Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Time, Motivation and Miracles


(side note from Mom: In an email, I mentioned spending an entire, tedious morning in Firestone, when I had only planned on a couple of hours. I also referenced an inspirational talk by one of our church leaders, Deiter Uchtdorf, called "On Being Genuine.")

TIME. Wow, spending the entire morning somewhere you thought you'd only be for a couple of hours!  That must have been a terrible experience!  I can't imagine ever having such a problem here in Italy *cough*hospital*cough.  It happens.  It's nice when it happens at a church member's house.  It's not nice when it happens at, say, the grocery store.

WHAT MOTIVATES US TALK. I did get the chance to hear President Uchtdorf's conference talk.  I think we can apply his message by being ourselves, as missionaries, rather than trying to fit into the "missionary mold."  There are some people who go about missionary work like robots, always trying the same things and making sure nothing is different.  But then there are other missionaries who want to be "different," or go about trying new things and new methods, but only in the interest of showing off how they are not "normal" missionaries.  So the perfect place to be is in the middle -- yourself, but not going out of your way to show off.

(side note from Mom: the missionaries teach English lessons.  I suggested that he "trade," English lessons for a pasta-making lesson from a native Italian...)

I have not asked about pasta-making lessons.  I may try that, or try asking people advice about making meals.  It would seem kind of strange to ask about that through the doorbell panel speaker.  (Is there a word for that in English? In Italian it's "citifono.")

MIRACLES THIS WEEK. So as we tracted (looked for people to talk to) Saturday morning, we talked to the first person we ran across.  It's a good habit to be starts the day in a "missionary mindset."  He responded in English!  After talking for a few minutes, he invited us in (his house was nearby) for a glass of water.  We talked with him and his wife about their family, and one of the sons in particular who is my age, and offered some advice about him.  Then they invited us over for lunch that day, and we talked with them about Family Home Evening, or FHE.  (FHE is a time when families--usually one evening a week--can be together to study gospel principles or do activities together.)  This evening we're going over to show them what a Family Home Evening looks like, and teach the first lesson as our spiritual message.  It is so exciting: that never happens!

Then yesterday, we talked to a man standing next to us at the stoplight.  We talked for a good half-hour, he bought us drinks (non-alcoholic), and we talked some about family history work.  He's pretty Atheist, and I don't know where that will lead, not having made a return appointment, but he was a nice old man.

DAVID A. BEDNAR. The Bednar conference was exciting! All of the missionaries (about 250 of us) went to Milan for the conference, and Elder Bednar led a discussion-based question-and-answer session.  He posed a question, and let any missionary raise their hand to give a response, so we could all learn from each other and from the Holy Ghost.  He also spoke some, and President Teixeira (of the 70) spoke, and Elder Allen spoke (also a General Authority).  We'll be getting iPads within a couple of weeks, but the focus of the meeting was on using the tools we have been given to continue "hastening the work."  So we will be receiving training on how to use the iPads as missionaries over the next couple of months as they get the details hashed out.  We're still part of the 'test group,' just further along the process.

I took some good notes; Elder Bednar encouraged us to record not so much the words he said, but the feelings we had, or impressions we felt were important.  Although the meeting was draining, I felt pretty energized the next day.  And besides that, at the conference, I got to see many friends from my MTC group, and other missionaries I've run into in districts, zones, or at transfer circles in the past.  The reunion side of it was wonderful.

OOPS STORY.  We took a train back from Milan to Bologna, and got off in Bologna.  But then I realized that I had forgotten my bag on the train.  So we rushed back on, grabbed the bag...and couldn't get off.  So we were stuck on the train for another hour, until the next stop in Prato (SW of Bologna).  And the next train back to Bologna wasn't until 10:50, getting into Bologna around midnight.
 So we called President, and he said to stay at the local senior couple's apartment that night. ("Senior couple missionaries" are sometimes retired, or at least their kids are grown, and they are serving for 1 to 3 years in the mission.)   So that's what we did.  They were very accommodating.  It was a nice apartment, and we even got dinner and breakfast.  Senior couples are pretty cool.

In return, I left a couple of cans of root beer (having received A&W from the senior couple at the American Base earlier that day).  So I'm looking forward to drinking those over the next few days. :D

Love you!
Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eating Habits, Companion Switch and English


EATING HABITS.  In answer to your question, Dad, yes, I eat healthy.  I eat a variety of foods, with many pasta-based and rice-based dishes.  Today I made Chinese Sundaes.  I can't claim to cook amazing food, but I can cook pretty well.  I'm going to try making pizza this week.  There's a recipe for it in the mission cookbook and it involves yeast...maybe it was because we had a bread maker, but I never learned how to bake with yeast.  Maybe once, in that 7th grade cooking class, but I haven't since.  So we'll hope for the best on this pizza!

I have fruit to snack on, and I have eggs or cereal or cereal or French toast or regular toast with jam for breakfast.  I don't usually eat dinner, just maybe an evening snack.  And my companions have cooked well enough that I haven't had to fill in any leftover lunch space.  I still weigh 135-140, just like when I left, and I do exercises each morning.  Nothing amazing (there are some missionaries who have P90X memorized, or other fitness routines), but it's a good start to the day.

Senior companion isn't anything different than what I've done before.  I just lead planning and companion study, and handle most of the phone calls (which I would be doing anyway, since I know the area better than the new companion).

TEACHING ENGLISH.  We've actually gotten a lot of calls about English class, since we started putting up fliers around town.  Seven new people came to it yesterday!
I'll just keep on leading, planning, and moving along.  I was thinking about it the other day, and in addition to the spiritual experiences, from a mission you get good responses to job interview questions: When was a time you led a group of people? What was an experience where you adapted well to change?  How well do you work in teams or in pairs?  Etc.

Even with church membership in the teens here, there are still a lot of connections.  We ran into a lady who married an American who works with Brother Moon in NATO.  And there was that tourist a few weeks ago, who served his mission here 20+ years ago.  And occasionally, we talk to someone and they say, "Oh, you're missionaries from Brother so-and-so's church."  It's a small town, but also a small world.

TRANSFERS.  Let's see, in this mission, 4 transfers (=6 months) in an area is not uncommon.  The surprise comes from 4 transfers with 4 different companions in one area, like I have now for Ferrara.  That is very uncommon.

My new companion is Anziano Davis, from Phoenix, Arizona.
He is a look-alike of Conan O'Brian... and Brother Boyer.  What have I learned? I have learned about asking questions to break the ice, with someone you're going to be with 24/7 for 6 weeks.

GOSPEL LESSON. We taught 3 friends of one of the church members on Saturday.  The lesson went well.  They didn't have many questions, but 2 of them came to church the next day!  That made for a new record: 24 people in church (including those 2, and us 2 missionaries).  And they would like to keep taking the lessons.

This past P-day was pretty boring.  I waited in the Bologna Centrale (the train station) for a few hours, for Anziano Davis.  The rest was pretty normal.

Love you!
Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bibles, Fire and Tessellations


BIBLE TRANSLATIONS. There's an interesting series of new bibles that have come out, from different groups translating and re-translating it.  (Our MTC Branch President gave a devotional on it, and I took notes).  There is the Genovese Bible from the Anglicans, then the Bishop's Bible from Queen Elizabeth, the Gutenburg Bible in Germany, and the New King James Bible.

NEW COMPANION.  I'm getting a new companion this week, but not a new area.  So, I'll be doing 4 (6-week transfers) in Ferrara with 4 different companions. Chances are very good that I'll leave after 4.  I'll be senior companion to an elder going into his 5th transfer (I'm going into my 7th).  I'm looking forward to being "senior comp" officially, although last transfer I've been doing all the "senior comp" stuff because Anziano Lindsey is pretty done-with-everything.  This will be a nice change.

FOOD. I did receive a package from Aunt Dana!  It came through Brother Moon, and he brought it to church on Sunday.
And God said, "Let there be food, and there was food."  I do quite enjoy American food.  Thanks, Aunt Dana!

We were planning on going to the American base in Vicenza today, but the senior couple there got sick, so we'll go some other time.  But I was talking with them and they said they'd be able to bring some cans of root beer the next time we see each other, at the Bednar conference.

REFINING. Scriptures I have found inspiring: 1 Nephi 20:10.  I've had people in my district these past few transfers who have said that Ferrara is like the refiner's fire: they send people there to get stronger for the future.
 Most of the stories I have sent these past weeks have been activities-based, rather than spiritually enlightening.  Because the area is pretty tough.  It hasn't responded particularly well to missionaries -- just meh.  So while there are rays of sunshine (this Saturday we'll be teaching 3 of a member's friends, with the member, at the church), a lot of time is spent walking around not feeling productive.  So I hope to be able to look back on my time here and see what I learned, and how this experience prepared me for experiences to come.

I'm glad to hear you've got decent weather again.  I would love to help with yardwork now (it would be a good service activity...if people had yards...), but I'm sure TK and Kara can be of assistance there.

WOOD CARVINGS. The activity this P-Day was going to Bologna and seeing an ESCHER exhibit...
You know, M. C. ESCHER, the guy who did wood carvings of tessellations and the impossible waterfall, and that staircases picture I have in my room.  He has some excellent landscape woodcarvings, along with his "impossible" drawings.  His work is so much more impressive when you take into account the ones that were  carved out of wood.

I received a package from the Amazon UK.  It contained Handel's Messiah.  Thank you!  I listened to Part 1.  I liked the "chorus" sections (like "For Unto Us A Child Is Born" or "Hallelujah" or "He Shall Purify."  The rest is........wonderfully uplifting spiritual stuff...that could put me to sleep.  Sister Shearer: yes, I asked for classical music. Again.  I wouldn't if I weren't a missionary.  No, I will not ask you to play this in your car.

Oh, and one last comment: I found out that one of the church members in Bologna (where I go to District Meeting and stuff) is Jeff!  My second cousin or something, who went with me to get my wisdom teeth out.  So that's neat.  I'll try to meet with him this transfer, just to say hi.  Apparently he asked the Bologna elders about me.  I hadn't realized that he was studying in Italy.

Love you!
Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Goodies, General Conference and CARS


I'll start with last week.  Shortly after checking email, we went to...the

It was pretty cool, and I put a bunch of photos on dropbox.
The museum allows walk-ins, or you can make a reservation for the factory.
We just walked in and looked around.

There are two floors: older Lambo's on the ground floor, and newer Lambo's on the second floor.  The first floor was fine.  Just some older cars with some somewhat interesting specs.  You wouldn't look at them twice (at least I wouldn't) unless you noticed the Lamborghini bull or you noticed that it was shiny.

The ones on the second floor, however: REALLY COOL!

 Those are the ones you stare at, as they drive by.  Sporty and fast, and for most of them, one of only 20 or 50 or 100 ever made.
So all of the Lamborghini legacy depends on millionaires purchasing one a couple of times a year, because there are not that many to go around.

I actually got a Lamborghini 50th anniversary lanyard.
Incidentally, it was one of the few things in the gift shop that was $1.  Those and postcards.
Other than that, it was $75 for a t-shirt, $120 for a pen-holder, $80 for a calendar, and other ridiculous sums.

(Side note: Frank suggested that David go to an Easter mass, to better understand and relate to the Catholic people he talked to.)  I didn't go to an Easter mass, but some Elders from Bologna (in my district) went for a few minutes.
 They said it was confusing, and they didn't know how you would know when to stand up and say things if you only go twice a year.
 To any Catholic readers: not trying to be negative--I think it's wonderful that you go to church regularly!  It's just that here, the culture of "Catholicism" is very non-committal.  It sometimes even borders on Atheism (folks not caring), or polytheism (veneration of Saints overemphasized).

GENERAL CONFERENCE.  We went to Brother Moon's house and watched the different sessions of Conference on Saturday, and Sunday morning.  So I did hear Elder Ringwood's talk about goodness and lack of guile.  Actually, the message that came across most clearly, at least from the Saturday morning session, was "marriage is good, have a family, love your spouse."  Maybe because 4 of the talks were focused on that topic.  I'll get more out of them when I can re-read them in the Ensign (church magazine).

EASTER GOODIES.  Also when we went to Brother Moon's house, we got an Easter treat.  His wife sent him a package...for us!  Being a thoughtful mother, she worried about the missionaries far away in Italy and wanted to make sure we felt loved.  So she sent a care package (photo included) with loads of goodies.

It's a little scary how much sugar rolls in at Easter and Halloween and Christmas.  Side note, the night after conference I woke up at midnight (right after the live Saturday afternoon session ended) and threw up.  I guess my body wasn't used to American food :)

That hiccup notwithstanding, I am thankful for the support from members and family and friends, whether in the form of letters or packages or pictures or emails.

Love you!
Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ordering Pizza and Alternate Plans


I'll be listening to General Conference at Brother Moon's house -- the same one where I've gone for grilled dinner a couple of times.  We'll be watching the Saturday morning session live, (at 6 p.m. our time), then watch 3 sessions Sunday.  I guess I'll have to read the last Sunday session when it comes in the Ensign (church magazine).

I'm feeling much better.  I'm going to include a few journal entries here today, since yesterday (Tuesday March 31) was so...different. (?!)

FOLLOW-UP DOCTOR VISIT.  We started in the hospital with a follow-up visit about the pneumonia.  We went to the "International" office, where we went last time, since we have Aetna International coverage.  We never paid last time; they gave us the medicine under-the-table and let us walk out.  So I couldn't make an appointment until we got the insurance company on the line.  The hospital staff didn't trust them until they faxed a payment guarantee to the hospital.  Then we went to get an X-ray appointment.  Fine, no problem.  Then a doctor to interpret the X-ray... "Can you do it in 6 months? No? 3 months?"  To get an appointment this week, they wanted me to pay $90 under the table, and make me do the reimbursement with the insurance.  Um, how about No?

The initial thought was, "We can just ask for a printout and read it ourselves."  Then we called Sister Dibb (mission president's wife, she handles medical stuff).  She said to take the printout and send it to Milan.  They have a mission doctor who can read it for free.  Well, there's that problem solved!

Overall, I feel much better.  Not perfect, but I've been doing just normal stuff for the past 2 weeks.

Next strange thing:
ORDERING PIZZA.  We were tired when we got back home, from being in the hospital all morning.  So we decided to order pizza.  It got there, we opened them, and Anziano Lindsey noticed something weird about mine...what is that?  There's a cell phone under my pizza, in the box.  A Samsung, just sitting there under the pizza.  So we call the pizza place and say, "Somebody's left their phone with the pizza.  How they managed to get a phone stuck under the pizza is beyond me, but we ordered a pizza and got someone's phone.  A Muslim guy, by the pictures on it.

So we take a selfie with it, and wait for him to come and get it.  (Incidentally, the pizza took a shorter time to arrive than the guy did to get his phone.)  So when he gets there and sees Anziano Lindsey with his phone, he says (in Italian), "Oh, thank goodness you're not Italians."  Nope, honest, hardworking American missionaries.  How lucky for him!

AMERICAN TOURISTS.  Then in the evening, we ran into some American members of the church on vacation.  The husband had served here for 6 months on his mission...17 years ago!  So while his Italian was a bit rusty, they were making their way to some tourist sights, and some places he'd served.  It was cool for them to come out here; he remembered the place a bit differently -- there were 4 missionaries here when he served here.  And I think it was part of a different mission, too.

And some things we've tried to work a bit differently, and maybe have some more success: we brainstormed what we could do to overcome the barrier that comes up when people see us and think, "Oh no, it's the missionaries."

PLAN A. We baked brownies and walked around offering them to people.  "We're American missionaries, just trying to make people smile."  As we found (and thought might occur when we planned it), there is NO UNCREEPY WAY to ask people if they want brownies.  "Heyyy...want some...BROWNIES?"  "Excuse us, we'd like to offer you brownies."  "Hey kids, we made you brownies!"  Nope, Nope, Nope.  Everyone we offered them to thought they had drugs in them.  "Hash brownies, anyone?"  We got rid of a box of them, mostly to teens our age who probably wouldn't have cared if they did have drugs in them.  So we ate the other box ourselves.

PLAN B.  We have a lot of pass-along cards related to Easter.  So we taped them up to streetlights around town.  The missionaries are going around tagging poles!  We did the same thing with English class flyers/leaflets (we teach an English class as a finding technique).  It's more of a conversation course, since they don't get an official certificate or anything, but it interests some people who might not talk to us otherwise.  We'll see how that works out.

And, a funny thing that happens to us every now and again: we're walking down the street, and we see a lady 50 feet away notice us, stop for a second, then turn around and walk the other way.  Now, normally when this happens, they're casual about it.  They cross the street, or tie their shoe, or pretend to use the phone.  But this lady?  "Oh, no, it's those JWs. Freak. Can I cross the street? No--traffic's coming. Quick, what do I do? BAIL!  Walk away quickly!"

That's my news and happenings for this week.  I hope you enjoyed them.

Anziano Whitesell