A Change of Weather

10 June 2013

The sun is out today and things are looking up!

“And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;

….Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
‘Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,
‘Tis the natural way of living…”

from “The Vision of Sir Launfal”
by James Russell Lowell

This week has been so much better than the last: rays of hope have finally broken through my bleak outlook and I find myself waking up with a smile on my face. Our investigators are all struggling at the moment, and for the second week in a row we’ve seen a half-dozen first appointments fall through, but Sestra B and I are learning to be at peace with the choices of others: we can and must invite, but they have their agency (God-given power to choose) in the end. I’m so grateful for inspired leaders: our district meeting and Branch Conference both centred on faith, HOPE, and charity – no matter what, we can’t get discouraged! We are working hard, invoking the Lord’s help, and daily striving to reach out in love to others. Our efforts are still imperfect, but that’s no reason to despair.

baptism day

Special memories…
Baptism day in May

Branch conference was lovely: such a special spirit of unity filled the Branch and the love and council of our leaders was inspiring. There are big changes afoot: a sister in the Branch has accepted a calling to the Primary Presidency, and D (who was only just baptised!) to the Young Women Presidency! D is so amazing:  she recently got all As on her maturita (high school final exams), finishing first in 4 subjects! It’s a huge blessing: a confirmation for her that she’s on the right path and in line to receive the choicest blessings.  One of the Elders’ investigators came and seemed to have a very positive experience; he is working towards baptism and we all have the best of hopes that Z will continue to blossom.

Speaking of which, we’ve had another miracle this week! Our English class has been flagging of late. At first we attributed it to the 7-week salsa dancing class across the way (we lost at least 3 students to that one), then hockey tournaments, then end-of-year-exams, but last week no one came at all. Not a single one. We upped our efforts to advertise, and prayed that people would attend so that we may serve others and find new investigators. This week 5 new people came! They all seemed to really enjoy it and hope to come again. President Irwin has given us permission to offer French as well – yay! 😀 It’s new and so has yet to get a hold, but once those we’ve spoken to start coming, I’ve no doubt that it too will pick up speed.

Coming on a mission is teaching me so much about obedience, not just to God’s commandments (the biggies), but also to His wise counsel and loving instruction (the more subtle things).

I’m afraid I still haven’t got the hang of P Days – there’s so much to do and we only have one shot to get it all done or postpone it for yet another week. (P Day is short for “Preparation Day”, the one day of the week that missionaries run errands and attend to personal business). Getting my hair cut is one such item that I just haven’t been able to squeeze in for weeks and weeks. Today I was determined to accomplish that goal, but in my eagerness to get my hair trimmed, I ended up trimming a few corners on our normal study routine. I was amazed to observe how quickly my feelings of peace and spiritual power diminished, and how much it impacted on the people around me, especially my companion. That one little compromise seemed harmless enough, and in the heat of the moment getting my hair presentable seemed like a very high priority. Well, my head feels lighter by far but my heart is the opposite: it wasn’t worth it.

As I have experiences like this, I’m realising more and more all the exceptions I used to make, and the good I could have done if I’d been more exactly obedient.  How grateful I am for commandments, rules, and instructions that keep us safe on the road to success and away from heartache and regret! I hope that despite my faults and foolishness I can become a worthy representative of the Lord – through the mercy of His Atonement.

I know that this is the Lord’s church restored on the earth. the Book of Mormon is the word of God and convincing evidence of that restoration through the prophet Joseph Smith. The only way to lasting peace and happiness is living in harmony with the Gospel of Jesus Christ: turning our hearts to God, developing His divine attributes, and serving our fellow men every day of our lives. Everyone needs the blessings this knowledge brings; ours is the duty and privilege to share it.

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement, I need it! Thank you for all that you do, and the examples you set for me.

S laskou, Sestra Jones

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Weathering Change

3  June 2013

I don’t want to complain, but this week has been really hard. The weather may account somewhat for my depression (rainy all week), but I’m struggling so much to keep my chin up with all of the changes and stresses and strains that transfers have brought. Discouragement has been looming over me like a choking cloud all week, to the point that I am even starting to feel low about feeling low! Surely if I trusted the Lord completely, then nothing would get me down?

Rain, rain, go away...

Rain, rain, go away…

We were blessed with great success last week (11 member lessons and 3 new investigators!), but for some reason all of our investigators seemed to evaporate this week (no time, no longer interested, won’t pick up phone…) and our results weren’t even half as good. Our efforts are so imperfect: with senior companions running a tight ship it was easy to feel that we were on task and on time, but without that perfect example to measure myself against, I feel lost and overwhelmed with the responsibility that has been placed on our shoulders.

Fortunately,  Heavenly Father has blessed me with a lovely, sunshiny companion to buoy me up. I feel the way forward is to trust in my companion – rely on her strength and be open in confiding my fears – and then be that steadfast, effective companion she can rely on, so we can trust in each other equally. We’ll be careful not to lose the good habits our trainers helped us develop, and then move forward and improve step by step. Thank goodness for the comfort of Mosiah 4:27 – the Lord only expects us to run as quickly as we have strength for.

“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.”

The parcels I got from my family came at the perfect moment… I have been gradually unpacking them throughout the week, and slowly discovering all the happy little surprises, and special messages. They thought of everything: music, counsel, encouragement, photos, news from home, treats, clothing… I adored every bit of it! My siblings sent some truly awesome drawings and comics, including a particularly fanciful one from my 10-yr-old brother.  (It chronicles the adventures of my illustrated alter-ego, who finds a trans-dimensional portal… let’s just say that by the end, the precious Book of Mormon has transformed the life of one “Brother Sméagol”). Today I laughed myself silly when I read my 13-yr-old brother’s summary of his half-term holiday activities:  “This half term, I started a book on D-day, watched too much TV, and spent more than an hour talking to my brothers about the effects of using grass and metal type Pokemon at the same time. To put it in a single sentence; I have done nothing constructive. Awesome!”

I think that’s a great deal of what I’ve been missing this week: forgetting to laugh, sing, and smile. It’s difficult to find a balance between taking care of my personal needs, and making sure I’m never so self-absorbed that I forget about others. I pray that as I seek to do the Lord’s will, that I will learn to truly love others as myself and to find joy in the service I’m doing my best to render every day.

This week will be so much better – I just know it! 🙂

Mam tá rada ako cokolada,
Sestra Jones

A note from the Editor:
Just to provide some additional perspectives of the typical first experience of Transfers, here is what some of Sestra Jones’ fellow missionaries have shared about their week:

“My lovely (trainer) left wednesday morning, may have made a scene…Had a disastrous day after that, lol. Everything was going wrong at once :/ i felt like she had left me unchaperoned for less than 24 hours and it was already alll going downhill…the rest of the week consisted of contacting/tracting in the rain. Not even rain, tracting/contacting in a full on waterfall. There were flood warnings everywhere and i was sopping wet.

thats basically my week:)

church really smoothed it all over for me. i needed that time to rejuvenate. now i am back to being chipper. President has us talk to ourselves in the mirror everyday “o boy, o boy, o boy, am i enthusiastic!” (add a british accent to it) it really does work, haha…dont worry about me. i can take some toughening up”   Sestra D

“I got transferred!…  It’s been probably one of the most stressful weeks ever. I was really surprised when I got the transfer call, so I had to pack up everything, say goodbye to everyone Sunday, and leave on Monday, and take a train by myself. That would have been fine except they were working on the tracks so we had to switch to a bus, and then back to the train…with all of my luggage. Dragging two suitcases and a duffel up all those stairs was definitely not my first choice! I’m pretty sure each of them weighed more than half of me. Definitely got a workout from that! But I made it eventually.

We had Sister S for two days, and then she went home, and we had to fend for ourselves.  I got to go back to Prague on Saturday actually because there was a district relief society conference, …that was an adventure too! On the train ride up, (the Elders’) investigator started arguing (a doctrinal point) with one of the members… I tried to get them to see that it was just semantics, they were actually both saying the same thing….but to no avail. So me and (my companion) decided we were all going to read Moroni 7 together, out loud, so they couldn’t argue anymore… They were all obedient, and readily agreed. I honestly felt like I was chaperoning little kids….and all three of them were at least 50 or 60. It’s quite intimidating to have that much responsibility…I don’t feel like I’m old enough! 

… I’m really working on trying not to complain and just go to work. So the rest of the week was kind of rough too…we had 5 people dog us (not show up). So we did lots and lots of contacting in the pouring rain, and our numbers were really low. As if all that drama wasn’t enough (plus the trying to speak czech and remember everything we are supposed to do when we are both new)…. since it’s been literally pouring every day for weeks, (I honestly don’t think I’ve seen the sun in weeks, and that is not an exaggeration) there are now severe flood warnings! Yay.  All of that happened in a week!”  Sestra Co

Always Expect the Unexpected!

27 May 2013

Transfers is such an exciting, terrifying, stressful, delightful experience!
President Irwin called at 20:20 on Saturday night, and we were on the edge of our seats, with butterflies in our stomachs! He informed us that Sister Py is moving to a town east of us, and I am staying in Z. This is as much as we expected, but the next revelation caught us completely by surprise: Sestra B (my MTC companion)  is my companion again, and our trainers will form two threesomes with the four incoming Sisters! We were stunned! Threesomes are VERY difficult to work in. It’s hard enough training one new missionary let alone two, and Sisters have never been assigned to Sestra Py’s new area before.
I almost felt disappointed, because we had worked so hard to get me ready to train if need be, that by this point I kind of wanted a new missionary as my companion. For a brief moment I wondered if I hadn’t made the cut: perhaps President was compromising because I wasn’t ready to train?  But I very quickly felt assured that this decision definitely came from the Lord, and I’m so grateful for His wisdom and mercy. After all, Sestra Py and Sestra S finish their missions and return home next transfer, which means that in two months time, Sestra B and I will be the most experienced sisters in all of Slovakia, and we only just stepped off the plane in March!  We need to know how to work together, how to run an area, and how to speak Slovak. We definitely have enough on our plates just follow-up training each other for the final 3 weeks of our induction programme! (Induction Programme refers to the extra hour of companionship study undertaken by new missionaries each day, to give  them time to continue to develop their teaching and language skills).

So today I’m emailing from the normal spot in the Z public library, with my lovely French companion back at my side. 🙂 Oh, and Starsi C is staying in his current area too, so our little MTC posse is reunited in the same District.  Starsi U’s staying in Z to train the new Elder arriving from Finland! Starsi U’s only in his fourth transfer, so it’s a huge honour and responsibility – I’m so excited for them both!

Just like old times!

Just like old times!
Sestra Jones, Starsi C, and Sestra B at the MTC
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be…there is no new thing under the sun. “
Ecclesiastes 1:9

The senior couples returned from a conference in Bratislava on Saturday carrying two ENORMOUS parcels for me, from my family: like gold in a bubble-wrap envelope! Thank you thank you thank you! I cannot tell you how much joy and gratitude I feel to know you love me and are supporting me. I admit I haven’t had time to finish reading all the letters so I’ll have to respond another time but thank you so much and I love you all to bits ! 🙂

I wish I had more time to write, but I’ll try to contain my excitement and just give you the gist of our amazing week.  Sestra Py said that as long as we work hard all transfer, we see miracles – especially in the final and first weeks of the transfer. She was right!

The week started a bit rough, with lessons being postponed or first lessons being unwilling to set up a second time. But by Wednesday things started to look up: Elders P and C had come in to Z for D’s baptismal interview, so we planned a finding exchange. It was a great experience, and even though the rain scared most people away from the town square, we learned a lot and enjoyed some success finding potential investigators to work with the coming week. That afternoon, Sestra Py and I stopped a gentleman who immediately expressed interest in learning more. He lives not far from Z, with his wife and gorgeous baby son. He has quite the reputation as a “missionary” at his work place (talking about the purpose of life, always doing favours, never getting angry, etc.) and a true desire to strengthen his faith in God. We had a lesson in a nearby tearoom (the Restoration). We explained that the good feelings he gets when he serves others are the Holy Ghost confirming Heavenly Father’s approval – he was literally thrilled. When last we spoke (Saturday) he and his wife “both want to read the Book of Mormon and already have questions for us. When can we come visit them?”

Another lady that runs a little shop in town has two gorgeous daughters and had met missionaries in the past. Last week , while “de-junking” the apartment, we found mysterious collections of Nerf guns and Harry Potter Lego mini-figs, which we promptly took round for the girls to enjoy (if there are any Elders reading this who used to serve in Z:  sorry, you forgot your stash of toys in the drawer in the laundry room. Don’t worry, they’ve gone to a good cause!). They invited us back to share a message, want to come to English class, invited us to a family barbecue, and have committed to start reading the Book of Mormon. Families – it’s just what the branch needs!

We also had first lessons with two wonderful young people: Ra and Ri. We hadn’t been able to meet with Ra for a few weeks, so weren’t sure if she still had interest: her mother died recently so we started with the Plan of Salvation. Since then, Ra has read bits and pieces in the Book of Mormon and asks super questions, but is scared to come to church because she thinks we might be a cult. We asked Sara from the branch to come teach Ra with us; bless her, she’d never taught with missionaries before and was so nervous! It could not have been better: Sara was warm and friendly (and normal and Slovak – see? we’re not a cult!); she bore testimony of prayer and helped us explain prophets, and Ra has agreed to meet again this week.

Ri’s family are members of a church, but he hates the corruption he sees: “When my friends and I go to the bar we sit and talk for hours about how much we hate churches!” He still yearns to develop his spiritual side though, and our explanation of the Apostasy and Joseph Smith had him stuck for words: “Wait, I never knew authority was lost after Peter!” We’re not sure he completely got it though: his parting comment was ” What kind of Catholics are you again?” We agreed to settle that one in our next lesson.

D’s baptism was just beautiful. None of our other investigators could make it (being on a weekday afternoon), and the weather allowed for nothing but a hotel-pool service, but D was just glowing and the entire branch was uplifted. I hope we can help many more to make this crucial step on the path back to their Heavenly Father.

We’re currently working with G, and when we spoke to him about it a couple weeks ago he said he’d already decided to be baptised in November (a year from when he first met missionaries) if it still felt right. “I get the feeling though that I need to stop hesitating and just go for it – actually try this Mormon thing for real.” He finally started reading the Book of Mormon seriously this week and the Spirit in his lesson on Saturday was so sweet! If he’ll keep reading and praying, and start coming to church I’m sure he’ll get an answer. He may well find it doesn’t take him until November!

S laskou,
Sestra Jones

 

The Shining Moments

“Improve the shining moments; don’t let them pass you by…”  Hymns 226

20 May 2013

I can hardly believe it: the final week before Transfers has arrived! It feels like it’s here way too soon! It’s been a rough ride at times, but looking back I’ve learned so much and we’ve been blessed to work with so many good people. It’s not over yet though, and I’m determined this last week will be the best yet!

We took a little výlet (outing) to a castle in Považská Bystrica today. We had a gorgeous day. The weather was sunny and bright, and we treated ourselves to Speculose (cinnamon/honey) ice cream – it was to die for!

File:Hrad bystrica 2.jpg

Ruins of medieval Považský hrad.
Thanks, Wikimedia Commons!

Most of our week was fairly typical, apart from an unusual number of investigators cancelling meetings: the hockey championships and exams are ruining our work! 😉

Ice Hockey is HUGE in Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, too.  The National Hockey League in the US and Canada is full of very talented Slovak players. The Slovak team often does quite well in the World Championships – last year they just missed taking the title, and placed 2nd. As one sister missionary serving in the Czech Republic recently observed, the evidence of  hockey’s popularity is all around; how else can you explain the phenomenon of  finding six men missing their 2 front teeth in a branch of only 50 members? Ice Hockey, you’ve got a lot to answer for!

We did have a very special experience on Saturday, teaching a lady named J. We found her name in the list of Potential Investigators – she had been contacted by missionaries in 2011 but a meeting had never worked out. No sooner did we sit down than she pled with us to answer the question in her heart: “17 years ago, I found my 8-month-old daughter dead in her crib. For 17 years I’ve been searching: I’ve met with Catholics, Evangelicals, Buddhists, Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mediums – the lot. None have been able to help me. Where is my daughter?”

My heart went out to this woman: she had carried so much pain for so long. A sweet spirit filled the room as we testified that her daughter still lived, that God loved them, and that they would be reunited after this life. We opened the Book of Mormon and began teaching her the Plan of Salvation. She said repeatedly: “Yes, that sits right, it feels right.” It was a sacred experience to share with her that Heavenly Father is aware of her, that all things have a purpose, and that healing comes through the Saviour’s Atonement. She is still facing many emotional and physical challenges, but she agreed to come to church when her health permits, and to meet again.

This Sunday I gave my first sacrament meeting talk (in Slovak), about charity. I had forgotten about it until Friday night (Ooooops), so I felt very poorly prepared, but Sestra Py and the members of the Branch were all very supportive and encouraging and I’m so grateful that I was given that opportunity. We were blessed to have one of our investigators  present at sacrament meeting, and I hope she felt the Spirit testify to her heart about the things she heard there.

What's black, white, and red all over? Missionaries at the Trencin concert! Special times.

What’s black, white, and red all over? Missionaries at the Trencin concert!
Special times.

There is so much to look forward to this coming week! A wonderful young lady that the Elders have been teaching will be baptised, and come Saturday we find out about Transfers. (Insert nervous and excited girly squeal here! The suspense is almost tangible!). It’s been such a wonderful first transfer. I pray that I’ll be ready for whatever next transfer brings, but I trust that no matter what the Lord is in charge.

Until then, you’re in my prayers, and I thank you so much for your support. I know that this is Jesus Christ’s church restored to the earth. When we give our all to do the Lord’s will, to love Him and others, the great plan of happiness is brought to pass and we find true joy.

I love you all so much!

Sestra Jones