Like Sardines, or The “Malachi” Effect

11 Feb 2013

“…prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”    Malachi 3:10

Dear All,

Thank you so much for your letters! I love it here at the MTC, and I’m learning so much, but some days get discouraging and nothing cheers me up more than remembering that I have a loving family and friends to support and cheer me on. Thank you 🙂 .

Provo is still cloaked in a crisp cover of snow, but around the MTC things just keep heating up: when I arrived, there were about 2500 missionaries here. Now there are 4000 – with more on their way! Because so many of them are sisters, we’re now squeezing extra bunkbeds into our rooms. The lunchroom and laundry are packed to the rafters night and day, and have descended into a sort of anarchy. But the ranks are growing and that’s what matters: if waiting in line for 15 minutes in exchange for stale toast and dodgy eggs will help prepare the earth for the Second Coming, then I’ll gladly tighten my belt.  😉

Please forgive me for taking some “poetic licence” in that description, I was only served a dodgy egg on one occasion (it wasn’t badly cooked, so much as it was completely uncooked. It was literally a raw egg…). Honestly, the food and facilities are great: we get weekly temple trips, visits from General Authorities, not to mention Lucky Charms cereal and pistachio pudding on demand. What a blessing! It’s all flying by too fast (I only have a few more weeks here).

The language is challenging (in a good way), but little by little it’s coming.  Frankly, I’m astonished at the vocabulary we’ve amassed in little more than 20 days, and we see the evidence of the gift of tongues every day. Our first investigator (that’s missionary jargon for a person who is investigating the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Church), Jaro, accepted the invitation to be baptised (yay! ) . He then admitted that he is really one of our teachers! We’ve now begun teaching Braňo (our other teacher’s alter ego), and hope to challenge him to baptism tomorrow, after teaching him about the Restoration. We also teach members of the Church, who kindly volunteer to be our guinea pigs while we practice our language and teaching skills. One of whom is actually from Slovakia, rather than an American who has returned from a mission there! She says that we speak well, and she is sure we will move the work forward in her homeland.

I feel so honoured and excited to be called to Slovakia! We just received word today that the Book of Mormon (or rather, Kniha Mormonova) has finally been released in the Slovak language, after years of struggle and opposition. What a blessing for the saints there to finally – just this week – read and understand those inspired words in their mother tongue.

Last night (Sunday), we listened to a talk Elder Bednar gave in the MTC a couple years back entitled “The Character of Christ”. He quoted Mosiah 3:19, and explained how coming unto Christ means becoming like Him.

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” Mosiah 3:19

When the “natural man” would turn inward, searching for praise and sympathy and acclaim, the Saviour instead turned outward in love for others. Even on the cross, He asked for His mother to be taken care of, did missionary work in speaking to the two thieves, and prayed for His tormentors to be forgiven. Elder Bednar told us: “This mission is not about you. Get over yourself! You don’t get results because you want them:  you help others become converted when you lose yourself in loving others.” I am beginning to feel that every day is an invitation to recognise my own weakness, rely on the Lord, and take a baby step closer to Him. This mission is the hardest and best thing I have ever done – I have so much to live up to, but the Saviour’s grace gives me courage to face it.

Viem že Ježiš Kristus je náš Spasitel. Boh je náš Nebesky Otec ; on počuje a odpoveda náše modlitby. Kniha Mormonova je slovo bôžie, a nam prináša bližšie Bohovi ako ktorýkoľvek daiši kniha. Joseph Smith bol prorok Boha, a Thomas S. Monson je povolaný Boha aby viesť Jeho eirkev dnes. Iba spôsob dostávať trvale šťastie je prostrednictvom viery v Ježiša Krista a Jeho uzmierenia, pokánia, krstu a daru Ducha Svätého, a vytrvania až do konca.

Thanks again for your support!

Love always,

Sestra Jones

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The Days Are Just Packed!

It’s that special time of the week again, my ½ hour allotment of computer-assisted communications! So here we go, 30 minutes of speed typing!

Some of you have asked about my experiences here at the Missionary Training Center, so I’ll try to give you just a little taste of it.

 My week in brief:

 Tuesday I got a lovely letter from my family, which included a printout of some Facebook updates posted by friends and family, so nice!

Wednesday, I also received a letter from home; a complete and utter Godsend, thanks Mom! I had been feeling so discouraged that day (frustrated with myself for not teaching better, not studying more, struggling to communicate with companions, being late, and then feeling guilty about feeling discouraged instead of trusting the Lord to strengthen me! Whew!).  Your words were just what I needed to hear. Most days are brilliant, but it’s a roller coaster (as those of you who have been here will know). 🙂

I’m starting to get into the routine – which is fun but in a way is a bad thing! Sometimes I find myself feeling too relaxed and struggling to keep language and scripture study a focused experience every day. Also, some days I struggle to be in tune with the Spirit: I go to so many Devotionals and spend so much time studying the scriptures that one would expect I feel the Spirit 24/7. Yet sometimes I’m just going through the motions. Finally, working and teaching together with both my companion, and our other classmate is sometimes a tough balancing act. I think a threesome is far more challenging to manage smoothly than working in pairs, especially considering the language barrier (we have different mother tongues, and on top of that, we’re all trying to speak Slovak to each other!).

I’m doing my best, and loving it overall – the bitter just helps me recognise the sweet! But feel free, my dear friends and family, to offer your sage counsel, cunning advice, or handy tips! This “greenie” can use all the help she can get. 😉

Thursday was a sunny Valentine’s Day (pansies starting to bloom, and Spring tingling in the air), and our whole District (Czech/Slovak classes) spent the day leaving notes and candies on each other’s desks. Here’s what Elders H and P wrote:

“Roses are red,

violets are blue,

We can’t flirt with the sisters,

But we still love you!”

And the most exciting news of the day:  Kniha Mormonova (the Book of Mormon) was finally released in Slovak last week! Our teachers read out letters from missionaries in the field, describing the tears that were shed and the spirit felt as it was presented to Slovak people for first time. Miracles are already occurring, and I can’t wait to get out there and be a part of it.

That night we taught members of the Church in the Teaching Resource Center (a facility where nice people volunteer to help us practice our language and teaching skills) – it was fabulous! Natalia (a native slovak) had an actual copy of Kniha Mormonova, that she showed us. We’re still waiting on our copies.

Natalia gave me some very kind and touching words of praise and encouragement after our session, saying that it actually moved her to tears of joy to hear me read from the Slovak Book of Mormon, telling me “You are going to be a great help for the people in Slovakia”, and even calling my Slovak “perfect”. An exaggeration of course, but reassuring nonetheless!

Sunday blew me away – it was so great! We had a wonderful fireside (that’s Church jargon for an evening meeting. In the old days, it would actually have been held by the fireside) on having faith to perform miracles. Welshman Dan Jones was held as an example of fiery faith, as when he was serving as a missionary in his native land back in the 1840s and ‘50s, he would enter a city and make a public announcement that he was there to convert the whole city, so “be ready for me”! It brought tears to my eyes to hear of Wales…awww, my home: ).

Also, it was so cold in the mountains that some deer came down, jumped the fence and pranced around in the MTC grounds a bit before being herded out!

I’ve been praying lately to know what the Lord wants me to learn during my experience as a missionary. I feel that I need to learn how the Spirit works: develop a listening ear. I need to develop charity: lose myself in the work and learn to care more about others, rather than just myself. I also need to take this chance to become more humble and truly rely on the Lord in all things. More and more, Helaman 3:35 is becoming my mission theme.

“Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.”

But not forgetting Proverbs 17:22!

“ A merry heart doeth good like a medicine…”

Any advice on these topics would be much appreciated!

Today (Monday) is awesome so far (blueberry pancakes for breakfast – how could it not be?), and I was able to spend some time serving in the temple. It was so lovely; being right next to the Provo temple is a huge blessing.

 Some Random Awesome stuff:  It’s a small world, after all! I met an Elder T from Helsinki, Finland – apparently he’s friends with my cousin J! There’s another Finnish elder in Greek class down the corridor, and naturally, he knows my Finnish relatives too. The Greek class also has a Swedish Elder from Orebro. He said my Swedish is still really good, and asked how I’ve kept it up. I responded that I still watch the Swedish tv channel’s Christmas mini-series for children every December, on the internet.

“Hur har du behallt det?” “Julkalendern!” 😉

HIS companion is Elder S from the Leeds area (also going to Greece). I introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Sister Jones”. He says, “Yeah, I know, from ___________.” I say: “???!!”. Turns out he and his family visited our Branch in summer 2011. 😀 Crazy right? Ok, one more: I met Sister M from Colorado, going to Manchester England Mission, speaking Chinese Mandarin. Look out for her in Bangor next month! 😉

Here’s a mini Slovak lesson: Ne mi s’kodit’! (Don’t hurt me!) Ako s’ef (like a boss). Fiha! or Fuha! (Oh my goodness!) Najus’lachtivejs’ie  ( the most noble.)

Drat! I’ve overrun my time, but next week marks the half-way point in my studies here, so it’ll be the perfect time to give you more juicy details of MTC life!

Lots of love and missionary-appropriate hugs,

Sestra Jones

 

Trailblazers

Trailblazers

Sestra Jones and her companion Sestra B (far right) are the first sisters ever to learn Slovak in the Missionary Training Center, paving the way for all the other sisters soon to follow. Currently, there is only one other missionary learning Slovak, Starsi C, who is pictured with them here. The other missionaries in their group are learning the Czech language.

Czech-Slovak Mission in the Press

Czech-Slovak Mission in the Press

A recent news article in Pritomnost”, a Czech publication, highlights the work of “Mormon missionaries” in the Czech Republic, and the remarkable growth of the Church there. It asks, “Why? What does the Mormon Church have keeping it afloat while many other Christian churches are sinking to extinction?” As soon as she gets over there, our Sestra Jones will be happy to tell them! :

http://www.pritomnost.cz/en/society/333-growth-of-mormonism-in-the-czech-republic

“…statisticians predict that over 90 percent of Czechs will be irreligious by 2050. Membership in the Roman Catholic Church – still the number one religious affiliation in the country – as well as the Evangelical and Hussite churches has been steadily decreasing by half in each of the past three censuses. The promise of religious growth is looking miraculous to believers across the nation, except for those wearing black nametags on the pockets of their suit jackets.

These 20-year-old men (and women!) in suits are missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints …the LDS Church is one of very few Christian churches that have, since their inception, steadily increased their membership. There are 14.4 million Mormons in the world, 2,300 of whom were baptized in the Czech Republic….

If the Church continues to increase its membership by 70 people each year, it could become one of the most widespread religious affiliations by the irreligious doomsday of 2050 with just 5000 members.

The big question is: Why? What does the Mormon Church have keeping it afloat while many other Christian churches are sinking to extinction?

… the LDS Church has been around longer than the recent media buzz and economic crises. Missionaries have been teaching in the Czech Republic since 1884, when Thomas Biesinger became the first missionary to visit Prague. Anthon Just, a man who testified against Biesinger in a trial that led to his arrest for preaching, later became the first Czech member of the Church. For the next hundred years, membership grew despite the rise of communism and totalitarian regimes, which prevented the Church from sending official missionaries.

According to President Irwin, many of the people who hold leadership positions today in the Czech and Slovak missions joined the Church as young single adults in Brno through the teachings of Otakar Vojkuvka in the late 20th century.

“The Church was not allowed to function during communist times, but the Church grew during that time much to the credit of a man by the name of Otakar Vojkuvka. He ran yoga classes, but they weren’t only yoga classes,” President Irwin said. “They would do yoga and then Otakar Vojkuvka would teach the principles of the gospel without the Book of Mormon. And when he could see that people were really attracted to it, he’d tell them where those principles were from.”

Those who wished to join the Church would go to the woods late at night and find a pond, where Vojkuvka would baptize them. The now-president of the Prague Branch, Martin Pilka, and his wife joined the Church through Vojkuvka’s yoga group. President Pilka then became the first Czech to serve a two-year mission…”

Follow the link to read this fascinating article in full!

http://www.pritomnost.cz/en/society/333-growth-of-mormonism-in-the-czech-republic

My Journey Begins

Editor’s note: Full-time missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints typically begin their missionary service with a brief period of intensive training and study, and depending on the assignment, language instruction. There are 15 Missionary Training Centres (MTC) worldwide, the largest of which is located on the outskirts of of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, U.S.A.

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/topic/missionary-training-centers

Full-time missionaries of the Church are typically addressed by the titles “Elder” (for men) or “Sister” (for women). The Slovak equivalents are “Starsi” and “Sestra”. They generally work in pairs, referred to as a “companionship”. One exciting and enriching aspect of serving as a missionary is working with companions from many different lands and walks of life, but all sharing a common faith.Image

All called to serve in the Czech/Slovak Mission

28 January 2013

Hello Everyone!

Thank you so much for your messages, help, and kind well wishes!

Today is my first Preparation Day. (In LDS missionary jargon, that just means the one day in the week with working hours set aside specifically for attending to necessary housekeeping, errands, and personal rejuvenation. Think of it as a missionary’s Saturday).

I just got back from a session at the Provo Temple, and am currently writing from the Missionary Training Center’s basement / laundry room / computer lab. I only have 30 minutes every Monday to write messages, so I’ll do my best to respond to those who have written to me, but please forgive me if I am not able to respond personally to each one. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing, and wish I had more time to write back.

I love it here! My French companion – Sestra B – and I share a room with Sestri  D and R who are learning Czech. There are two other sisters and four elders also learning Czech, but the two of us and Starsi  C are the only ones currently learning Slovak.

We’ve taught our first investigator (Jaro) twice now – in Slovak!  We know he’s just an actor hired by the MTC, but the practice is invaluable so I’ll gladly buy the illusion. We’ve given him a Book of Mormon and he accepted the challenge to pray, but I’m still not sure we’re meeting his needs. Third lesson tonight – we just lack the vocab to understand the challenges he says he’s experiencing. Wish us luck!

This place is like a beehive: currently 2500 missionaries here, but that number will triple by the summer (growth mostly from sisters)! Because of this, we’ll only have 3 weeks in the field before we have to become trainers. I’m praying that I’ll be prepared by the time my 9 weeks here are up.

Awesome stuff: The ground is covered in lovely packing snow and Sister Burton (Relief Society General President) led our RS meeting yesterday.

Funny stuff: the fire alarm went off @ 21:45 last night (someone on second floor burning popcorn) so sisters in towel turbans and PJs hung out in main building singing Primary songs until allowed to go to return @ 22:20. Next thing speakers come on: “Sisters, 22:30 bedtime is still in force.” It’s a rough life. 😉 Vending machines here are full of American heart disease candy: Pizza Bites, Pop Tarts, chimichangas, and Fat Boys. Can’t help but laugh!

Must close now but will try to write again soon. Love you lots!

Sestra Jones