Exciting Times

13 May 2013

Time is a fickle element: the more I want, the less I have, and while every day drags its feet, the weeks all fly by in a blur.

What exciting times we are having here! The last few days have been a spiritual feast, as we took part in a very special event in Trencin. There was a free concert on Friday evening,  and then the next morning we attended an early-morning devotional held by members of the Church and missionaries, to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the dedication of Slovakia (President Uchtdorf dedicated Slovakia for the preaching of the gospel in May of 2006, the same year that the Church gained official recognition from the government of the Slovak Republic).  It was an experience I will treasure: so many people invested so much time and effort to produce such an uplifting event.  Saturday morning’s procession from a memorial gravesite to the dedication site presented a sobering contrast, and stood as a stark reminder to me that only the gospel enables us to establish true peace, to heal the hurt of injustices done, and to keep us from repeating misdeeds of the past.

Z Branch is also growing in exciting ways:  Just this week Elder Cl was released from his service as Branch President with a vote of thanks, and Elder Wr was called as the new Branch President.  Next Saturday, the congregation will grow in number by 1, as a young woman that the Elders have been teaching is going to be baptised! You can just feel the buzz in the air at Church!

Our beautiful branch family:  The intrepid Elder and Sister Wr from Idaho and stalwart Slovak Saints

Our wonderful branch family:
The intrepid Elder and Sister Wr from Idaho,
and the stalwart Saints of Slovakia.
vel’mi krasny – very beautiful!

We’ve been able to work with many of our fellow missionaries this past week, as a consequence of training meetings and the events in Trencin. Sestra Co from my MTC district, and her companion came all the way from Praha to share their musical talents in the concert. They stayed over with us, and we did some contacting together in Trencin. And we found out that Sestra Co’s aunt actually served here as a missionary in the 1990s! We looked in the area book, and sure enough, there was her signature. We had some excellent training meetings earlier in the week,  and Z was overrun by missionaries, eager to proclaim the gospel! We are still following up with contacting all the people who expressed an interest in hearing from us; I think there were around 15, which is quite an impressive response.

If you don’t mind, I have a little gospel question for you: why is the Book of Mormon important to you personally (and to the Church/the world)? One of the fundamental things we missionaries invite people to do, is to read and pray about the Book of Mormon. But all of the people we meet are different, and many have a hard time seeing what value this book would have for them. Some people don’t believe in God and so don’t think scriptures are important at all. Others already go to a church and say that the Bible is enough for them: if we already believe in Christ, why would God need to give us more scripture? I’d love to hear your thoughts about what the Book of Mormon means to you, and how you would respond to the comments above.

Time is a bit of a sore topic for Sestra Py at the moment, as her time in the mission field grows short. This next transfer will be her last, and I’m determined to ensure that our time together in Z will be a sweet recollection for her, and not a regret. We were really inspired by our training meeting this week, about presenting the  Book of Mormon to people in such a way that helps them find within its pages the answers to the questions of their souls. We made a commitment to use greater sensitivity and creativity in determining what people need, or what truths they are searching for, so that we can help point the way to discovery.  As part of this effort, both Sestra Py and I decided to test Moroni’s promise once again, and renew our personal testimonies of the Book of Mormon. It was a sweet experience and I am more assured than ever that the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God, and the keystone that locks our testimonies and our lives in place.

Young people from Eastern Europe share what they have learned from reading the Book of Mormon and writing down their impressions.

Enjoy the time of your life this week – you’re in my prayers!

All my love,

Sestra Jones

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Enjoying the Ride

Slovakia in bloom! The streets of the town are lined with flowering trees.

Slovakia in bloom! The streets of the town are lined with flowering trees.

6 May 2013

Ahoj! It’s been another roller-coaster of a week: the lows have been low, but it was worth it to ride the highs! =)

It’s been another week of miracles: despite an agonising few days of lessons falling through and near-fruitless contacting, somehow we were able to feel successful and reach many of our goals. Best of all, Renata (a Church member, and friend of Sestra Py’s family) and Sestra Py’s grandparents came to Church yesterday – all the way from Ostrava! Although Sestra Py’s grandparents are not members of the Church, they stayed for all 3 hours, and participated very graciously in all the meetings.  Sestra Py and I unexpectedly ended up teaching a Sunday school class (Gospel Principles; we taught the Plan of Salvation), so they got to see their missionary granddaughter in action, which was marvellous.

Then the S family invited us all to lunch, and we had goulash in the sunny garden. They were absolutely lovely (and so was the food).  After the meal, we shared a  spiritual thought to top it off, so we feasted in both body and spirit. Oh, and out of the blue we had two phone calls with people asking us to teach them! What a day!

We attended the Trencin Open House this past Wednesday;  it was an uplifting and enlightening event. It warmed my heart to see how much effort the members had invested, regardless of immediate or visible results. The V family outdid themselves as hosts, and a whole crew came all the way from Uherské Hradiště  to provide a wonderful musical programme. Sister Py and I went contacting with President D’s daughter (her first time street contacting with missionaries). It was a huge blessing for us to have a fluent Czech-speaker there, and she really caught the spirit of fearlessly inviting people to come and see.  We actually found a man who agreed to join us for the afternoon: Anton, who is acquainted with the V family, and whose brother is a member of the Church (now living in England).  It felt like a miracle! But to be honest I had expected the turn-out to be a lot better, and we encountered an unusual amount of opposition in talking to people that day.

I’ve learned a difficult lesson: we had a first meeting with a potential investigator that just fell to pieces and went all over the place. I felt that we had done all that we could to prepare: we had a member of the Church there to support him, and had invested time and prayer in preparing his lesson. Surprisingly, both Sestra Py and I felt we should start by teaching him the Gospel of Christ. We practised, but neither of us had taught it as a first lesson before and were unsure how it would turn out. We started all right, but then chased tangents in trying to answer questions and ran out of time … I was so disappointed in myself, but tried to be grateful for the humbling experience. Moral of the story: be committed to the lesson plan. If we’ve been inspired to teach something, then the least we can do is act on the guidance we’ve received. I’m so grateful to Sister Py in situations like this: she is such an example of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and going back to work. Mistakes are there to be learned from, not to drag us down to despair.

Editor’s note: Some may wonder why  Sestra Jones would be so impacted by having just one “off” lesson;  others who have worked in similar mission areas will be able to relate completely! We all know that Sestra Jones generally does approach life with an “any job worth doing is a job worth doing well” attitude, but that is not all there is to it.

Sestra Jones and her companions are likely to converse with thousands of  fine people during their 18 months in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but they may be privileged to teach just a precious few. Of  those people who do express an interest in hearing their message, many will listen to only one lesson. So as a missionary in that situation, you are very aware that every lesson you share with someone is most likely your one chance to bless that person; to share something meaningful that will really help and uplift them, and hopefully inspire them to catch a glimpse of something far greater. You feel a tremendous desire to get things “right”.

If  you feel like you’ve done your best, and your student says, “Wow, that is beautiful! I felt something special, but I’m not prepared to act upon those feelings.”, you can walk away just respecting that person’s choice. But if you feel like you didn’t communicate effectively, or somehow “bungled” the lesson, it’s like being a football (soccer) player who missed a penalty kick; you feel like you’ve really let your student down, and can’t help but wonder what would have happened if you’d just angled the ball left instead of right.

As a missionary becomes more seasoned (like Sestra Py), they learn to just chalk things up to experience and trust that everything will work out all right for their student in the end. It may be the missionary’s “one chance” to share their message with that person, but it is probably not that person’s “one chance”  in life to hear the message.

We’ve been seeing real miracles recently with asking both members of the Church and those not of our faith alike for referrals. It softens hearts and open doors beyond imagining when the person being taught already has a member friend. Please continue to invite as many of your friends and neighbours as possible to meet your missionaries there – your missionaries need your help! =)

Also, a plea for your suggestions: we teach an adults’ English class each week (all conversational levels),  but we are running out of ideas for fun games! Ideas, anyone?

Last thing: there’s a *YSA Convention for all of Europe here in Slovakia July 31 to Aug 3 – all welcome! =)   http://2013.ysac.eu/en/home/  *Young Single Adults is a programme of the Church specifically devoted to single adults aged 18-30. Good, clean fun and awesome friendships!

I know that this is the Lord’s work, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that when we sincerely study and apply the message it contains we will draw closer to the Saviour and in time become the people God would have us be. There is no greater feeling than God’s love and approval – His Spirit which enters our lives when we access the converting power of the scriptures.

Much love,
Sestra Jones

On the Road Again

Travel

“I will fetch my knowledge from afar…” Job 36:3

29 April 2013

This past week has been a busy one, with some big meetings and a fair bit of travelling: on Friday we left early to take a bus to Brno in the Czech Republic for Zone Conference, a meeting where we receive training from President and Sister Irwin. Yesterday (Sunday) was a District Conference (that’s like Stake Conference, except we don”t yet have a stake anywhere in the mission, so it’s called District Conference).  All the members of the Church from Slovakia and Moravia (a region of the Czech Republic)  were gathered together for that.

The landscape here is gorgeous! I tried to take some pictures of the scenery through the bus window on our way to Brno, but my photos don’t do it any justice. The countryside is all green and growing, and even the trees on the high street are covered in blossoms. Vel’mi krasny (very beautiful). =)

bus to Brno 2          sunlight on birch           bus to Brno 1

Brno was amazing! It would have been too far to travel home on Friday only to return again on Sunday, so we made a weekend of it, and stayed in touch with our investigators back in Slovakia by phone. Friday Zone Conference was inspiring , even though part of it was watching a depressing documentary about the Nazi occupation of Prague and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The film had a missionary message, but it was just really sad to think of the suffering that occurred. That night we held a singing display – my first! Basically it’s enhanced street contacting – a group of missionaries stand in the square singing hymns, while other missionaries go out and talk with people. I gave it a go, and for the first time contacted not only by myself, but in Czech! I didn’t find anyone interested in setting up lessons, but I was able to share some pass-along cards, and hopefully sowed some seeds. We had 16 missionaries together (not counting senior couples) on Saturday for a sports day with investigators. Satuday we also had more singing displays, and “Polar Bear”. Polar Bear is what we call it here, when a group of missionaries gets together for language study (I have no idea why…neither does anyone else I’ve asked!  Just a funny tradition, I guess).  Our language study was in Czech this time, so it kind of confused me, but was good anyway. 😉

Smiling sisterhood in Brno! "Each life that touches ours for good Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord; Thou sendest blessings from above Thru words and deeds of those who love." Karen Lynn Davidson (Hymns 293)

Smiling sisterhood in Brno

It was President and Sister Irwin’s last ever Disctrict Conference here, as they’ll be released in June (noooo!), so it was a bittersweet but spiritually uplifting event. And we saw Sestra Py’s family’s friend Renata. Did I tell you she speaks Swedish? It was so fun to put my Swedish to good use 🙂

By the way, I finally met the infamous Starsi L (nephew of our High Councilor John L back home)! He speaks really well, and has tons of energy. There are quite a few other British missionaries here, although I’m the only sister. One really nice aspect of gathering for these meetings is getting to know such wonderful people!  Sestra Py and I stayed over Saturday and Sunday nights with the Brno sisters:  Sestra W (from Missouri, super fun, plays violin) and Sestra Gr (from Alaska, really sweet, has taught English in Ukraine and China).  It’s lovely to make friends!

“Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above
Thru words and deeds of those who love.”
Karen Lynn Davidson
(Hymns 293)

The temperature here is steadily rising now, and every morning I have to slather myself in SPF 50 suncream to keep from scalding, but I’m happy, we’re busy, and life is good!

Love you all so much. Until next week! <3, Sestra Jones

A Letter From Home

Dear Sestra Jones,

We’ve taken some photos around town, and think they will convey our message to you with far more eloquence than words alone:

Keep up the great work;

Keep up the great work;

“And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” Doctrine and Covenants 84:88

praying always,

praying always,

“…The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous (wo)man availeth much.” James 5:16

holding fast to the Iron Rod,

holding fast to the Iron Rod,

“And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the  word of God…” 1 Nephi 15: 23-24

inviting all to come unto Christ,

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14

patiently putting your trust in the Lord's timing,

patiently putting your trust in the Lord’s timing,

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

and never forgetting that you are a beloved Daughter of God!

and never forgetting that you are a beloved Daughter of God!

We love you! Our prayers are with you each day. xo

Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:

That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Full Speed Ahead!

Helping us win

My companion is a rock! She’s helping me win…

22 April 2013

Full Speed Ahead!

I must admit, some aspects of mission life are pretty tough, and success rarely shows itself completely, immediately, or easily. It is so tempting to dwell on fond memories of home when our challenges here seem so overwhelming, and I feel so inadequate.  Sestra Py says the best cures are prayer and hard work, and of course she has proven to be right. As I was reminded in Relief Society meeting at Church yesterday, trials and difficulties are just a refining opportunity to demonstrate our faith. As I strive to give my heart and hands to the Lord, I feel His comfort and steadying strength despite the storms that rage all round. I am humbled by my weaknesses and the adversity we face, but we are blessed with so many reasons to rejoice!

This week, we had a District Meeting with the visiting Zone Leaders that was just fantastic!  We practised and reviewed some skills that have really helped us to be more effective in our teaching.  Our studies have been guided and inspired: just the other day we were studying, and found ourselves spending an unusual amount of time discussing a particular point of doctrine regarding life after death. Whom should we meet an hour later (in the little time we had for contacting before running for a train) but a lovely family who brought up that very subject? Finally, we were so blessed to attend a baptism in Brno – it was a beautiful, happy occasion and a spiritual feast.

We’ve enjoyed a bit of variety to our work schedule as well; we travelled to Bratislava on Tuesday, to be there Wednesday for some government business stuff (just confirming residence in Slovakia).  We went via Trencin and had our District meeting there. Then on Saturday, we went to Brno in the Czech Republic (our nearest chapel) for a baptism.

It was a very special experience: the lady getting baptised, Kristina, was taught by Sister Py when she was serving in Bratislava. We were exhausted by the end of the day, but it was fun to mix up our schedule a bit!

Love you all, thanks for being patient while I work out how to time things better so that I can write longer letters!

<3, Sestra Jones

Swimming in the Deep End

15 April 2013

I’m afraid I have even less time for writing this week than I did last week! We’re cutting our P Day short to take a train to Martin. And I forgot to bring along both the letters I was going to respond to, and my camera cable, so individual responses and photographic illustrations will have to wait until next time!

Family, when I was at the mission office last week, I got the parcel and the macaroon recipe you sent! Thank you! How did you know we had 500g of coconut sitting around in our cupboard? Tried mixing choc cereal in macaroons – great!

Editor’s note: You can try the recipe for yourself, by following the link here. These delicious coconut macaroons are so easy to make, and are gluten free (unless you add chocolate cereal!).

Training was brilliant! I’ve still hardly seen any of Prague (again, whisked straight in and out), but it was so good to see our MTC group reunited – however briefly – and hear of the success we are already achieving.

Fresh off the plane! Our MTC group on our first day in the mission field, back in March.
We were sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, slightly bedraggled, and totally stoked!

We have a new senior missionary couple in the branch! Elder and Sister Wr from Idaho Falls. They’re lovely and settling in so well despite the language barrier and a rather traumatic arrival. Sister Wr broke her foot just before leaving the States, and when they arrived they found out the apartment had no oven. So then the Elders took them out for a meal and accidentally ordered cow stomach for them, poor things! And yet they are still chipper and eager to help in every way they can. It is so nice to have the Wr here; they are marvellous – they’re doing just fine and even taught in Slovak with us today, which was fab!

Our next transfer looks interesting (“transfer” refers to a specific day planned for moving missionaries from one assignment to another within the mission. Most missions have a transfer day every month or two): we have 4 Slovak sisters coming in next transfer – fresh from the MTC. The problem is that we only have 4 Sisters currently serving in the country (that’s Sestra B and her companion, plus us). When I asked President Irwin how he would train all these new sisters, he told me: “Well, let’s just say that sooner or later you and Sister B will be the senior sister missionaries in Slovakia. Just how soon remains to be seen, but start preparing now. No pressure, but PRESSURE, okay?”. I take comfort in knowing that it’s all in the Lords hands, and He obviously knows what He’s doing. =)

I just hope our Slovak will be good enough for us to get by if I end up training a new missionary next transfer (meaning she would simultaneously have to follow-up train me)!  As for the language, I’m slowly improving as I listen and do my best to express myself every day. One of our investigators recently said: “Sister Jones, you may be quiet but I can tell you know it’s true and that it’s changed you: it shows in your smile – you’re just glowing.” That meant so much to me! I’m grateful that despite my weaknesses and limited vocabulary, I can be an instrument in the Lord’s hands. Even as a new missionary, it is so good to be able to contribute however much I can.

Just by working closely with Sestra Py and interacting with the Church members here this week, I feel that I’m already learning great lessons about loyalty, optimism, and courage (among others). Some days I’m scared stiff to start contacts, but I’m finding that if I have a smile on my face and love in my heart, it doesn’t matter the scowls that greet me or the rejection I encounter. Besides, for all those who turn us away, it’s worth it when we find those who stop to listen. I’m already convinced that there are no coincidences in this work: time after time we approach one person in a crowd and they turn out to be previous investigators. (Besides the delight and fun of meeting fellow French- and Norwegian- speakers).

I loved General Conference – and one of our investigators came! I particularly appreciated President Monson and Elder Perry’s talks: I’m slowly learning that only absolute obedience can call down the powers of heaven in this work. It was lovely to be gathered as a branch in sustaining the Lord’s prophets and apostles. As we’ve been able to spend time with the members of the Church here, they’re each becoming precious friends and fellow-labourers.

Samo (a Church member) had volunteered to teach with us the other day, but the investigator never came and we were all so disappointed and felt awful that Samo had rushed over just to be there. Feeling foolish but trying to lighten the mood, I asked Samo for a referral: “Who do you know that needs our message?”. The next day, he called us up and invited us to meet one of his friends. We met in the park and chatted for a bit – Samo was the happiest I’ve ever seen him, and his friend seemed pleased to meet us as well. Samo came up and thanked us at Conference. He said: “It was your question that got me thinking, Sister Jones. Thank you.” I laughingly responded: “Who else do you know?” As the number of people to look after and pray for slowly grows, somehow so does my love for them and our desire and capacity to help.

I know that this is the Lord’s sacred work for the salvation of His children, and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.

Love you all to bits!

Smiles across the miles,

Sestra Jones

Snowflakes and Sunshine

Pounding the snowy streets during the Eatster blizzard. I am the sister in the dark jacket, with a white hat and red scarf ;) Sestra Py on the right, Sestra J on the left

Pounding the snowy streets during the Eatster blizzard. I am the sister in the dark jacket, with a white hat and red scarf 😉
Sestra Py on the right, Sestra J on the left

8 Apr 2013

It’s *P Day again, and what a glorious day it is! I forgot to tell you last week, but on Easter Sunday we had a huge blizzard. We’d been out tracting all afternoon and came home looking like snowmen: sopping wet and literally plastered with snow from head to foot. It provided a trial by fire (or in this case, ice) for my winter gear. My boots and coat have proven themselves to be waterproof and snuggly warm, so I have no fears of being caught off guard by any more freaky, frosty weather. 🙂 *P-Day is mission speak for “Preparation Day”, the day of the week set aside to prepare for the coming week and take care of housework, errands, and personal business such as writing home.

There is sunshine in our souls today...

There is sunshine in our souls today…

Now the Easter snow has finally melted, and we’re enjoying brilliant sunshine! It’s almost a shame though: suddenly the namesti (town squares) are heaving with people (all the better for contacting, my dear), but our entire afternoon will be spent cooped up on a train to Prague for my new missionary training tomorrow.

I’ve finally had a taste of Slovak food this week: the S family had us over for dinner last night, and treated us to Halus’ka (ham and potatoes with sheep cheese), Kofola (like a sweeter version of Swedish Christmas soda,  julmust ), and kolac” (buns with apricot jam). Yummy! 🙂 Also, one of our investigators has agreed to a baptismal date in May. Yay! Continuing to work hard and build the Lord’s kingdom here.

Bread with a side of Books
Svic’kova is a delicious Czech dish (bread with meat and root veg sauce and jam). I squeeze in a bit of study over meal times most days – gotta stay on top of that slovak!

We didn’t watch General Conference over the weekend, but I can’t wait to do so! We’ll watch it next weekend (with an additional English showing for missionaries) over a branch potluck lunch. However, I’ve heard that Utah’s getting yet another temple and that we have a new YW Presidency. Also, our branch mission leader Pet’o  (he served in the Manchester Mission last year and knows Elders Smith and Tautua!) gave us a print-out from Deseret news: a new leadership position is being created for sister missionaries! What used to be Zone Council for Elder leaders only will now be a committee of both Elders and Sisters serving in the area. That’s monumental! =)

Our faithful Branch President, Starsi Cl of Florida; a man without guile,
Brother Pet’o our awesome Branch Mission Leader,
and Starsi U of Oregon, who speaks wonderful Slovak, and sings like a manly angel

It’s brilliant to be involved in such a variety of service opportunities every week: we teach a free English class at the chapel every Thursday and have a community game night every Saturday. It’s so much fun and brings a special Spirit into our group when we’re focused on just helping other people to be happy. Reminds me of that famous quote that President Uchtdorf cited recently: “Teach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”. Sometimes example is all it takes.

However, I’ve learned this week that in most missionary situations we cannot afford to be so passive. We are instructed in the Doctrine and Covenants to raise our voices “like unto a trump” in declaring the gospel. Some days it’s tempting to be scared: I’m in a foreign country, talking to strangers about angels and gold plates when I can barely speak the language. But when I stop to remember the atonement that our Saviour carried out so that EACH ONE of God’s precious children could be forgiven and be happy, I know that I can’t hide and that I can’t doubt. The Lord is with us – what more do we want? As I’ve tried to step up to the plate this week and support my companion’s testimony in every tract or contact – even when the person we’re talking to doesn’t have time or thinks we’re crazy or accuses us of heresy – we’ve seen hearts soften and the Spirit is there. Walking away from a contact like that, even if they still say “no thanks”, at least we can answer with a clean conscience that we did our best to invite them to come unto Christ. And that maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember that feeling and want to know what it is. Testimony of two witnesses… I’d never realised before what a powerful thing it can be.

Well, this probably sounds funny, but I have not a clue what else to write about! So much happens every day, but some of it is personal to our members or investigators, and the rest just feels like normal routine by now. Please ask me lots of questions, so I can get ideas for what to write!

Must dash now, but I love you all  – you’re in my heart and prayers daily.

Oodles of love,

Sestra Jones x