Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Living in Color

AUGUST VACATIONS.  Well, we are seeing the beginning of Ferragosto (month of August=whole population on vacation), where the streets and parks are no longer full of people to contact.

We have resorted to house-to-house finding, and in fact one man walked by as we were doing so, recognized we were Mormons, and said in English, "Oh are you going door to door like the Jehovah's Witnesses?"  So of course we talked with him.  He said he had lived in England for several years and had at one point taken the missionary discussions.  We left our contact information.

ENGLISH CLASSES.  In the absence of many people, I decided to try the same thing for English class that worked in Ferrara: tagging street signs with English class flyers.  So now there are Perche Egli Vive ("Because He Lives") cards and English flyers around town.  Hopefully it will lead to higher numbers at English class.  It did in Ferrara.

POSITIVE CHANGE.  I went on an exchange with one of the Zone Leaders yesterday.  It made me think of how grateful I am to have had Elder Kormylo as a companion these past 8 weeks or so.  We get along really well, and I enjoy doing missionary work with him.  I've had some companions I get along well with and some I don't, but the change from unpleasant companions in an unpleasant area to a great companion in a great area blew my mind.  Life has color again.  Obviously everyone has a different experience, and changes their perspective accordingly, but I'm much more calm and content here.

When we went to Henry's house last Thursday they had prepared a little meal for us to eat, and were very hospitable.  his wife, Julia, accepted a baptismal date and seems very excited to make the choices Henry has made.  We're very much looking forward to working with her.

(On his dad flying to Houston for the week.)  That sounds neat, being able to fly to places for work.  I want that to be part of my job, going here or there.

(On his dad reminiscing about those he taught/baptized on his mission in Spain.)  I hope to remember the people I baptize, but it looks like it'll be easier for me, since I'm baptizing fewer people.  Obviously, that's not the main point of a mission, but it is the most sought-after number. From what I've seen so far, I think the person I'll probably keep in contact the most with from here is Ann.  She was the new member in Udine who always had us over for dinner and we called home from her house on Christmas Day.

Love, Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beautiful Saturday, Peruvian Drinks, Chinese Culture

(Side Note from Mom: he sent quite a few photos of sights they've seen.  I'll just sprinkle them throughout, even though they don't have to do with his descriptions.)


SATURDAY HIGHLIGHT.  Well, the big activity this week was Henry's baptism!  He was baptized Saturday, and there was a lot of support from members, especially the Peruvian members, since Henry is Peruvian.  We all showed up, and we're talking, and waiting for him, since he was coming straight from work.  He got there about 10 minutes late.  Still, it was a great experience, especially for Henry's family (wife, son and brother).  The man who did the baptism, another Peruvian, started off in Italian, paused, and finished in Spanish.  Henry is in the middle.  Fratello Borjas is on the left, and Vescovo (bishop) on the right.

CHRISTIANITY LESSON. A fun experience we had this week was teaching a Chinese man.  We ran into him on the street, he gave us his number, and we met to talk about our message and about God.  But, he didn't have the foundation of a belief in God, or know all about Jesus, which most people here have, so we explained the concept of God as the Creator and our Heavenly Father, and then some basic principles about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

AIM HIGH.  The push at the last missionary gathering was to be the best missionaries we could be, in our setting goals, self-improvement, and consecrated work.  Since so many missionaries just went home, the story used as an example of that was one from the Bible, where Gideon has a large army.  But the Lord wants him to decrease the size, so the army doesn't claim to have won by its own power.  So he tests them, and decreases it to 300 people.  Meanwhile in the mission, we went from about 230 to 200 missionaries.

INTERNATIONAL DRINK CHOICES. Dad, I don't know if you've tried it, but some of the Peruvians brought Inka-Cola, some South American drink.  I really liked it, maybe you've stumbled across it.  There are Arab shops here and there, that sell American drinks, like Dr. Pepper and in theory A&W, though I haven't found it yet.  There are also Indian and South American shops that sell typical drinks or foods or sauces of a given area.

Mom, the sunrise bike ride place was Piazza San Michelangelo, I just didn't know it then.  We have been there on a P-day, and to the Duomo-basilica-tower combo.

Have a great week!
Love, Anziano Whitesell

P.S. A note on the "Sign" pictures...those street signs are decorated around town, with those stick figures interacting with the lines.  They're pretty clever.  And the "Free/fly away" stick figures are just fun graffiti around town.  You'll see a couple in this batch, but there are more to come.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Laundry, Baptism, and Teaching English

The Palmyra trip sounds like it was a lot of fun.

INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGES I HAVE LIKED.  A comment Elder Bednar made was along the lines of revealed truth.  Everything that people have invented has been inspired, to further the Lord's work.  Computers, microwaves, rockets...byproducts of God poking here and there to encourage the creation of things, to bring to pass the exaltation of man.  That was brought up in the Roots and Branches talk by Elder Cook about computers and family history, but it also applies to other things.

P-DAY ACTIVITIES. Wow, 8 days is a long time between Preparation days! (We had an early P-day last week, because of our conference.)  It felt like it ought to have been Preparation Day yesterday, but it wasn't.  Now I am back on schedule.

This morning we woke up at 4:45 (reminiscent of early-morning drives to the airport) and biked over to a hill that looks out over the city.  We watched the sunrise.  It was such a nice view, one of those awesome moments where a bit of extra effort pays off in an extraordinary experience.

BAPTISM.  This past Saturday was Henry's baptismal interview.  A senior missionary asks questions to make sure they are prepared to make the commitment to be baptized, and are willing to be a disciple of Christ.  He was found ready, so his baptismal date is July 18 (yes, this Saturday!).  That will be a nice finish to the week.

The Zone Leaders slept over on Sunday evening, on their way up to mission council meeting, and one of them taught me a different way to solve a Rubik's cube.  So I've worked with that the past several days, seeing if it's any better than the other way.  If nothing else, it's nice to know a different way to solve the cube.

And, this week we did a lot of finding work, where we go out looking for people to talk to.  It reminded me of Ferrara; it seems to be a necessary evil, ha!  (Not an overly productive use of time.)  We ran into a lot of nice people, some of whom were willing to meet again: a Filipino woman, an Egyptian man, and a Romanian man.  I don't think all that many Italians get baptized, since I have mostly taught foreigners.  And, you can see that in the ward (congregation), too.  There are a lot of Peruvians, some Ukrainians, and quite a few Americans, and a respectable number of Italians.  But the majority are not Italian.

ENGLISH CLASS.  The group that attends our English is different here, too.  The three people who come regularly are all middle-aged.  One from Southern Italy, one from a town near Firenze, and the third from somewhere near Firenze, but lived in Sweden for awhile.  So we have sort of a cultural class, hearing about their lives, day-to-day activities, searching for work, where they've gone, etc.

HOW HAS IT BEEN EASY OR HARD FOR YOU TO LIVE WITH COMPANIONS IN YOUR MISSION?  Good companions are good when they want to do work, be engaging, and do things.  They talk about things that interest both of us, or can make their preferred subject interesting.  And while they may list things they want to do after the mission, that's not the main focus.  Bad companions are lazy.  only talk about one thing, and complain.

CLEANING OUR CLOTHES.  We have a washing machine at the apartment.  We just buy detergent and bleach, so about every 3 weeks.

P-DAYS.   We have done a variety of activities on our P-Days.  Here, we have gone to a museum called the Uffizi, climbed the Duomo and various buildings, or we went to Ponte Veccio and looked at expensive stores there.

Our ward (congregation) here in Florence is a mix of tourists and church members right now.  There is a solid base of members, and maybe 150 people come to church each week.

Love, Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Eagles, Hard Work, American Holidays


Hmmm, I don’t know if I’ve seen the Mormon Tabernacle Choir live before.  The Hill Cumorah trip sounds fun.  It would definitely be different now, taking that trip, rather than being a high-schooler going on the stake activity again.

NEW PEOPLE IN CHURCH.  We have had a couple of investigators in church each of the past two Sundays, and one was the Peruvian man who brought his family last Sunday.  What you say about keeping your own testimony strong is true, but it’s different for every person.  Our Albanian investigator is fairly high-maintenance, in the sense that we have to visit him regularly for him to keep to his commitments.  Wheras with Henry, we meet with twice a week, and teach a new principle each time, and he takes that new principle and internalizes it.

For example, we taught Fasting last Saturday, and he told us Sunday, “As I was pouring milk this morning, I remembered I was supposed to fast today.  So I stopped.”  I love his willingness to accept the gospel, and the progress he’s made.  But it’s definitely thanks to support of wonderful Peruvian church members.  Some cultures are more outgoing and loving than others – and it depends on the person too, but I’m finding that those character traits are much more common in the South Americans I’ve met.

SAME PLACE THIS TRANSFER.  The news for this transfer is: I’m actually staying.  YAY!  No big surprise there.  Anziano Kormylo is staying too.  YAY!  This is the first time I’ve stayed with the same companion twice in a row, since my trainer at the very beginning of my mission.  I was expecting to train, but I guess that will wait for a little bit.  No complaints here.

Last week I did yet another scambio (exchange – going with a different companion for a day), with an elder in my district who’s just one transfer behind me, Anziano Rojas.  It was good to talk with someone who is at about the same point I am, while also being nice to be slightly on top, tenure-wise.  We went around the other elders’ area, and met with a couple of people they are working with.  One man, Mauro, has a lot of conflicting ideas because he is Catholic, and has met with the Jehovah’s Witnesses for awhile now, and he’s also meeting with the Mormons.  But he was very pleasant and friendly, even if his dog was small and not declawed.

AMERICAN PARTY FRIENDS.  Happy 4th of July!  There are actually enough Americans in the ward to throw an America party, so we went to an American gathering, with grilling things, and someone brought A&W root beer (we had to split them, but that’s okay).  We also had Keebler cookies and fireworks (which we didn’t touch, because we’re missionaries: one of those safety rules), and one of those fire-lantern things.  And I even learned a thing or two about throwing and catching a football.  Granted, probably everyone there had more experience with a football than I had, but I can throw an acceptable distance.  And I just catch it with my body.  But after the food, there was a spiritual thought about 4th of July and the promises about American in the Book of Mormon, and we sang the National Anthem and said the Pledge of Allegiance.  It was a nice moment, with about 25 Americans or Italo-Americans.

We went to a member's house for lunch yesterday.  It was nothing fancy, but it was nice to have that friendly invitation.  Pesto-farfalle, then fish and salad, then some gelato and apricots (separately).  They are the parents of the Bishop.  She has been a member for 50 years, he for about 30.

ITALIAN LANGUAGE.  I love being able to talk in Italian to people in conversations.  It's strange...during short, 1-2 sentence interactions I'm more awkward, since there's usually some shorthand I don't know, that real Italians would use.  But I'm understandable.  Even when Italians want to speak to me in English, it's more: "Hi, how are you?"  "I'm good, thanks.  Do you speak English?"  "No, just that phrase."  (All right, then don't start out in English.  You're not impressing anyone...ha!)
map of my last area, Ferrara

LEARNING THROUGH EXAMPLE.  What have I learned from our Bishop...I haven't worked directly with him much.  But each week in Ward Council meeting, I see a lot of organizational skills and delegating skills.  Since each group (youth, primary children, women's Relief Society, and the men in different Priesthood groups) has their own world of activities, if they don't know how to do something, they present it to the Bishop.  So if the Bishop doesn't delegate, he has to deal with everyone's problems, and ends up talking to everyone anyway.

BEST MESSAGES I REMEMBER.  What is a message I particularly liked...I liked Elder Bednar's message from a few weeks ago, when he focused on being an Agent rather than an Object.  Scriptures that stood out to me are Doctrine & Covenants 58: 26-29, about being anxiously engaged and acting for ourselves.  
Also 2 Nephi 2:14 in the Book of Mormon, about God creating things to act and to be acted upon.  If we want to reach our full potential, we need to be active and productive and do things of our own free will.

A good story about that, is from Gospel Principles Sunday School class last week: the young eagle.  The eagle falls and gets injured, and the man brings it home while it heals.  He keeps it with his chickens, so it thinks it is a chicken.  The man tells the eagle it is not a chicken, and teaches it to be an eagle.  He shows it other eagles and finally takes it to the top of a mountain and lets it go, saying, "You are an eagle. Now fly!"  Another story like that is "Born to be a King," and another story I really like is 'The Egg,' about our eternal potential.  The last one isn't doctrine, but it carries a powerful point.

I have a Box account now, and I've uploaded a few Firenze pictures, and a video of me golfing.  I'm not very good, oh well :)

Love you!  Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

People, Pizza and Pass-Along Cards


This past Thursday was neat because there was a training in Bologna for the District Leaders and Sister Training Leaders in my area, around the south of the mission.  So I ran into several other missionaries who are DL's (District Leaders), and Sister Welch from my group is an STL in this zone.

TRAINING TIPS.  The training was about how to conduct effective companion exchanges, how to run district meetings, how to do baptismal interviews, and some advice for leading others.  It was good training, with many things I can put into practice.

FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE. One thing I can work on is scheduling further in advance those things that I can plan pretty far out, like exchanges.  And as a leader, I could definitely spend more time giving positive, constructive feedback -- rather than noticing something nice but not mentioning it, letting the person know I liked something they did.  And I could put more thought into setting goals.  Lots of things to work on of course, but if you work on too many at once, it becomes overwhelming.

Sunday was exciting because several of the people we're working with came to church!  The purpose of teaching is to help people come closer to Christ, eventually through baptism, and part of being a member is coming to church regularly -- each Sunday.  So when people come for the first time it's exciting, because they can meet members and see how church meetings work.

Tuesday, we ran into a strange man who said he knew Joseph Smith was a prophet because he had read the Pearl of Great Price (another book of scripture we have).  He said there was a place where it says God is not pleased when people eat meat.  We asked if he was a vegetarian, and he said yes...and fish.

"But fish is a meat," we said.  "No," he said, "it's not mineral, and it's not animal, so it's vegetable, like a fruit."  Now we know: fish are fruit.

We couln't find his scripture reference.  Maybe it was Doctrine and Covenants (another book of scripture).  He claimed to be from a really old religion in Chaldea...the priests who tried to sacrifice Abraham?  He offered us a copy of their holy book, the Bhagavad Gita, but now is not the time for us to be studying that.

HOMEMADE LASAGNA. I made a couple of "Italian" things this week: a pizza, again.  Kormylo is pretty straight-to-business, so it didn't take that long.  I also made lasagna for the first time.  It wasn't difficult, but I did half pesto, and half meat/tomato sauce.  The pesto half was too strong, and the meat half wasn't flavored enough.  So I know for next time.

I learned (ok, RE-learned) that there are some people who just won't be placated and who insist on being angry at God, so you have to just let them be.  It's sad, and a little annoying when they vent at you, but all you can do is say that God loves them, give them a pass-along card (with our info on it in case they want to talk later), and leave.

I also got the package from you, of the notes from the 5-year-olds from church.  Very cute--thanks!

Love, Anziano Whitesell