Monday, March 31, 2014

Leap of Faith

We had a zone conference in Geneva Switzerland this week. We got up at 4:45 to catch our 6:30 train (oh la la) and off we went! It was a zone conference of 5 zones (that's enormous! Lots of missionaries there.) President Roney spoke and told stories about Jesus. Every zone conference he starts out by telling story after story from the scriptures/with the scriptures about Jesus and how he works with his people. And instantly the Spirit comes. This time he talked about crises of faith. He started off by talking about how Bill Nye recently gave a talk at a conference where he scientifically explained that Noah's ark is not scientifically possible, what with the weight and the dimensions and all the animals, etc. And thus the Bible isn't real. And thus God doesn't exist. President talked about how many things there are in the Gospel and in the scriptures that science says are impossible. We as missionaries encounter that everyday--people logically explain themselves out of believing in God, or they can't believe more than what they can see, and therefore, there is no God. Often their explanations seem pretty dang sound to our logical minds (that's the worst when after contacting someone, you're like, "Uh, yeah, he has a good point. I have no idea why God took the gold plates back up/why there are so little evidences in the Bible about the apostasy/well EVERY religion says they're the true religion, etc etc etc"), and sometimes we're even tempted to give in to our doubts. But then we talked about the disciples during the Savior's death--imagine that you've been following around this man who professes to be the Savior of the world. Over the last few years you've seen him work miracles--walk on water, feed the multitudes, heal people, even raise people from the dead. And then that horrible week of the crucifixion, to watch this person who you've believed in, who you've trusted, be captured, beaten, and killed, and do nothing to save himself. To the logical mind, it would be so so easy to be ashamed, to think, "If he really were the Savior, why doesn't he save himself? This must mean he isn't who he said he was, and I was DUPED." To various degrees, some of the disciples did do this--recoil into the shadows out of puzzlement and embarrassment and doubt.

But then there's Joseph of Arimathea, who's this rich man who clearly has political power, and maybe up to this point hasn't done a whole lot to show his fidelity to the Savior. But in this crisis of faith, when by all worldly evidence, the Jews had proven Jesus wasn't the Savior because they were capable of killing him (What kind of a Savior lets himself get killed anyways? (see Hebrews 2 for the answer)), Joseph steps up. He goes to Pilate and uses whatever worldly weight he has and begs--begs--for the body of Jesus and lays it in his own tomb. In a moment when it would have been so easy to pull back and refuse to take a stand, sweet Joseph of Arimethea becomes a man of great faith.

We can think about Joseph of Egypt as well, who was in prison years and years and instead of the situation getting better, it just got worse and worse. What did he do wrong anyways? Surely if Joseph's God was the real God, he wouldn't have been stuck in such a base position for so long. Logically, Joseph's God isn't a very good God. Until, of course, God saves all of Egypt and all of Israel not just despite Joseph's position in prison, but because of Joseph's position in prison. When our life is illogical and when we are faced with crises of our faith, when all the world's logic says, "There is no God. The Book of Mormon isn't real. Jesus isn't the Christ." those are the happiest moments because it's in those moments when we get to step up and say, "I believe in Christ." and profess faith in the face of impossible odds. That is the kind of faith the Savior wants from his disciples. That is the kind of faith that somehow magically changes us into celestial beings. The Savior wants us to trust him, and to say that come what may, we will follow him.

After fishing all night, the apostles throw the nets over the side onemore time, at the word of the Master, and their ships start sinking for how many fish they pull in.

"You are asking me to take a leap of faith. You can't just tell a guy a message like that between 3 and 4 in the afternoon. I hope you realize the gravity and the importance of the message you have. I hope you realize the power you hold. You are literal angels. You have the faith to move mountains--literal mountains, yes, but more importantly mountains of ignorance and unbelief." (--what an ami said to Souer Hutchins this week, after learning our message that the Church of Jesus Christ is on the earth again)

Monday, March 24, 2014

It is wonderful this Gospel!


Getting off the metro to come write emails today, there were two kids with an accordion in the metro. I'm always tempted to ask them if I can play, but I just know as soon as I do, something bad is going to happen. Not sure what, but I feel a little weird playing the accordion as a missionary, so generally I've just chosen not to. Well today I decided what the heck I'll ask them. So I do and they don't speak French, so I sat by them and we tried to talk a little, and then they said I could and handed it over. And seriously no sooner had I unsnapped the buckle on top than a tall, professional man in a long peacoat and scarf comes up, pulls a card out of his pocket, flashes "AGENT" at us and says, "Do you know if is forbidden to solicit money in the metros?" Hahahaha, we smile and say, "We actually just got here and I asked him if I could play." He smiled too and all was well. But there you go. There are undercover anti-accordion agents on the metros of Lyon. 

We taught a beautiful woman out in her garden in the sunshine teaching her the Plan of Salvation and she about fell off her chair she was so happy to hear that she was going to be resurrected again and see her parents. She loves her parents a lot.  She is so full of light and faith in humanity and love for God. When we left, she clipped two yellow daffodils and a pink tulip from her garden and gave them to us, saying, "I usually never cut them."

Last week we got a text: "Hello Thomas S. Monson. I'd like to learn more about your church."
We have a new amis that came out of nowhere. He found our card on the bus one day and decided to call. And he's hungry to learn and so wonderful. All this time we've been thinking, "He is such a miracle! We're so cool to get to have this miracle blah blah blah" Come to find out yesterday that he is actually someone that our Gerland elders contacted several months ago, who just now decided to learn more, and happened to find our card. Our Gerland elders who worked so so hard last transfer and barely saw any fact, mostly just saw people they were teaching become disinterested or reject them. Turns out that most miracles are actually the result of someone's hard, hard work. There's something incredibly comforting and inspiring about that.

Favorite moment of the week was last night when we were just about to go into our apartment, we walked by a family of four and so we ran over to them and started a really funny conversation with them using the questionnaire ("Question One: Who is the cheif of the family?" They all laughed and pointed to their dad. "Question Two: Who in your family has influenced you the most?" They all laughed and pointed to their dad again.) Then another woman and her daughter came up and chipped in, and then it got real and the adults started talking about how much they loved their moms, and then we testified that families can be together after death, and the woman who had walked up halfway through steps forward really intense and says, "Tell me more about that. That interests me." They were all on their way to a party, but they wanted instead to stay and talk about the Plan of Salvation. We taught a lesson to that woman in the lobby of her apartment building and gave her a brochure. It was humbling to see how thirsty people are to know the truths we know.

It is wonderful this Gospel.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Four-Leaf, Four Questions

This week we had Fellowship of the Jedi Conference (where all the leaders come together from all corners of the country to learn how to be better missionaries for a day). It was AWESOME. We're doing this questionnaire now. It has four questions:

1 Do you think there are serious problems in the world today? 

2 Do you think it'd be a good idea to have the help of God today? 

3 Do you think it'd be a good idea if God talked today through prophets like he used to do? 

4 If God talked to us today, would you want to know what He said? 

President and the assistants presented it to everyone, then we all went out and practiced it for two hours! Oh my gosh it was wonderful. Imagine 35 missionaries all with this new tool that their President who they love just told them is what we're going to throw our whole hearts into for contacting. We were on fire. One missionary (Elder Dean, who is crazy.) got on the five-oclock rushhour-packed metro, stretched his arms out, and yells, "Hello everybody! Don't be afraid!!! We are the Mormon missionaries and we have some questions for you!" And then the group of 15 missionaries just went around from person to person ministering and loving and finding people ready to be taught. (Hahaha, they did say though that people were really afraid at first. Men reached over to protect their wives, etc. Never know what's gonna happen on the metros :) We're having fun with it. I don't know what it is but something about the questionnaire opens people up to actually talking about their feelings instead of feeling defensive right away.

So Sister Luthi and I are using only the questionnaire from now on in contacting and it's changing everything. We talk to way less people everyday, but the people we talk to actually want to see us again. They invite us over to talk to them about religion. One guy this week said he didn't believe in God at all and hated talking about religion, but because i had this questionnaire and because he was a nice guy he said he'd anwer the questions. With no effort on my part, he opened up about his family and how hard it is to raise children in this world and so forth. And when we got off the bus, he said, "I live right over there. Would you ilke to come over sometime to talk to me about religion and God?" And then on the busride back from there, I talked with a teenager who was atheist, but one question led to another, and I felt like I should ask him if there was a God who was all powerful and could do anything for him because He loved him, what he would ask God to do. He laughed and said, "To have blue eyes instead of brown." And then he got serious and paused for a long time, then turned to me and said, "To be able to see people again who have died. My mom's brother committed suicide when I was a child. I only have a few memories of him. I'd really like to see him again because I think he has things he could teach me." We're teaching him tonight.

An update on our delightful Catholic Buddhist ami: she came to church on Sunday and about died she was so delighted by everything. I have never seen anyone, member or nonmember, enjoy church so much. She was "ravi" by everything--the songs, the children, how much everyone smiled. And she was so concerned about doing things the right way. When I was taking her to meet the bishop, she said, "What do I call him?! Mon frere? Mon pere?! (like in the Catholic church) Monsieur??" Hahaha, "Nope, just by his name." And then she got to talk to President Roney for a little bit because he's in our ward and she loved that, oh my word. I guess the whole way home she was telling the member she went with how much she liked it. 

She is the epitome of sunshine. She fed us lunch this week and just bopped around serving us and talking to us about the adventures she's had in her life.

That's all I have time for. I love you so much! Read Ether 12: 4. The gospel is simple. Believe in Christ, then go be happy and do good.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

Across the Sidewalk

You know you're in France when...

Monochrome monochrome monochrome. French people wear lots of grays and blacks, but if they wear color, they go all out. We're talking whole monochrome outfits of purple, orange, blue, pink, you name it. This week I talked to a lady wearing four different shades of plum, saw a girl wearing neon green pants and a light neon green scarf (who knew there were so many types of neon greens), saw another woman all bedecked in beige/brown, and saw our young adult friend in a mint green sweater, olive green teeshirt, and forest green pants. It's classy. Try it.

Another great French ritual is the table clearing. We all sit around the table for dinner and someone brings each person a plate and utensils. We eat (usually the mom serves everyone at the table, and we wait until she has served everyone before we start eating). Then, after, someone (the dad or the teenager) goes from one person to the next, collecting their plates. He scrapes all the remnants of dinner onto one plate, then stacks all the plates, gathers all the silverware, and carries the stack back to the kitchen. This table clearing ritual ("debarassing la table") is fascinating to me. I can't remember what we do in the States, but I'm pretty sure it's not the French way. I like it here.

Stories about people:

Last Pday we went to the park (it's our favorite place). We played frisbee, ate some food, ran around like hooligans, and finished it all off with a jumproping competition. (Soeur Hutchins and I challenged our district to a jumproping competition at the end of the transfer.) So we've been out every morning training for it. And the elders have been like "Meh, we kinda tried. In our apartment. It's hard." We thought we had it in the bag. We jumped pretty decently. Then Elder Schneider and Elder Johnson are like, "Well, I guess we'll try." And then out of nowhere they SCHOOL us. I think Elder Johnson did 13 crossovers in a row without messing up. Apparently they'd been training every single morning. Hahaha, win. WIN. These are things that bring us joy.

While we were in the park we met a really nice Chinese couple. He spoke a little French, she spoke a little English, so we had a very broken conversation. They both said they were feeling a little lost in life and were looking for direction, and hence would like to learn about Jesus Christ. The girl was going back to China the next day (so we got her contact info), but the guy lives in Lyon, so we started meeting with him. He knows nothing about God. We explained who God was (kinda like Alma and Ammon do with the Great Spirit--God is a force, the power behind all things, etc. He could understand that.). He asked, "How can I know God?" (That kind of question more or less knocks a missionary off their chair, it's so beautiful.) He was like, "Wait, God exists? Can I find that out too? How?" He wants to feel closer to God, and we told him we can help him with that. He was like, "How much does it cost?" (Again, we about fell off our chairs with how real his intent was.) We taught him that praying is a way to feel close to God, taught him hox to pray, and invited him to start praying every morning and every night. And then at the end of our little lesson, we asked if it would be alright to finish with a prayer. We kneeled, and I was about to say the prayer, when he said, "Can I do it?" (Again, fall-off-chairs moment, except for we were already kneeling on the floor so...) He prayed. It was the first time he'd ever prayed. He starts, "Uh...Bonsoir Dieu..." We get to see the most pure sincere moments here.

Our next lesson with him, we introduced the Book of Mormon. It's a book of scriptures that helps us get to know God better. He read the title page (in Chinese) and we asked what he'd understood: "God exists. His Son saves us. This book explains that to us so we can believe too." He was so excited to start reading it.

Oh yes, and I got transferred! I've been in Gerland (Lyon) for 5 transfers now and I pretty much knew that I would be leaving after this transfer. Soeur Hutchins and I just laugh way too much to be together for long. We're creating a black hole of joy. :) So the day has finally come for me to leave Gerland. I'm moving (drumroll please) to Ecully! 

(laughing to myself, because this means absolutely nothing to you, but it's actually hilarious.)

Let me explain: Ecully is still Lyon. It's just a different ward. The only one I haven't served in here in Lyon. Sister Luthi and I are going to create a new sister training leader equipe there, so it's a bit more manageable for the sister training leaders. We'll have 7 equipes of sisters in our little group now instead of 11. It's going to make a huge difference. 

So in short, I've packed all my bags, and in approximately 30 minutes I'm going to take them all from my apartment in Gerland, down the metro escalator, take one metro line three stops away, and voila, fifteen minutes later I'm in my new secteur. 

It's essentially like living in Highland and getting transferred to Alpine.

But I love Lyon and I'm excited to change my approach to missionary work a little this next transfer. Last transfer we tried to do a lot of activities. This next transfer I'm going to spend as much time as possible knocking on doors and visiting people who were once taught. I want to be with people more.

I love you all! I'm getting deeper and deeper in this missionary thing. I might not come home. 



                                                                 OUR DISTRICT LOVE