say quickly, ‘Why, that’s impossible! It cannot be done!’ To that we simply say, ‘Perhaps, but we shall do it anyway.’ Against the assertion that it cannot be done, we are willing to commit every resource that can be righteously accumulated to this work. Now, while our effort may seem modest, when measured against the challenge, it is hard to ignore when measured against what is being accomplished.”

            This is why I am not afraid; because although this work is difficult and sometimes seems impossible, I have seen the good missionaries can do and I have seen the way they rely on the Lord and how he guides them.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Luke says, “ And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).

About these verses, Russell M. Nelson says, “What we’re seeing is a prediction that in these latter days people will be afraid. Men’s hearts are failing and that includes women because they forget their identity and their purpose. Heartaches will come. I’ve lived through the death of a wife, and the death of a daughter, I’ve seen the troubles that divorce brings, children or grandchildren go astray, disability, illness, and injuries arise. To the individual who is weak in the heart, fearful in the heart, be patient with yourself. Perfection comes not in this life but in the next life. Don’t demand things that are unreasonable, but demand of yourself improvement. As you let the Lord help you through that, he will make the difference.” 

This is why I am serving a mission. Although I have had challenges, I have been able to get through them. Life is much easier then it would otherwise be, because I have the help of Christ. The message of Christ is one of peace and love. I don’t think there is a single soul who could not benefit from a little more love. When you learn of your Savior and of His love for you, life all at once becomes easier, not because you stop having challenges, but because when you struggle and just can’t seem to make it through He will say, “You will have to let me do it.” He will lift you up and although it may still be difficult, you will not have to go through it alone, you will have the Lord to lean upon.

I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and I know Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. There is a living prophet on the earth today. His words, as of the prophets of old, are the words of God. I testify to you that the Book of Mormon is true, and I am so grateful for knowledge I find in its pages and the peace it brings me.