Maximum Joy!

26 August 2013

The newest Saint! Sestra Johns, Brat M, Sestra Jones "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17

The newest Saint!
Sestra Johns, Brat M, Sestra Jones
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away;
behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Brotherhood: President Van D and Brat M

Brotherhood:
President Van D and Brat M

The absolute highlight of the week was M’s baptism on Saturday morning. Our two lessons with him during the week were uplifting for us all ; he is so eager for all the blessings to come – his ordination to the priesthood, serving in the temple, receiving his patriarchal blessing, and a mountainous gospel library to work his way through. By Saturday he was so nervous and excited that he arrived at the church building nearly an hour early, bless him!

It was a beautiful pool-side service up at Hotel Bankov, with us missionaries, President van D (performing the ordinance), Branch member E, and a young German photographer (a friend of M) present. One of our English students even showed up just as the service was finishing! Just in time to give us a lift home: “So that’s why the Lord sent me here!” she said. M said afterward that he felt absolutely “exhilarated”, and yesterday he practically glowed after his confirmation. He is a miracle and will move mountains here in Slovakia, I’m sure. 🙂

Baptism day! pictured, l to r: M's lovely friend, President Van D, Sestra Johns, Starší Fe’l, the marvellous Brat M!, Starší Fre, Sestra Jones, Brat E, and Starší Bar

Baptism day!
pictured, l to r: M’s lovely friend, President Van D, Sestra Johns, Starší Fe’l, the marvelous Brat M!, Starší Fre, Sestra Jones, Brat E, and Starší Bar

And another sweet miracle this week: Zu, a young mother with a daughter aged 4, has shown little commitment to reading the Book of Mormon, and we were beginning to wonder if there was any point in continuing to meet with her for discussions. Then she surprised us by coming with her daughter to sacrament meeting yesterday! It was lovely, and she seemed to have a very positive experience.

Sometimes I wonder if in looking for “golden”, prepared investigators we sometimes lose patience with those who need a more gradual progression towards conversion. Yes, we need to invest our time in teaching those who are committed and willing to progress: people like M who will read the Book of Mormon cover to cover in a week and get baptised within two months. We’re here to find and baptise the elect. But repentance and conversion to the gospel requires an enormous change of mind, heart, and lifestyle. Sometimes I think I need to step back and celebrate every little progress people make in coming closer to Christ.

My bus contacting has improved a bit: I’ve decided to just talk to people whenever I get on public transportation, and my courage is improving with repeated effort. However, I have yet to learn how to get a phone number from it – I need to keep the conversations shorter and more to the point! 😉

We also had the opportunity to work with Sestra N this week – a sister who joined the Church just recently. Rather than teaching her though, we ended up teaching her 12-year-old nephew that she brought with her! He had good questions about the Plan of Salvation, and she said she’d take him to church near his home (he’s from another town), so he could meet the missionaries there.

The weeks are going by in an absolute blur, which says two things: I feel fatigued, and less organised than I would like. We realised this week that the two are a vicious circle: as President Irwin liked to say, fatigue comes from leaving things unfinished. I feel the need to be more committed to my purpose and my goals: I want to FEEL effective, like we’re making a difference!

I know that this is the Lord’s work, and that the cleansing and ennobling power of the Atonement is real. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that those who earnestly seek this knowledge will find it out for themselves by the power of the Holy Ghost.

With much love, and a special “hello” to my Branch back home!
S laskou,

Sestra Jones

Friends Old and New

“Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other’s gold.”  Author unknown, traditional Scouting camp song

19 August 2013

Old friends: The joy of seeing familiar faces!

Old friends: The joy of seeing familiar faces!

I had a lovely surprise this week! I got to meet with some friends from Wales, L and E, who are here visiting relatives. They came bearing gifts for Sestra Johns and me from my family: peanut butter and marshmallows (pretty rare commodities around here!) and some *Suku Laku, from my relatives in Finland. I was also able to share a gift with them, it is a simple thing, but of great worth to me: a copy of the Book of Mormon in Slovak, along with my testimony of its truthfulness. We had just a few brief moments together, but it was wonderful to visit with them! It was a lovely little miracle. Both Sestra Johns and I were delighted, and touched by their kindness in taking the time to see us.

(*Suku Laku = A tube of black licorice about 4in/10cm long, filled with chocolate cream. Licorice is one of the all-time fave flavours of the North Countries! They even have licorice ice cream and chewing gum…).

It’s been another very rough week for teaching lessons: we’ve taught only 8 out of the desired 21. Are we lacking in faith? Not applying ourselves? I feel that my flaws and weaknesses are mercilessly displayed in this weekly battle to work effectively, and make connections with the people around us. My bus contacting needs lots of improvement; I still have to steel my nerves to talk to anyone, let alone start a gospel conversation while on public transport (and public display!). Captive audiences are great – it’s not like many people have much else to do except talk to the interesting people around them anyway 😉 – but it feels like a hostile environment with everyone watching.

I guess I’ll just have to apply my heart to prayer, put my shoulder to the wheel, and I’m sure I’ll eventually figure it out!

Nevertheless, we’ve been blessed with so many miracles this week! M is getting baptised this Saturday! He had been having concerns about some of the gospel principles we shared with him, but this week he called us and said he’s willing to live by all the standards. He had his baptismal interview yesterday, and emerged with his fist aloft in triumphant salute: “Meet the new Saint!”. 🙂

New friends: happy times, good food, and smiling faces!

New friends: Good times in the great outdoors!

We taught a lovely young couple K and H again, they’ll be away for two weeks but are reading the Book of Mormon and want to attend church. I know I have to be patient, but I can’t wait for them to receive an answer that it’s true and strengthen this branch that needs them so much. Speaking of the branch, we had an awesome BBQ this Saturday that was a brilliant success: well-attended and fun for all!

I know that this is the Lord’s work. I know that as we wage war on the “natural (wo)man” (Mosiah 3:19), Christ is fighting alongside us as our closest comrade. D&C 88:67 – 73 really touched me this week: 

“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God…Behold, I will hasten my work in its time.”

I need to sanctify myself, give my all to His sacred purposes, and live to bring happiness to others.

I love you all so much!

Sestra Jones

Sports Fail, Guinea Pig Success

12 August 2013

Saturday was sports day: football. A group of local boys were already playing, but let us (missionaries and 1 investigator) join Soccer Ballin. I’m not sure I was any great help to my team (my performance on the pitch might be summed up nicely using only the  words “Sports” and “Fail”), but by the end they were using me as a “secret weapon”: opponents went easy on me and tiptoed around when I approached to take the ball. “Pass it to Sestra! Go on, Sestra!” I even scored a goal, although I think they let me. 🙂

Another week has slipped by so fast! We found a brilliant “inspirational talk” CD in the apartment this week, and listened to it over lunch: John Bytheway’s ‘How to Be An Extraordinary Missionary’. He said ordinary missionaries count time, but extraordinary missionaries make time count. They keep an eternal perspective, realise how very little time they have to serve, and are filled with a sense of urgency to magnify their calling every day. I often feel I take this sacred time so much for granted – in the day-to-day motions of mission routine I sometimes fail to recognise what a privilege it is. For one thing, what a huge blessing it is to have an entire 60 minutes blocked off for feasting on the scriptures every day in Personal Study – I want to take advantage of it while it lasts!

Oh, bliss! My summer clothes have arrived at last!

The summer clothes my family sent me have arrived! On Friday, the Elders arrived at the church building for our District language study lugging an ENORMOUS burlap sack full of parcels that they had hauled all the way out here from Brno. Our new Elder (Starší Fe’l from Phoenix, Arizona) does a very good Father Christmas impression.  😉  Sestra Johns and I were just wriggling with excitement the entire evening, and could hardly wait to get home and unveil the lovely treasures my family had sent.  I’ve enjoyed new, cool summer outfits for the past 3 days and feel I may be in heaven! Thank you thank you thank you!

This week has again been less productive teaching-wise than we would have liked: two of the key investigators that the Sisters were teaching regularly last transfer have decided to discontinue meeting with us, and many other investigators are either on holiday or struggling to show commitment and progression. It’s a challenge to find people who have real intent to hear and act on our message. Sometimes I wonder if it’s our job to show them how the gospel is the answer to their questions and problems, other times it doesn’t seem like it was quite the right time for them: they’ll grasp its importance once they earnestly seek and desire it (in other words, when they’re prepared). I’m praying we’ll be led to those who are searching for us – that we’ll recognise each other and they can have their hurts healed as they come unto the Saviour.

We had a contacting breakthrough this week! We were stuck in a rut: we’ve been contacting in the streets as soon as our language and scripture studies and lunch are over (14:00), but that means we’re out in the hottest part of day, and when the people we’d like to meet are still in the office. We got to be President McConkie’s guinea pigs this past week, and reversed our schedule to hit the streets as soon as we could be showered and dressed. On Friday we arrived on the namestie (town square) at 07:45, and a new crowd of people awaited us: business people and shop-owners rather than tourists. We had prayed hard that it would be a success and worked hard to match our prayers: the miracle fell into place and we gathered 6 phone numbers in a 3-hour block! We’re hoping this trend will continue and are looking forward to more early-morning contacting.

I met another of our awesome Branch members, a recent convert. E is from Kenya, and he was baptised in Bratislava but is studying here. He is so laid back and optimistic, he is outgoing, runs marathons, helped us teach English class this past week (the Elders were in Brno), and gave a beautiful talk on repentance on Sunday.  He is so cool! I really admire his positive and courageous attitude.

We taught Sunday School and Relief Society, and performed a musical number in Church (these are all shared out on a rotation, but our assignments happened to overlap this week) – it was great! I’m concerned that I’m not follow-up training very well: I have the advantage of 2 months’ linguistic experience over my companion, so it’s tempting to step in when contacts are hurrying away, or take over in lessons. I need to learn to step back and let Sestra Johns shine!

Onward and upward – always room for improvement! 🙂

The gospel is true – now let’s go act like it!

S laskou,

Sestra Jones

We Happy Few

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” William Shakespeare, from the St. Crispin’s Day Speech of  Henry V

5 August 2013

It’s a sizzling summer’s day here: most days this week will hover around 36 degrees! (That’s 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, folks. Yeah, yeah… it’s hotter where you are… but that’s probably dry heat. Try it with 84% humidity!  😉 ).

Kansas connection

Sestry Jones and Johns, at your service

Anyway, this first week has been marvellous! I love Sister Johns, my companion from Kansas, she’s an absolutely STELLAR companion (her favourite word). She plays the piano and viola, loves to sing, wears pencils in her hair or behind her ear, bakes brilliant brownies, and the only downside in our companionship is how chatty we both get – we would be content to talk the time away for hours if our hectic schedule wasn’t there to keep us on-task! 😀

Monday was so precious: I got one more day working alongside my dear trainer Sestra Pyšňáková, who was working miracles to the last and broken-hearted that her mission was over. I want to be like that: to love the people here so much that I live every moment of my mission fully, and dread the thought of ever being released from the Lord’s service – that it actually hurts when I remove my tag for the last time. Sestra Johns and I feel the same way: our trainer is a powerful missionary, and a perfect example of the attributes we can and must develop: efficient, determined, loving, positive, and filled with the Spirit.

Farewell, Sestra Pyšňáková! "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" Matthew 25:21

Farewell, Sestra Pyšňáková!
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant” Matthew 25:21

The three Sisters here last transfer truly worked wonders: they were teaching the most lessons in the entire mission (a record 26 lessons in a week!!), had investigators at church and aiming for baptism – they expected miracles and worked so hard to realise them, talking with everyone, being good examples, never giving up. It’s such a tough act to follow, and we’re still finding our feet contacting and teaching together (we’re still leaning a lot on each other for the language), but it’s a blessing to serve here, in what we’re doing our best to see as a city of miracles.

Our Church building is beautiful and sunny, and there’s a special Spirit here. Church yesterday was lovely, though there were a total of 10 people there (5 Branch members, 1 investigator, 4 missionaries). The members of the Church here are Saints in name, and in nature: President Van D (Dutch) is retired, but makes himself available every hour of the day to teach with us – he is so kind and dedicated and understanding and never thinks a bad thing of anyone. Sestra Van D (Slovak) is beautiful and giving, and either firm or gentle depending on the need. She also bakes delicious marhuľový koláč (apricot cheesecake)! L is a beautiful young lady with such a lovely testimony, she is friendly and confident despite opposition from family and friends. Dear Sestra B’gova is such a trouper – she hobbles in with a huge smile on her face, rain or shine, and showers us in kisses calling us ‘moje zlate’ (my golden one). She tells riveting tales and shares the gospel with everyone, as do they all.

We’re just afraid they will start to lose hope after trying for so long with little result. It would be understandable, with 30 members on the less-active list, at least 6 of whom were baptised in just the last 3 years! Where did they all go? It’s devastating, and makes me want to do all I can to help people understand that being baptised is a commitment to contribute. It’s tempting to baptise anyone who agrees to it, and not want to scare them away by spelling out just how much will be expected (nay, needed) of them for THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. But it’s a missionary’s duty to ensure they’re truly ready for it.

This area needs kingdom builders, and we were overjoyed on Wednesday after English class when a lovely young family invited us into their home. They were contacted shortly before transfers, and the first words out of the father’s mouth were “You mentioned you believe in eternal families. Does that have anything to do with Matt. 18:18 (“Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”)?” We taught them about the Restoration, and they will read the Book of Mormon. They are so sincere, we can’t wait to go back and continue on to teach them about the Plan of Salvation!

Also, we have a miracle investigator: there’s no time to tell the full story, but he’s a Slovak scholar who grew up in England. He contacted the sister missionaries (!) and read the Book of Mormon in three days. He will be going back home to another town shortly, but he’s fantastic and intends to be baptised. He has such a great hunger to learn the Restored gospel and says, “the more I learn about the Saints, the more I love it”. We taught him about repentance at his own request (he’s been taught practically everything else already, so this was a repeat); it really clicked and there was such a sweet Spirit of wonder and awe. He said, “I’ve always thought of repentance in the secular sense – correct the math problem and get a higher mark next time. But it’s more: it’s living up to the standard of divine behaviour, preparing to be co-creators with God!”. Wow.

And that’s exactly what our Christ-centred lifestyle is all about.  We’ve got Zion to establish, our hearts to purify, and the gospel light to proclaim. I know this is the Lord’s work, that his true church is re-established on the earth, and that nothing compares with the peace and happiness of knowing our lives are acceptable to God.

I love you all! Until next week,
Sestra Jones

Transferred!

29 July 2013

The time has finally come: I’ve been transferred! I’ve left my beloved Žilina, and have moved to a distant city.

Starší U and I sang a duet, and I bore a parting testimony in Žilina Branch on Sunday, with such a mixture of emotions in my heart. I felt sad about leaving, but SO happy and excited too! (And a little guilty for feeling happy – is happiness appropriate, when you’re leaving the company of such kind friends?).  I am really looking forward to exploring new horizons, but will treasure the friendships and memories I made in Žilina . I met so many special people there, and I’m going to miss them. But I am not the only one on the move; big changes are afoot for others, too. A lovely young sister there has decided to serve a mission (whoohoo!), and some other young people are moving on to university. Including our friend D, who was recently baptised. She is coming HERE for uni! (Heavenly Father gathering His forces… she will be such a strength to the Branch here!).

(Click the highlighted text, if you would like to hear Sestra Jones and Starší U sing “Cítíme Lásku” in Czech. The song is called “Love Is Spoken Here” in English, and is a  beautiful children’s song about learning the gospel and feeling love at home. The sheet music and an mp3 download are available from the Church’s website free of charge, provided it is for non-commercial home or church use).

Historical Documents, Exhibit A: A page from the Area Book in Žilina – after a brief hiatus of 14 years, sister missionaries resume their service there in 2013, with the assignment of Sestra Pyšňáková and Sestra Jones.

Historical Documents, Exhibit A:
A page from the Area Book in Žilina – after a brief hiatus of 14 years, sister missionaries resume their service there in 2013, with the assignment of Sestra Pyšňáková and Sestra Jones.


It’s GORGEOUS here! 🙂  I stepped off the train not two hours ago with dear Sestra Pyšňáková, and my new companion Sestra Johns to greet me. My suitcases were SO heavy – I really must downsize before I get transferred next, but it’ll take courage to get rid of any winter gear, despite the fact that it takes up a lot of the space and weight. I know I’ll be needing it in a few short months, if we don’t melt first – it’s so hot right now!

This city is Slovakia’s second-largest city (population of about 250,000. That puts it on par with other global urban centres, such as Lincoln, Nebraska or Newcastle-upon-Tyne 😉 ). The branch here is led by President Van D from the Netherlands, whom I have yet to meet but I hear he’s fantastic. There are about 5 active members of the Church, with more than a dozen additional members on the branch records.  I’m the 4th sister missionary ever to be assigned here; Sestra Pyšňáková, Sestra Johns, and their other companion (they were in a threesome companionship) were the very first, and they began their service here last transfer, in late May. Sestra Pyšňáková has now completed her mission, and will be leaving tomorrow for Prague and then home, so I will be follow-up training Sestra Johns. Which really just feels like a formality at this point – I’ve barely got any more experience than she does!

This impressive Gothic cathedral is a famous landmark in the city.

This impressive Gothic cathedral is a famous landmark in the city.

We’ve got three lessons on plan for today – it’s going to be a beautiful transfer, I can just feel it!  Can’t wait to get started.

I’ve been thinking lately about being pure in heart – is my eye really single to God’s glory?  I want to develop love for the Lord and others so my motives will be pure and I’ll be actually listening for the Spirit rather than my own appetites / opinions to guide my actions. No time like the present: new city, new transfer, new Sestra Jones. As Pres. Irwin liked to say, our best should always be getting even better. 🙂

I also want to learn to teach more simply, clearly, and effectively. Although my language ability has its limits, still I realise that it means more to people when you can share specific, personal experiences rather than general principles and truths. The latter are still powerful and good, but the glory of the gospel is in its application. I want to help people understand how the gospel applies to and will bless THEM specifically, not just Heavenly Father’s children in general. It takes preparation and trust to open up personal thoughts like that and make them relevant for others, but I feel that would bring more power to the testimony I bear. One more item for the to-learn list! (to-dos are too short-term) 😀

Love you all so much, I know the Church is true and that we can do more than we think to help our spirit brothers and sisters to come to know this truth for themselves. Have the faith to roar like a lion: open your mouth and it shall be filled!

S laskou,

Sestra Jones ❤

Carpe Diem

car·pe di·emLatin. seize the day; enjoy the present; lit. “pluck the day (while it is ripe)”

22 July 2013

I’m feeling more than a little nostalgic today: Transfers are on the near horizon (we will receive phone calls on Saturday night to see where we’re going!), and in just a week Sestra B and I will be the senior sisters of Slovakia. It’s all quite daunting really, but I’m so glad to know that you’re cheering me on; your love and support mean the world.  Although the thought of transfers is thrilling, I’m trying not to let the nerves and excitement distract me from our work. After all, if I do leave Z I want to know I served the people here with all my heart, might, mind, and strength!

Happenings this week: it’s been another slow week, I’ve felt busy but in the kind of blurry, off-focus way. We had some fun contacts: one was with a French lady (she was SOOO French, it was delightful! It was so charming to hear her speak  „eh ben, mais oui, et voila“) and we all loved our little discussion, but she had no interest in pursuing things further. Maybe next time! =D  The other was with a Christian Rock band from the Czech Republic (they kept singing „Sister Act“ for us) . When they heard the Kniha Mormonova was FOR FREE they snatched up the copy we offered, and they couldn’t wait to show their conservative Christian / orthodox friends!  🙂

M is a miracle: a former investigator with a philosophical strain and enjoys „debating“more than we would like. In our first meeting with him he made it clear he can have a relationship with God without baptism. We challenged him to pray about it, and in the second lesson he still hadn’t had his answer. We taught about Christ’s gospel and at the end he blurted out: „I had a strong feeling just a moment ago that I want to be baptised.“ Prayers are miraculously answered!

We made cookies with the S family, and encouraged their youth to prepare for a great experience at the upcoming EFY by reading the scriptures daily before going, and we had dinner at the Wr’s place; senior couples and member families are a breath of fresh air in what could otherwise seem like a long week –  we are so blessed to have them!  *EFY = “Especially For Youth”  – but might as well be called Epic Fun Yearly – an überconference for young people aged 14-18. One the most spiritual and highly anticipated weeks of the youth calendar, its awesomeness has to be experienced to be believed!

I love my companion! She has true charity, and is gifted with an instinct for dealing with people. She remembers people’s names and faces, smiles, shows enthusiasm, and warmth, and courtesy.  It is evident to me that Sestra B was called to serve in Z this transfer for a reason; she sees people for what they can become and is bold and persistent when inviting them to reach that potential. Just yesterday, a lady we’re hoping to teach said she’d mentioned us to her friend P’ol, and he remembered a young lady who matched Sestra B‘s description surprising him by greeting him cheerfully in the street. Now P’ol will be joining her for our first lesson this evening, and my companion and I have determined to greet everyone we meet from now on!

Sestra Jones, Sestra B, Starší Jo, Starší Cal, Starší U, and Starší C
All smiles on a sweltering summer’s day in Slovakia!

It’s made me wonder about what impressions we give to observers in our normal, daily behaviour:  would someone from this town recognise us on the street and say “Yes, I know you! You’re the girls with the zmirzlina (ice creams)”? I’d much rather be known as “the girls with the smiles and Kniha Mormonova (Book of Mormon)”!

I love exchanges, when we work alongside other missionaries – it’s so helpful to observe the way others approach their work, and to get some objective feedback on my own efforts.  I learned so much in an hour or so of contacting with Elders Jo and C in Trenčín. I wanted to work on identifying people’s needs, but felt I was doing an awful job, groping for what to say. After one promising but seemingly fruitless contact (a lady who uncomfortably brushed off the idea of eternal families), I turned to Elder Jo to ask why he’d held silent when I’d struggled so much. To my surprise, he said “I was standing back in awe – you just connected with her so well, I didn’t want to ruin it.” I had felt the complete opposite; I guess it just goes to show that we can be our own worst judge. It is so valuable to have a trusted voice from outside the situation to share their perspective, and point out things we can’t see clearly.

I found this quote from Elder Hales (Priesthood Session of April Conference this year) and wanted to share it: “Use your agency to develop yourself personally. As you discover your gifts and talents, remember that parents and mentors may assist you, but you must let the Spirit guide you. Choose and act for yourself. Be motivated from within. Make a plan for your life…Explore interests and skills. Work and become self-reliant. Set goals, overcome mistakes, gain experience, and finish what you begin…Enjoy wholesome fun together. Above all, have faith in the Saviour! Fear not! As we diligently live the gospel, we become strong in the Lord.”

It takes courage to have the faith necessary for miracles: to set our sights higher than we alone can reach, and trust the Lord to step in to do the rest. I’ve determined to be more diligent and focused on my purpose, with energy and drive to fulfil it. I’m praying that I can develop more charity for those I serve so that my actions may be motivated by love for them, and for the Lord.

Love you lots!

Sestra Jones