Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Transfers, Visits, and a Long, Long Day

Well, some interesting happenings this week!  It's the week of transfer calls and transfer information, so there were a loooooot of speculation calls: "Have you heard anything yet?" and quite possibly betting, by some of the more apostate missionaries. (joke :) )

TRANSFERS. But we got the news, and no surprise for me: I'm staying another transfer in Firenze.  Another six weeks of fun times and teaching and good things!  So I'll take Mom's letter and try out Montevarchi or Pistoia (on Pdays) this transfer.  Those towns are still in our zone, so we can visit them on Pdays.  Although, since we have to stay in our zone, Firenze is by far the best city in the area to go for Pday, so I lucked out there.

One elder in my district is training, and one sister is leaving.  She'll be replaced by Sorella Hogan, who was in my district in Bologna for a transfer. It will be nice to have her in my district again.

PAPERWORK.  I picked up my permesso ("permission") after more nonsense at the questura ("police headquarters").  I had to get a certain sheet of paper they had given me, which I had forgotten to bring, although fortunately I kept it with my 'stack of permesso papers.'  So now I'm legal until 8 June 2016, which is when my ministerial certificate expires.

We've visited some members to work on family mission plans.  In our mission it's not allowed to just visit a member for dinner, share a spiritual thought and ask for referrals.  No dinner appointments unless there is an investigator (someone taking gospel lessons) or new convert present.  Fortunately, Henry and Julia love having us over, or we wouldn't get fed by members...I love that family, and not just for the food!

SCAMBIO. I did three companion exchanges (where we go teach with a different missionary than our companion: "Scambio" in Italian) in the past two weeks.  It was nice to get back to normal, having my greenie around, normal training and missionary work.  Although during one Scambio, other missionaries met with a man I found 2 months ago (on a different scambio), and got his phone number before he left on vacation.  And they had a good lesson with him, so that was nice to hear about.

FAMILY TIME. We met with a Nigerian man on Scambio (exchange) who lived in my regular area, so we met with him the next day once we switched back to our own companions.  We had an address, so we walk along and from the street we see "'s-a-lot-of-Africans-at-that-house-up-ahead ...43...45...47...oh-that's-the-address-we're-going-to.  We stop, look at them.  They (6 men) look at us.  "Is there a Chuks here?"
"Yes, he's inside."
"We came to meet with him. He told us to stop by."
"We will get him. Who are you?"
"Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ."
"Oh, most of us are Muslim."
"Oh. Well, Chuks said to meet with him."
'Chuks' comes out.  I've never seen him before.  They invite us in, we sit down, they pull up chairs.
"Who told you to come here again?"
"This is Chuks. He says he's never seen you before." (They are speaking pidgin amongst themselves and English to us.  There are 6 Africans around the room, and we 2 missionaries.)
"Well, the man said his name was Chuks, and to come here."
"Call him again, then.  We will see who it is."

We call, and after a few rings, he picks up.  We talk for a moment, and I put him on speaker.  One African man motions for the others to be quiet.  They listen to the voice and one says, "Oh, it's Papa J! He says he's coming shortly."  After a few more minutes, he arrives.  We teach a nice gospel lesson, with a bit of Praise-Jesus-Hallelujah Baptist preaching in there. And we leave.

LONG DAY. One more story, less elaborate. We go to church.  Church is the normal 3 hours.  After church is a lunch, because an ExPat family living in Italy for awhile, is having a baptism for their 8-year-old.  Big to-do.  They have a lunch, but hadn't planned on half the ward showing up.  But they do, and everyone is worried that the food will run out.  Somehow like the loaves and the fishes, if not 7 baskets left over!
 That finishes, behind schedule, taking another 2 hours.  Then the baptism service, where both speakers decide they'll make up for not having been invited to speak at General Conference by subjecting the attendees to 20-minute lessons on Baptism and the Holy Ghost.  Then the service. Then the confirmation. Then a group picture.  And we finally leave, around 4:45. We got there at 9 in the morning!  There were some ruffled feathers, let me tell you...

Angela invited her roommate to church, which was neat, but probably scared her off as the first time she ever came, it took SEVEN HOURS.

Ok, that's enough for today.  Have a great week!
This is our last District picture, before the transfer.
**The number of chairs we're sitting in, is what transfer we're in! (You can CLICK on this photo to make it BIGGER.)
I have just finished 10 transfers, so I sit on 10 chairs.
I am still training Anziano Liu, who sits on just 1 chair.
Left to Right: Bastian is staying, Cunningham is training, Liu, Whitesell, Skinner to Pisa, Jensen to Ancona.

Love, Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bargains and Undercover Policemen

TIE MARKET. In the Firenze market, there are many merchants.  We have 2 guys we go to for ties: "Tie Guy" who has historically given the missionaries a 5-for-10 deal, though a year ago that went down to 4-for-10.  the usual price is 1-for-4, or 3-for-10.  Then there's "New Tie Guy" who didn't give us the deal, but has a better selection.  So we have frequented his store much more of late ('we' being the Anziani of the Firenze Zone).  But one of our missionaries talked the "New Tie Guy" into giving us the 4-for-10 deal.  So now we have 2 Tie Guys.

Anyway, funny experiences with tags: we talked to a guy on a park bench -- an Irishman -- who recognized us as Mormons.  I say I'm from Boston, and he starts talking about the Patriots, not wanting to talk about God.  I try to change the topic, but he's pretty insistent on not talking about God.  Teaching in English is weird...I'm used to the phrases and words in Italian.

UNINTENTIONAL INTIMIDATION. Also, people keep thinking we're police.  We get on buses, and people who look sketchy (probably don't have tickets) get off quickly.  Or we walk around talking to foreigners who don't speak Italian or English (Chinese and African people) and they'll take out their passports and show us.  Or one couple asked us if there was something wrong when we approached them.  Oh, well.
passport please?
We had to drop an investigator (person learning about the gospel and church) of almost 2 years, because he wasn't focused on baptism.  It was weird...he stopped smoking, drinking, and drinking coffee (the idea being to take care of and respect your body, and avoid addictive substances).  He was also willing to obey the law of chastity (no sexual relations outside of marriage), and pay tithing (10 per cent of your increase to the Lord).  But it felt like he was mostly doing it for the missionaries, rather than because of a testimony of gospel principles.  So with his motives in question, we are leaving him for awhile.

We're trying to get more member work going. That's the focus the high councilman gave us.  So we'll work on that this month.  Training is going well.  I can't believe it's been a transfer already.

SEASON CHANGE. It is definitely fall: the weather is crisp in the mornings, and it's getting darker WAAAYYY too early.  Daylight savings can't come soon enough.  And at General Conference next weekend, our schedule switches back to regular schedule -- waking up at 6:30 and going to bed at 10:30.  I like that schedule better.

GRATITUDE. I'm thankful for the routine parts of the week -- District Meeting, Pday, church.  Every week I think "Wow, it's {insert activity} again!"  It's surreal.  I did an exchange with a "dying missionary" -- he goes home in 9 days.  It was weird being with him, since he's so close to going home, all excited.  Then he says I'm not all that far away from that, which doesn't help.

Have a great fall, and get psyched for General Conference!  Love you!
Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Knuckle Cracking and Making Our Mothers Proud

Hello again!

TEACHING GOALS.  Another week has passed, believe it or not.  So in trying to hit our 21-lesson goal for last week, we got up to 14 lessons.  Which was much better than the lesson counts I've gotten over the last several weeks, so I was excited about that!  And that was with 8 lessons being cancelled on us (In Italian, "bidone" means trash can.  Missionaries say we got bidone if we show up but the interested party does not.  8 no-shows.  Boooo!)

But as a missionary, the culmination of your week is Sunday at church, where you see if the people you are working with have come to church, where you set up "encounters" with church members, and make everyone feel welcome.  So in spite of our many lessons, nobody came to church, which was disappointing.  But there is always this week.  I am proud of our work last week.  Now the challenge is to keep it up.

BEHIND THE SCENES. I'm always amazed at how much background work goes on in the church.  Sacrament preparation is one obvious aspect of that, but also missionaries getting people to church, ward council, correlation meeting, and that's just misisonary meetings.  Also, these background preparations are only obvious when they DON'T work right.  On Gospel Library we can download Handbook 2: Administering the Church.  I've skimmed through that just to see some of the guidelines of the church (not quite as intently as I have read the Dungeons & Dragons, or Magic rule books...).  It's pretty in-depth.  Then there's Handbook 1, which is private to Bishops, Stake Presidents, etc., which would cover those issues that the rest of us don't have to worry about.

SPIC AND SPAN.  We had apartment inspections today, which in theory happen once a quarter, checking for cleanliness and to see if we are missing items.  I have been inspected 3 times now, so it's not very regular.  Anyway the senior couple said, "Your mothers would be proud."  So you can be proud of your missionary son's cleanliness!  The only things noted were: 2 beds were missing slats, a couple of broken chairs (cheap plastic ones), and we need to clean off the grease from above the stove.  We're pretty on top of our cleaning once a week.

I bet that's harder at home now, with only Kara around to help clean.  In a few years you can move to your dream house in warm Arizona and not bother with renovations and large houses anymore.  How does that sound! :P  (Side note from Mom: When Frank and I think of a "dream house" in a "dream location," we are at a loss.  Thus far, we have no plans whatsoever for our "empty nest" in 3 years.)

TECHNOLOGY. OR NOT. Congrazzles on having smart phones.  I have a flip phone, with 10-digit texting.  It's inconvenient.
 And, I have never had an Instagram, so I don't know what that's like.  But I'm sure it's nice to keep up with TK and Kara.  Dad has always beat me in technology know-how, but right now I'm especially far behind!  I hear facebook is dying down, but I don't know.  It's very strange.

Pday today is stopping by a couple of Nerd Shops I heard about, to be in a familiar atmosphere.  We went to the Medici Castle last week, which was pretty neat.  I liked it better than the Uffizi, since it wasn't all Madonne and repetitive.  It took about 2 hours at my (slower) museum speed.  Unfortunately on Pdays, we can't leave the zone.  So although Pisa and Cinque Terre and Modena and Siena are close, we don't go there.  We can go to basically Prato, Pistoia, Firenze, and Montevarchi.  And the areas just around them.  We can't even do San Gimignano (beautiful town by Florence) because it's in the next zone.  So if you see something I can do in those cities, let me know.

ANNOYING HABITS.  You'll be pleased to know I don't crack my knuckles anymore.  Or my neck.  Knees sometimes (I'll join Dad's club).  All of those are ongoing projects, but very much improved.

We have a bunch of youth at English class who said they'll come to church, so we'll see how that goes.  I would be stoked to teach them the gospel, but they could also simply want to do English class.  Vediamo (we'll see).

Love you!
Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Angels, White Shirts and Liquorice Fudge

(Side note from Mom: Angela, our "adopted daughter," is our good, good family friend.  She graduated from Wayland High School the same year as David, then her parents moved back to Taiwan.  She is studying abroad for her junior year of college, in...Florence!  She is actually in the same congregation David is assigned to as a missionary right now, at least until he gets transferred.  She says, "I keep telling people that I picked Florence long before David got his mission call..."  She arrived in Florence about 10 days ago, but sick.  That's background for David's first story.)

Each week I jot down a few notes of things I want to send to people in emails, and this week was about being forced to change, or rather, growing through pressure.

COMMUNICATION MISSES.  So the week started out with an email from Angela, saying how she is sick and needs a blessing. I think ok, and I email back thinking it's just a minor cough or something, not to worry.  Late on Pday I get another email: it's bronchitis and she's had it for a week, and needs help sooner rather than later.  So communication being lame, since I have a dumbphone and no address for her, and I'm gone all day to a conference, I can only contact one of the youth in the ward with a smartphone, and get him to contact her to get me her phone number.  Apparently that was the wrong number, then later we contact her with the right number, and she says that through she has contacted the other missionaries and got one of them to give her a blessing.

So I was left feeling defeated--I'm glad it was solved, but I felt kind of useless.  It was a silly situation, making me feel like there was some obvious thing I missed (Google "xkcd: have you tried knocking; Dad, you'll feel this applies to you sometimes...)

In any case, Angela is good...we saw each other at church.  Her voice is raspy but she's alive.  And, I got the church magazines you sent with her, thanks!  Also the lemonade story letter.

STEP IT UP.  At the new missionary training, they focused on what President Kearon had said -- attacking the day, planning ahead, as well as general mission life in Italy: rules, budgeting, etc.  The invite was to get a 21-lesson week this week.  We've been averaging about 10 lessons a week, so that would really be stepping it up.

So I made a lot of calls, had things planned out before-hand, and am learning useful skills now that I have to work at a higher level.  Because what President Dibbs said made me think: I haven't changed much in Firenze so far.  I need to step it up to grow this area.

This has led to more calls, using finding time more productively, calling members ahead for lessons, and a few things I've struggled with.  Those include calling outside my comfort zone (other than the members I'm used to calling), calling in advance rather than procrastinating until the day before, and not holding off on calls until I know more or have called some other person who's not picking up.  So progress through change (a conference talk from awhile ago) is good for you.

RANDOM FOOD ITEM.  After I finish the list at the grocery store, and I want something different, I look around...this time I got Liquorice Fudge.  English liquorice may have alcohol, as opposed to licorice, which is fine, but I checked the ingredients and this fudge was fine.  I got it, and it's delicious.  And there was much rejoicing. :)

Mom, to answer your questions:
BIKE REPORT.  The bike is fine.  I actually gave it to my companion Anziano Liu, since he's a bigger guy and that's the sturdy bike.  My current bike is sketchy.  It looks classic and is very basic, no gears...and only one brake.  The other snapped.  I need to get that fixed sometime.

ITALIAN FOOD I LIKE.  Italian tortellini/ravioli is good.  Lazagna is good.  I think Italian food is just whatever an Italian makes...much of the food here is "Italian."  Panino is just a grilled sandwich.

My personal study has focused on increasing my scriptural awareness, with scriptures on various topics being easier to reference, like Families, Faith, Prayer, etc.  I'm also reading the New Testament.

BAPTISM.  Also, Henry baptized Julia, it was great!  A lot of Peruvians showed up to the baptism and we had a party.  It was neat to watch him (the ordinance was in Spanish) since he practiced a bunch beforehand.  He was concerned about getting it right. :D

ANGELS IN WHITE SHIRTS.  And Mom, we fixed an old couple's tire.  We were biking past, and see them on the side of the road.  We pull over and ask if they need help, though it's obvious the tire is flat.  They accept, and we do it in about 10 minutes (5, once we find the wrench and tire jack), white shirts and all.  They are very grateful, and as we fix the tire they are talking on the phone. Their friend was looking for a mechanic for them, but they told him, "Two angels stopped, and they're fixing the tire right now."  So thanks for teaching me how to fix a flat!

Love, Anziano Whitesell

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Good Habits, Gratitude and Overcoming Obstacles

LEARNING TO TRAIN. Trainers work with "greenies" (brand-new missionaries) for 2 transfers, so 3 months.  It's a little weird, now that I'm older than my companions age-wise and more relatively.  I'm in my 10th transfer, and then the others in my district are 8, 5, 3, 2, 1.  But I'll confer what wisdom I have on "my greenie!"

Anziano Kormylo was very outgoing, a Type-A personality, so even though I was more experienced, we talked about the same amount.  Now, with Anziano Liu, I'm the outgoing one, besides knowing the language better, so I'm the one prompting him to talk.  We also do role plays so he can learn more, and I encourage him to teach in lessons.

For example, yesterday we found a name in the area book (record of people contacts in the area over time).  We set up an appointment and met him at the church, and he seemed legit.  Not wanting to mess up this first encounter, I had to fight the urge to teach the whole lesson myself, and skip the 10 points and baptismal invite, so as to avoid scaring him away.  But I resisted, and let Anziano Liu teach his parts as planned, switching off, refraining from correcting everything although I did re-explain some pieces.  It went well!  It was a testimony-builder for me, of teaching as a companionship and using the inspired Preach My Gospel (teaching manual).

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE.  We met with a Muslim man a couple of days ago.  Obviously you have to be careful when you teach Muslims, because A) they tend to be pretty "set" in their beliefs, and B) if they were to convert to Christianity, it could be very dangerous for them.  But we met with this one, who was referred to us by the sister missionaries, and we talked.  We gave him a Book of Mormon, and ... he gave us a Quran.  Whaaat? Yep, the whole thing is in Italian, and "Interpretation of the Last 10th of the Quran" in English.  It's just a novelty to have, like a Jehovah's Witness Bible, or a Scientology book, like collectibles.  Silly missionaries.  But it was a surprise to receive his gift!

SIDE NOTE: We usually use the word "investigator" to describe someone who is investigating the church and learning the gospel of Jesus Christ. They're just not baptized yet.  We had a conference recently, and the speaker brought up how strange a word "investigator" is!  Instead, I'll use the French method, of calling them "friends."

OVECOMING OBSTACLES. One of our friends we're working with is from Albania.  He went back there for 2 weeks, and while he was there he stopped smoking.  I don't remember if I told you about him already, but he's worth mentioning again.  Having overcome that obstacle (, that's a Big Deal), he wants to be baptized.  We're planning on the 26th.  That is an exciting development!

Julia's baptism is this Saturday.  Looking forward to that.

TRAINING for ALL. At the conference, our focuses were Planning (deciding how best to use each day), and Attacking the Day, by exercising, breakfasting, being up on time, being to studies and out the door on time.  Along the lines of that Marine's talk about making your bed. It was inspiring.  And, I saw some missionary friends from these 14 months, and it was a good time.

My best time of the day is whenever things are planned.  Other than "finding" activities (looking for people who are interested in learning about our Savior) or phone calls, that is.  I can "find" just fine, and in spite of bad habits (wandering sometimes instead of finding), it is a time-filling activity, if not particularly engaging.  So, having Ward Council (a meeting discussing the needs in the congregation and how we can help meet those needs), or teaching lessons, or teaching English class...all of those activities are nice parts of my day.

BEING THANKFUL.  I'm grateful that I can speak the language. And that I have cool people in the district, and cool zone leaders.

ADVICE FOR NEW MISSIONARIES. I would tell new missionaries to be prepared to talk to a loooooooooooot of people.

Love you, you guys are amazing,
Anziano Whitesell

P.S. Let me tell you about Saldi.  It's Sale Month, twice a year in July and February.  Prices are slashed all around, and missionaries go to town!  Shoes, suits, ties, jackets: SALDI.  So the nice suit I got? 100Euros.  I didn't feel the need to get Boggi, even if they dropped their prices to 600Euros. Not impressed.