Monday, August 31, 2015

Pics: Visit to a United Nations building

Transfer calls are scary...

Hola everyone!

The mission is still good! We ate some more with members this week and they're hilarious, especially the people last night. I didn't realize central missionaries are in strengthening the ward by visiting recent converts, less actives, and doing their best to unite families. It's a fine goal, to be sure :)

We had district meeting on Thursday which was actually zone meeting because it's a small zone, so we can all get together relatively easily. That was super fun, we played loup-garou again and I ate a ton of bread. The next day was transfer calls which come later for Geneva Zone, so it was super hard to focus on studies that morning. We thought at first that I'd be staying in St-Genis, but after an exceedingly (long?) phone call from one of the other Chinese missionaries, we suspected I'd be leaving for Lyon to do Chinese work là-bas. Finally Président called and told us that the Lord was very happy with our work in St-Genis so far and that we'd both be staying right where we were. Muchly stressful, but I'm happy to still be here for a number of reasons! There's still a bunch of stuff I haven't done yet in Suisse (almost none of the missionaries actually say Switzerland, still Franglais all the time), (but) also we actually have people to teach! We taught one of our amies the Rétablissement (Restoration) and she accepted baptism! :D We set it for two days before the next transfer so we're really going to work to keep them on track just in case one of us gets transferred out. Super exciting :)

I'm in Geneva right now at the Institute and have pretty much (been) in this city all day, we went to the Reformer's Wall, played giant chess (like 2 foot-tall pieces), saw the Botanical Gardens, and finally went to the United Nations! It was really cool, reminded me of going to Washington DC. They have a lot of assembly rooms where some really important talks have happened, it's fun to see that and imagine the history. Hoping some day to go to "real Switzerland" because apparently Geneva doesn't count. A ton of people here aren't even Swiss, they've just lived here their whole lives because their parents work for the UN or CERN, so a ton of people speak perfect English along with perfect French and often German or Italian too just for kicks. A lot of signs are in English too, it's a little disorienting after being in France most of the time.

To answer some questions about my work here: I do all my proselyting work in St-Genis and the surrounding area, so Sergy, Thoiry, Pouilly, et cetera. If you go up towards Gex and Cessy, that's the other Elders' sector whose apartment we stay at on Saturday nights because they live right next to the church. I've been corrected, Americans actually can proselyte in Suisse but just aren't allowed to live there. There are Americans in our zone who do all their work in Geneva, there are (is) a Spanish ward and an English ward there. The way we've explained it to people is that I'm in this area to work on my French before I go to start Chinese work elsewhere, but honestly I don't know yet why I got assigned here. I trust there's a reason though! Elder Pien does speak Chinese, he got called French-speaking but he is of Chinese origin and lived in Taiwan for six years when he was younger.

Today at UN and at the gare (train station) in Geneva we spoke a little Chinese, we try to almost every time we see a Chinese person. We've contacted a couple in St-Genis, but for the most part they're not interested. Oh well, guess I'll be working on French for the next six weeks too! We ate at our apartment mostly, but we're trying to eat dinner with members as much as possible. It's nice to get that variety because for lunch before we head out proselyting it's always a choice between pasta or couscous, but nothing else. Elder Pien is good at making sauce though, so it's not a problem :) he's super cool, been playing piano and cooking since he was six. Really helpful for meals and for the branch because they need piano players. There's about 70 active members in the branch, we meet in the same building as the Gex ward.

This Thursday evening Elder Pien and I head to Lyon for Blues Conference which should be super fun, I'll get to see the people I entered the MTC with way back in June. Greenies are called blues here because they just are. It's the French term for someone that's new at something, or so I've heard. Some things I just have to get used to and not question too much, there's a ton of inside jokes I'm not in on yet because I haven't seen the restoration video in French :P

I went on exchanges for the first time on Wednesday which was awesome! I was with one of the Zone Leaders, Elder Lister from Idaho. He's super cool and it's great to see how he and Elder Pien are very different but both good missionaries. It is possible to be a missionary and still be yourself, you just have to find the balance. While I was with Elder Lister, we found an awesome guy from Comoros who says he's not interested in changing religions, but he seems to really like what we have to say so we're meeting with him again this week. On the bus we met a physicist from Turkey, super nice guy with whom I traded a temple card for a business card, and we also had a good conversation with a guy from Crete. You meet all kinds of people on the bus because they all work at CERN and good scientists come from all over the world. My kind of place :)

I have to finish up now but I love you all and the Church is true! If you have the chance, go watch an old Church-made movie called "How Rare a Possession," the two main stories are both great reminders of the power of the Book of Mormon. Having grown up with it it seems normal to me, but I have to remind myself that it's truly life-changing. If you pay attention to it and let it change your life, you will truly understand that God loves His children, He wants what's best for them, and He will never leave you. I know that's true and I invite you all to read it and pray about it, whether for the first time or the hundredth.

Ōuzhōu hên bàng,

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Tallest Perk in Europe

Wow I love puns.

I'd been looking toward the east for a while now trying to catch a glimpse of it and finally, there it was! Earlier this week Elder Pien and I were sitting at the CERN bus station outside Geneva when I finally saw Mont Blanc, sans clouds. It was more or the less the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Tallest peak in Europe and you can see it from where we're serving, it's crazy. The Gex Elders (whose apartment we stay at on Saturday nights because they live right next to the church building) live on the 4th floor and have an amazing view of Mont Blanc on clear days; I don't know how that place doesn't cost about a million euros. So Mom, I know you love the mountains in Utah but personally, I prefer the Alps ;)

We went working the other day in Thoiry, a little place nestled up against les Juras (small mountain range right next door to us), and I decided it's one of my favorite small towns ever. It's super quaint and super French, walking around there feels like I just stepped into a WWII movie (minus the violence, bien sûr).

The work is slowly progressing! We've been finding new people to teach through street contacting and in friends of members, but mostly we're trying to focus on strengthening less-actives. There's quite a few of them and we need them all to be strong in the Church if this branch is to accomplish their goal of becoming a ward in three years!

We ended up having dinner with families every day Monday-Friday last week. I had raclettes a second time, but that time it was complete with an appetizer of canteloupe, then the raclettes, then a salad course with vinegar, olive oil, and salt, and then dessert of apple pie (not French but still yummy). So good. The night after that was Elder Pien's birthday, and we happened to be eating with a family whose mother is Spanish and father is Cuban, so it was a total fiesta :D It was awesome! And the family was super nice and made Chinese food for us because of course, Elder Pien is Chinese/Taiwanese/Canadian and I wear a Chinese nametag everyday (people still get very confused looks on their face when they notice). The noodles definitely had a European twist, it was really good. Oh and for lunch that day, again in honor of the birthday boy, we went to a Chinese buffet down the road that was super cheap and super good. I love food!

I feel like I had so much to talk about and now I don't remember any of it. Bummer :/

One thing I learned this week is that you have to keep a Christlike perspective on every situation during your mission or it's just not going to feel right. We ported into a guy a couple days ago who we thought wouldn't be interested in our message because few people are, but we ended up standing on his porch for quite a while talking to him. However, we stayed too long because all he wanted to do was prove us wrong. He was really quite cordial and there was no animosity, but he had lost any hope that he'd ever had of God existing. Our conversation went nowhere, but once we finally left we had quite the discussion about how people will only see miracles and only have faith if they have a desire to believe (see Alma 32:27). The man we talked to had no hope, so he turned away and no longer had a desire to know God. Sometimes people think that if they pray once to know if God exists, he will send a lightning bolt or an angel or that God himself will come down and say "Here I am! Believe in me!" But that's not how it works. The Lord works in small, subtle, and mysterious ways to help us grow and learn to trust Him. Always remember that if you have truly prayed with sincerity of heart and have a desire to gain an answer but feel like you're not getting one, it's not because He doesn't answer. Odds are you're just looking in the wrong place; nobody but God is perfect after all. Trust in God to guide you and He will! I wish I could remember everything I wanted to tell you but it'll have to wait for another time.

Dieu vous aime!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It's not all baguettes and sunflowers, but it's still France (and Switzerland)!

Well the first week has come and gone and it was absolutely a first week. 

First to clarify, my preparation day is in fact still Monday but I forgot to bring the iPad to the Institute building in Geneva yesterday which meant I couldn't write an email. Good thing we got to make it up today! 

I've done a few days of work and to be perfectly honest the work is hard! I figured it would be, but I didn't know how. I thought my French was better than it was, but it's always good to be humbled. I've been told by multiple French people that I don't have an American accent which is really nice to hear, but it doesn't change the fact that I understand very little of what people say and only sometimes can I express what I want to say when I do understand enough to come up with a valid response. Because the language barrier is affecting my ability to communicate, it's affecting my ability to be outgoing and thereby diminishing my confidence. I know I've only been here a week, I just have to give myself time to adjust and really dive into Gospel study and 100 percent obedience to mission rules. The more I show my commitment to God and His work, the more He will bless me to be able to help His children. I heard that testimony from several people in the MTC, now I just have to apply it in my own life. Prayer works, I've seen it many times already and I'm confident that it remains true! 

The work is good though, don't get me wrong. We've met some really cool people in the branch and in the community and we recently taught a woman on the side of the road about prophets and gave her a Book of Mormon. We went porting the other day (faire la porte à porte, going door to door) in a neighborhood where everyone has an outer gate. We rang the "gate-bell" and the dude came out of his house, looked at us for about 1 second, then waved his arm in our direction and walked back inside. It was really funny, we had a good laugh over it. Mostly people are pretty nice! French people aren't rude, always remember that boys and girls. 

I'm almost out of time but really quickly, two things: 1) Dinner last night was awesome. We ate with our branch president we all made raclettes, which is chopped potato topped with melted cheese and eaten with ham. It's ridiculously simple, but wow super delicious. Les français know how to do food. We have dinner appointments almost every night this week (beginner's luck?) so that'll be super cool. 

I keep hearing how lucky I am to have started in Geneva Zone, although I don't know what's normal so I just roll with everything that comes our way. 

That leads me to number 2) Yesterday's preparation day activity! Our whole zone got together in Geneva (which still blows my mind) and took the train to the old mission home for the Switzerland Geneva Mission where we ate lunch and played Mafia (which in French is called loup-garou, or werewolf). After that we all hiked up a little ways to get a really pretty view of Lac Léman and then hiked back down to the lake itself. Four of the missionaries in our zone finish their missions this week, either tomorrow or this morning (like Elder Bollard, crazy to think that I only knew him for a few days and now he's done). I touched the water in Lac Léman so I can say I have. I'll send pictures later! 

Geneva is a really pretty city and really interesting, I'd like to spend more time there in the coming weeks although I'm not actually allowed to serve there because I'm American. That's why our zone has people from France, Germany, Austria, and England in it because only non-Americans can live and proselyte in Switzerland. Our zone is pretty close, it was fun to get to know people and see that there are most people like me all over the surrounding area and around the world all engaged in the work of God. The Church is true! The Book of Mormon is true and will bless your life more than you know! 

By the way, if you have questions about anything I say in my letters, feel free to shoot my parents an email and they'd be glad to help you understand what I'm talking about and what I'm up to :)