There and Back Again

23 September 2013

District Conf training meeting

President and Sister McConkie with the missionaries of Slovakia, in Brno.
“We come from places far and near,
To find the Lord’s elect.
With faith to work His miracles,
Our souls with strength are blessed.”
from We Are Called of God, the Czech/Slovak Mission Song

Thanks for the lovely emails and messages, everyone! I’ve just had time to scan through a few of them – we’ve been on trains and buses all day, returning from the District Conference and missionary training we attended this weekend in Brno (Czech Republic). Responses will be in the post if I’m able to get around to it, or (the more likely scenario! 😉 ) I’ll catch you next week.

So, last week I said I’d tell you more about our výlet (excursion) to Slanecký hrad/Slansky castle that didn’t go at all as planned……We and the Elders had the train and bus times planned out, we baked plum cake for refreshments, President van D and two other members were planning on coming, as were at least 5 of our investigators (some bringing children or family members). Bulletproof, right? Wrong! It clouded over, so everyone except President Van D and the Elders’ investigator M cancelled.

So our party consisted of six missionaries (Elder and Sister Mil included), one stalwart Branch President, and one intrepid Slovak investigator. 😀 We all made the best of it, and hopped on a train in good time to get to the village of Slanec. Before too long the train stopped and we made to disembark, except that the door jammed. Puzzled, we crossed to the other compartment and heaved at that door, which likewise refused to budge. Then the whistle blew and the engine started – with us still firmly locked inside the train! President even ran at the door with his shoulder and walking stick, but to no avail: we pulled out of the little station and in a twinkle Slanec was miles behind us. Turns out we’d tried to get off the train on the left side, which would have landed us between the two tracks. Not that the tiny Slanec station has a platform anyway: it’s just a little plank bridge over the ditch alongside the rails. But the left-hand side doors are always kept locked for safety. Makes you wonder why they have them at all! (Daft…) So anyway our little jaunt up a hill to a castle turned into a two-hour hike along the train tracks and through the woods and over fields to catch a bus back home. But at least it didn’t rain!

forefathers

“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…”
Malachi 4:6

Sestra Jones’ forefather Joseph, and his sons

Great-great-grandmother Maud, and her little sister Ruby

Families are Forever:
Great-great-grandmother Maud, and her little sister Ruby

This week was hectic, but overall pretty good. The Zone Leaders finally made it out here to visit us and we put on a singing display – a highlight of any transfer! We were inspired to change the spiritual thought for our English class at the last minute; we shared an uplifting message about family history, and it  turns out that some of our advanced students have definite interest! That’s perfect, as this week on Thursday we’ll be holding our first Family History presentations – wish us luck! We got permission to familiarise ourselves with FamilyTree on the computer (it feels SOOO weird to use the internet…), which I’d never used before, but looks brilliant. There’s nothing available in Slovak so far though…Shame.

We’re also working on putting together Family Home Evening kits – a brilliant idea of Sestra Johns’ – that we can use to keep children entertained in church, or while we’re teaching their parents, and most of all to teach families how to hold Family Home Evening. We want to demonstrate lessons using the first 3 missionary lessons from Preach My Gospel (Restoration, Plan of salvation, Gospel of Christ), so we’re looking for materials to put in those. I remember my father using some little *Joseph Smith story finger puppets in our Family Home Evenings when I was little. Any tips on how to make those? We inherited a Slovak “Plan of Salvation Man” picture set from Sestra Pyšňáková that we’ve copied. My father had one of those too, leftover from his mission; I think he called it Fred… am I right, Dad?

*The “First Vison” puppets that Sestra Jones remembers so vividly are found in the July 2001 issue of the “Friend” magazine here (scroll down for the printable figures). A printer-friendly, black and white version can be found in the January 1997 “Friend” issue here, while a simpler version of finger-tip puppets for small children (or the “crafting impaired” parent 😉 ) can be found here. Visit this excellent website for a simple colouring page depicting Joseph Smith and the First Vision.

Our missionary training with President and Sister McConkie this past weekend was absolutely stellar. It was a spiritual feast, and just what we needed for our area! President’s remarks focused on quality teaching, and that has been on my mind lately, as this past week two of our investigators accepted baptismal dates! One is PK’ova, with whom we’ve been working since the beginning of the transfer. The other is PH: the teenage nephew of a Church member from another area. Because I’ve never before experienced following an investigator on their journey to baptism from start to finish, I feel nervous about forgetting something, or not doing a good enough job. I want to teach in such a way that will truly help our investigators be prepared to make their sacred baptismal covenant, and then remain fully active to receive even greater promised blessings, and contribute to building the kingdom.

Sestri Jones and Johns, with the lovely L, a member of the Church in Slovakia

Sestri Jones and Johns, with the lovely L, a member of the Church in Slovakia

I really appreciated the message of the training, but the practical exercise of working with our pamphlets was my favourite part of the entire conference: Sestra Johns taught me the gospel of Christ in excellent Slovak and just glowed – I am so grateful to be her companion! I often feel that I have been so inadequate as a follow-up trainer, and wish I could have had the skills and experience to do better for dear Sestra Johns… if one of us is transferred next week, I will take some comfort from the knowledge that the Holy Ghost is our real teacher: we need not rely on anyone else for instruction from our loving Father in Heaven. And I’ll be forever grateful to Sestra Johns for putting up with me and loving me, despite my flaws and weaknesses!

Unbelievable, I’m out of time already!

Before I sign off, let me just once again share my feelings of gratitude for the Saviour’s Atonement, and for this opportunity to help others feel its healing power through missionary service. I know I have so far to go before I’m the servant I could be or should be, but when we exercise faith the Lord is right there beside us as we build His kingdom.

S laskou,

Sestra Jones

Dreamlike Days

16 September 2013

I feel like this week has been so uneventful…every day passes as if in a dream and the weeks stack up far too quickly. Transfers are just around the corner, and I am acutely aware that I may only have a fortnight left to work with the lovely Sestra Johns. We’re making the most of it: we both absolutely went to town this morning on deep cleaning the flat and felt SO good afterwards (we’re both orderly souls). 🙂

Anyway, Monday was our trip to Spišský hrad as I mentioned last week, after which we had *FHE at the Mil’s. Two of our investigators came: M and V – it was great! The Elders took their turn doing the spiritual thought: a beautiful analogy of prayer using a candle (keep a prayer burning in your heart kind of thing), then the game “two truths and a lie” had us all in stitches, and Sestra Mil served watermelon as a final taste of summer sunshine.  *(FHE stands for Family Home Evening: an informal, fun gathering for the purpose of learning together and strengthening relationships, typically accompanied by good eats. A weekly custom of many families and groups of friends throughout the Church, worldwide!)

A "panelák" is a pre-fab, concrete apartment block, a fairly common form of housing in the Slovak Republic. According to Wikipedia, the largest concentration of paneláks in Central Europe can be found in Petržalka, a borough of the Slovak capital city Bratislava, as the ones pictured here. photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A “panelák” is a pre-fab, concrete apartment block, and is a fairly common form of housing in the Slovak Republic. According to Wikipedia, the largest concentration of paneláks in Central Europe can be found in Petržalka, a borough of the Slovak capital city Bratislava, as are the ones pictured here.
photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday was packed: we wanted to go visit the B family, one of our less active families, but turned out Sestra B was at work so we turned to our backup plan and went to visit a less-active member of the Branch who seldom responds to calls or texts. A nice old lady let us in the front door of the panelák (that’s step 1 when tracting housing estates – get past the “zvončeks” or little intercoms at the front gate so you can actually knock doors). Our Branch sister actually opened the door, but was stand-offish, “Thanks, I’m busy, I’ll call you when I have time, say hello to the members for me…” And that was that. Door closed, turned down; I don’t understand it. If only she would let us understand how to help her…

Anyway, we hustled to our next appointment: a first meeting we’d set up with S, a Potential Investigator whose phone number was in the Area Book. The only information about S noted was “YSA” (Young Single Adult). A note like “M-A S-D A P” would have been pretty confusing, but far more accurate, as it turns out that he is a middle-aged Seventh-day Adventist preacher! A bit more than we bargained for perhaps, but very kind and respectful and he said he’ll read and pray about the Book of Mormon, so who knows?

Other lessons that day were taught in homes: the best setting possible, people feel the difference when we bring the Spirit into their home, but also more difficult sometimes because we’re on their territory, so to speak. First Val and S, a couple with 4 children, I’m not sure if I’ve told you about them. Val believes in God but doesn’t go to any church. S seems only mildly interested, but Val is up to Alma in the Book of Mormon, and came to the Branch BBQ last month. Val keeps his commitments to read which is great, but seems to view our lessons as interesting theoretical discussions rather than searching to change his life. We’ve extended baptismal dates to work towards, to get an answer about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, but he says “I’m already a good Christian, and a good person without that covenant. Every church thinks they’re right – my parents baptised me Catholic but that doesn’t mean anything. Besides, why do I have to pray about the Book of Mormon, I see no reason why it wouldn’t be true.” We’re not sure how to address his concerns, but are hoping to get their family to come to Church and actually participate in our worship services and feel the power of the Spirit present, rather than observe us from a distance.

Then we had our third lesson with our lovely V, who asks great questions and is so sweet and sincere. She goes home to visit her parents every weekend, so getting her to Church may be a challenge, but she said that if she knew it was true and right, she’d join the Church. I love that faithful attitude! 🙂  She is just such a beautiful person, inside and out.

Wednesday, we took a tram south of the city to visit Sestra B’gova and her 3 little white dogs (she calls them her “monkeys”). She gets a bit lonely, and we’re happy to try to brighten her day, let her know she is needed (she coaches our Slovak), and encourage her in sharing the gospel. She tells everyone she knows about the Book of Mormon, gives the best advice, and is such a sweetie.

Then we came back to town to teach English, and what should the Mil’s bring with them but post from Prague! 😀 Thank you mom for the sweet note,the juicy (and sometimes hilarious!) Facebook updates from family and friends, and the final installment of the Martha Toronto autobiography – I’m so sad it’s over! She is such an inspiring woman, it is an account to be read again and again. Most of all, thank you for the articles about the Sheffield Slovak branch. I thought it was nice news when I heard about it, but actually reading the account filled my heart and mind with such a Spirit of gratitude, and affected me deeply.

Thursday, we helped President Van D weed his garden, then went with the Mil’s to teach English at a club for disabled children and young adults. They love the song “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain”!

I’m running short on time now, so to quickly finish my little report: Friday we had a rainstorm, and met with P.K. (she was a dear and brought us chocolates – I love free food!). She knows the Book of Mormon is true and enjoyed the Plan of Salvation lesson.

Saturday’s výlet (an excursion we organised for the Branch) saw a couple of funny but harmless mishaps (I have no time to expand upon that, but might remember to share the comical details next week!), and D from Žilina has moved in – yay!

A singing display from Spring of 2013: a group of missionaries form a little choir and sing hymns in public, while a few missionaries speak to passers-by.

A singing display from Spring of 2013: a group of missionaries form a little choir and sing hymns on the town square, while a few of them take turns sharing a gospel message with interested members of the public, and inviting them to learn more.
photo courtesy of Sestra Pyšňáková. Ďakujem!

This week we’re really looking forward to catching up with our dear missionary and member friends from around the two Republics. On Wednesday the Zone Leaders are coming out here for a day, and will stay for District Meeting after one of this area’s missionary traditions: having lunch together at the junkiest restaurant in town, “Big Burger” (apparently, the Elders used to eat there together every week, until Sestra Pyšňáková put her foot down last transfer, and we’ve now branched out to places that actually serve vegetables). Our ZLs Elders Pet and Bat are just fantastic! They were meant to come last week, but they’d worn their brake pads out (they’re the only ones with a car excepting senior missionaries) and called to sheepishly break the news that they wouldn’t be coming. Luckily for them, they’ve got the car back in working order – Sestra Johns and I aren’t sure we would have forgiven them for dashing our hopes of a decent singing display again! We get those opportunities so rarely. 🙂

In addition, we’re traveling up to the Czech Republic this weekend for District Conference (the equivalent of Stake Conference) with a training for us missionaries to be held right after. It’s an 8-hour train ride for us, so we’ve no chance of returning the same night, and we have no idea yet where we’ll be staying, but it’s sure to be a fun time meeting with other missionaries we haven’t seen for awhile. Sleepover time! It’s one of the nicest compensations for having to travel the farthest to get to meetings.

Love you all to bits! Big hugs, God bless,
Sestra Jones

Autumn is Coming

09 September 2013

Jeseň príde – autumn is coming! It really feels like September now, with a crisp chill to the air, leaves turning golden, and school in full swing.

“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 The fabulous President Van D took all the missionaries on a grand tour of the city; this statue represents the city's Crest. pictured, l to r: Elder Bar, Elder Fe'l, Sister Johns, Sister Jones, Sister and Elder Mil

“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
The fabulous President Van D took all the missionaries on a grand tour of the city; this statue represents the city’s Crest.
pictured, l to r: Elder Bar, Elder Fe’l, Sister Johns, Sister Jones, Sister and Elder Mil

I was blessed this week with edifying study, and my friendship with Sestra Johns is a source of daily strength and joy as her optimism, testimony, and good sense keep us on the straight and narrow. She is also what my little sisters would call a total Kitchen Fairy: this week she made peanut butter fudge, no-bake chocolate cookies,  pear crumble,  and Slovak foods called bublanina (a bubbly plum and peach cake) and halušky (potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon). It was so yummy! 😀

The onset of the academic year has brought many of our elusive investigators back to the city, and we were blessed to teach some Spirit-filled lessons with members present and others in families’ homes. I am repenting of my weaknesses and mistakes and feel I’m doing better with the Lord’s help – when I exert myself to reach higher than I think I can, I receive promptings on how to improve and receive little tender mercies daily.

One such mercy was a blessing in disguise: on Tuesday afternoon I suddenly felt exhausted, achy, and ill, so we stayed in the church building to make some phone calls rather than contact on the Namestie (town square). We called the Elders and asked them to come administer a blessing before we went home for dinner. To our surprise, while we were waiting for them, someone knocked on the chapel door. It turned out to be P.R.: a gentleman who had contacted the Elders just the day before, and had made an appointment to meet with them on Wednesday. Yet here he was on our doorstep on Tuesday, and he was bursting with questions for us (‘How do you know Christ is your Saviour?’ ‘Does prayer really bring you peace?’).  The Elders soon arrived, and were able to give him a tour of the building and a Kniha Mormonova (Book of Mormon) before he had to be on his way. It was a case of inspired timing, and we were glad that we were there when he knocked.

P.R. had come bearing gifts, too: his family farm had produced extra tomatoes, plums, pears, and goat milk that he promptly gave to us, dismissively waving away our offers of payment. Free food! A great blessing for us out here in the eastern-most outpost of the Czech/Slovak Mission, as money gets a bit tight with travel fares to mission conferences, etc.

Another little miracle came in the form of an electric keyboard: Sestra Johns plays the piano accompaniment for the hymns during our Sunday worship services and so thusfar we’ve spent a lot of time at the church building,  trying to call potential investigators while she practices on the piano. It’s been frustratingly ineffective despite our efforts to concentrate and muli-task. But on Friday, our neighbour N that we help practice English with, said ‘Do you play the piano? I have this old keyboard sitting around but never use it. You can have it!’ It’s solving so many scheduling conflicts to have the freedom to practice at home during meals and after Nightly Planning – Heavenly Father is absolutely ingenious, and the people here are so generous!

We went on a finding exchange with the Elders on Friday to do some bus contacting together. I’m trying to work on leading in with testimony when I speak to people, and letting them feel the sacredness of our message, instead of acting like a salesperson spouting a memorised spiel. My approach still needs work and it’s not easy to break out of old habits, but we sorely need to improve our contacting somehow: Sestra Johns and I didn’t get a single phone number this week.

However, the one new investigator we did find is gorgeous: she’s a young English teacher named V, and is probably the sweetest soul alive. I’ve been praying about where to find all of the people Heavenly Father has prepared for us to teach – I know they’re out here somewhere! – and I got the impression that many of them are in our Area Book, just waiting for us to call. Well, considering how ridiculously many phone numbers the Sisters gathered last transfer, that may well be. We’ve just got to dive in and start introducing ourselves and setting up appointments to meet!

P-day výlet: an aerial view of the walls of Spišský hrad.

P-day výlet: an aerial view of the walls of Spišský hrad.

I’m also hoping for the opportunity to talk to the students who are now flocking back to university – it will be wonderful to have more young adults to bring vibrance and life to the branch! Especially now that the splendid Elder and Sister Mil are here, and are hosting Family Home Evening meetings. There’s always such a great spirit when people gather together for fellowship, fun, and learning. We’re really looking forward to FHE with the Mil’s tonight, and two of our investigators are planning to come! 🙂

“…A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14) Spišský hrad/Spiš Castle. This 12-century castle is one of the largest in Central Europe.

“…A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14)
Spišský hrad/Spiš Castle. This 12-century castle is one of the largest in Central Europe.

We’ve had a great day so far! Our District caught a mild case of wanderlust, and got up early to make the trek out to Spišský hrad: one of the largest castles in all of Central Europe. It was brilliant!

Très belle! Sestra Jones next to St. Urban’s bell

Très belle!
Sestra Jones next to St. Urban’s bell

I feel so blessed to be in the Lord’s service in this time and in this place. I know that Heavenly Father lives, and that He loves and is mindful of each of His precious children. I know that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world and that only on the terms of His Atonement may we escape from the death and misery brought about by our mistakes. I know that when we exercise faith in His redeeming power, we may be made instruments to bring about much good in our own lives and in the lives of countless others. Only in living the gospel do we find eternal joy.

S laskou, Sestra Jones

 

An Ensign Moment

02 September 2013

It’s been a great week! Full of ups and downs as always, but I’ve just made up my mind to learn from, and then overall ignore the downs.  😉  I hope I never complain in my letters, I really am so happy to be here in the Lord’s service, living on the edge where miracles occur. I deeply appreciate all of your comforting words and loving support.

Fun fact: President McConkie’s ringtone on our phone is the Star Wars Imperial March. 😀 Predetermined by the elders who served before us…

The Elders wearing stylish crocheted booties over their shoes after mopping the floor of our meetinghouse

The Elders wearing stylish crocheted booties over their shoes after mopping the floor of our meetinghouse

Mission news: the Mil’s (missionary couple) have arrived safely, and will be starting their humanitarian service today. They are from Washington state, have nine children and a farm, and are just lovely. Elder Fre is unexpectedly being transferred out today – they need him in another area. Back to just 2 Starší then, but having our threesome of Elders here was fun while it lasted.

A visit from Ra

A visit from Ra

You’ll never guess who came to see us on Wednesday: Ra, a young lady that Sestra Pyšňáková and I first met months ago in Žilina! She traveled an hour and a half by bus from her little town to come see us. We had lunch and ice cream, and then taught her a lesson at the church building.

Training in Trenčín on Thursday was FABULOUS! It was a combined Zone Conference for all of Slovakia – and the first time we’ve had such a gathering as an independent country with Sister missionaries present. To quote some of the Elders, we’ve “broken up the Slovak brotherhood”.  😉 (Had they made a serious study of 2 Peter, they would have seen this day coming, as it plainly says that we must “add…to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:7). Peter is obviously referring to sister missionaries there!)

We enjoyed such a spiritual outpouring: we were instructed, uplifted, and empowered by our good Mission President, and stellar Zone Leaders. President McConkie’s training on utilising creative finding techniques was particularly exciting. There are so many possibilities! We found out we’re allowed to teach lectures (eg Mormons settling the West), hold weekly Family History seminars, give up to 4 hours of community service (not including weekly English classes), and organise concerts and cultural excursions. It’s going to take energy to plan, but it’s a breath of fresh air and we’re excited about our work: breaking out of our routines and keeping the joy of our work alive in our hearts and minds daily.

Jacob's Palace, a very distinctive building near the offices where we have our Church meetings

Jacob’s Palace, a very distinctive building near the offices where we have our Church meetings

The entire day was such an eye-opener: Slovakia is nothing short of a land of miracles. When Elder Uchtdorf dedicated the country just over 7 years ago, 3 miracles were promised: the registration of the Church (legal recognition by the government of the Slovak Republic), the Book of Mormon in Slovak, and eventually the establishment of many STAKES (even the establishment of wards would be amazing growth, compared to the little branches we have now!) through the opening of hearts and homes to the restored gospel. The first two miracles have already come to pass (and President McConkie was personally involved in the signature gathering project which facilitated the registration), so there’s no doubt the Lord will grant the third in His own time. We’ve just got to see His vision and be His builders – what more exciting work can there be? 😀

After the training we were pumped up and ready to go! On Friday morning we were out contacting on the namestie (town square), and we had our own little miracle. We had been rejected again, but had slipped a pass-along card to the person we’d approached before they got away 😉 . Then a gentleman STOPS US and asks calmly, “May I please have one of those cards?” We were flabbergasted, and set up an appointment to meet that afternoon. He is so prepared, is searching, asks all the right questions, read what we asked him to, and has set a baptismal date for the 5 October! It made me wonder why we don’t expect miracles like that to happen: I’ve read about things like this happening in the scriptures and the Ensign, but find it hard to believe that it will actually happen to us! I need greater, innocent, undoubting faith!

Sestra Johns and I also had another amazing experience this week: we sat down and set some goals together to improve our companionship and work more effectively. Then IMMEDIATELY the phone rang with people we haven’t heard from in ages asking if they could come to church. We were overjoyed to have a grand total of 4 investigators at church yesterday (two of whom are our lovely investigator couple K and H) – what a blessing! The Lord surely took pity on us.  🙂

My family mentioned in their most recent letter that they did some work in the temple, and noticed that there was a lot of work being done for Slovak people. Other missionaries here have heard the same from their families back home: the temples are full of Slovak ordinances being done! President McConkie issued an amazing challenge at the conference: we are to pray morning and night for the Spirit of Elijah to be poured out on the people, that their loved ones on the other side of the veil will soften their hearts and prepare them to recognise us as the Lord’s servants. Elder Bednar has said that the Spirit of Elijah TURNS hearts and the Book of Mormon CHANGES hearts.

I’m already out of time, so lots of love and best of luck to those starting a new school year. Hugs!
Sestra Jones