Endless Improvement

23 July 2014

“The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.”
– William W. Phelps, 1792-1872

I am happy and well. Exhausted though: absolutely shattered. What a crash course in relying on the Lord!

On exchange with the Uherské Hradiště sisters. l to r: Sestra Ro, Sestra Bru, Sestra B, and Sestra Jones

On exchange with the Uherské Hradiště sisters.
l to r: Sestra Ro, Sestra Bru, Sestra B, and Sestra Jones

Our exchange in Uherské Hradiště was fantastic. We completely dropped the ball on planning transportation, though: the bus we planned to take home ended up being full (and with the crystal clear vision of hindsight, we see that we should have booked it in advance…). Two full buses later and we had to opt for the long route on the train. So in the end it was more like a 36-hour exchange, but we learned a lot about spiritually making backup plans. 😉 Sestra Ro seems to be very happy: she teaches so well, speaks great Czech, and her love for the people is abundantly evident. I am overjoyed at the growth of their branch: their new members are simply awesome! It goes to show what amazing things can be accomplished when members of the Church and missionaries work together in unity.

The Zone Conference training was yesterday! We were adjusting plans until the very last second and I hardly slept a wink on Monday. The topic was setting expectations for baptism and confirmation in EVERY conversation. We had to challenge the missionaries to be very bold and direct. We compared clearly stating our purpose upfront to a juicy nectarine with fruit evident on the surface, ready to taste. In contrast we may be hesitant and beat around the bush in seeking to help the investigator to baptism, but that’s like handing them a peanut with a hard shell to break through. Some people are motivated and persistent and will eventually crack through the shell, but others fail to recognise the true fruit we’re offering inside and cast it away. It takes courage to display our vulnerable nectarines when it’s what means the most to us (we don’t want them thrown back in our faces), but it’s the only way that gives everyone a clear choice to align with the Saviour and heed His call to “repent and be baptised.”

When we sat down I heaved a sigh of relief, but felt a pit of disappointment in my stomach. Like Sestra McConkie tells us, every speaker has three talks: the one they plan, the one they think they give, and the one they actually give. I tried to be positive and leave it in the Lord’s hands (Sestra B is GREAT at that!). Then so many missionaries – Prezident McConkie included – praised us highly and thanked us for what we taught. I believed them 😀 and now feel at peace with our efforts, which I’m not sure I would have at the start of my mission. I’m changing for the better and learning to accept the Lord’s approval instead of clinging to unrealistic expectations for my performance.

Bearing departing testimony was a treasured experience: I see in myself that I have been allowed to grow closer to my Saviour and reduce my skewed perfectionism. Before my mission I always thought that in order to be successful I had to be effortlessly flawless, but a mission has taught me that that is not the case. Heavenly Father himself has endless room for improvement; it’s an opportunity, not a fault! 🙂

Sestra B Min and I sang a musical number in French/English/Slovak, which was a nice farewell to the Elders and Sisters here who have become my second family. It is a bit scary to be so close to the end – the edge of the unknown. But my time’s not up yet, and I don’t feel sad. Besides, Czech-Slovak missionaries never die! 😀 You can take the sister out of the mission field, but you can’t take the mission field out of the sister.

All my love,  Sestra Jones

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Live Without Regret

14 July 2014

I wish to open this update with a spectacular statement from my mission president, James W McConkie III. It has inspired me, and I felt it was precisely what I needed to hear this week:

“Please know that none of you has forfeited your potential. Rather, as missionaries in the Lord’s service you are exactly where you should be and experiencing all the things you need to experience in order to reach your tremendous potential. Trust in God. Be patient. Work hard. Find. Be spiritual people. Have meaningful conversations. Extend commitments. Testify. Bring people to the covenant of baptism and to Christ. Watch and marvel as God changes the people you teach. Thank Him for changing you too. It is a great time to be a missionary!!”

I’ve been trying to take sufficient time in the past few days to reflect on my missionary efforts and reconsecrate myself before my time is truly out. (Sestra Jones will complete her missionary service next month). It’s a struggle to fight mental exhaustion these days!  😉 I’m afraid that I might miss promptings to improve and serve from sheer lack of energy. But on the other hand there’s very little (short of running late, or chickening out in an occasional contact) about which I feel guilty.

At the close of other stages of my life, like before moving or finishing a schoolyear, I have often been weighed down with regret and despair over opportunities wasted. But in contrast, the past few weeks of my mission have been graced with an overall feeling of gratitude. I don’t believe it’s an attitude of complacency, but rather a sign that I’m learning to accept the Atonement. I’m going out each day with the intention to serve: trying to be obedient and dependable and bold and charitable and sensitive to the Spirit. I used to feel awful self-condemnation for being anywhere short of perfect. Now I feel peace, and realise that the very fact that I am feeling and recognising the Spirit in my life daily is a sign of the Lord’s approval. Perfect or not, my efforts are enough and my offering is acceptable to the Lord. I know of no happier state. (Elder Kopischke, Elder Gong in this month’s Liahona, and Preach My gospel page 10)

As for this week’s exchange with the Trenčín sisters, we were immensely impressed with their capacity as teachers, and consecrated work ethic. They are ambitiously keeping their vision very high and diligently following through: absolutely exemplary. We met many of our goals together, including 14 hours of SOL (er… I think that stands for Speaking Our Language, and refers to gaining greater proficiency in the Slovak language by using it as often as humanly possible) and finding new investigators. From my side I want to improve on selecting activities to meet the Sisters’ goals by planning further in advance.

Our area is making a recovery from last week, greatly thanks to the back-to-back lessons taught in the company of the amazing Sestra Scer. 🙂 We miraculously reconnected with some key people, such as M (a single mum who was on-track for baptism last transfer) and S (mother of 3 and eldest of 13 children, with whom we had a very positive first lesson early on). J M came to church and is working to give up coffee. L started progressing by leaps and bounds this week, as we’ve met more regularly and he made a stellar effort to read the Book of Mormon. I really feel that he will soon be baptised.  He’s made great friends with all the other young adults of the Branch, and we hope he’ll recognise his growing testimony fast, before they all leave on missions or go back to school! We had a significant spiritual discussion about the Holy Ghost with the W family this week (they’re the family that invited us to their home to teach English), and they have begun reading the Book of Mormon, making them serious investigators. It’s so exciting – we feel that good things are happening here in Žilina!

I know that the Lord’s hand is in this work!

S láskou, Sestra Jones

A Short Report

07 July 2014

Family, that langoše looks delicious! Haven´t learned to cook it myself (a bit time consuming for missionaries…), but the cities here are dotted with booths selling the yummy, greasy things. *Langoše is the plural form of langoš, a gorgeous, fried  flatbread. The texture and flavour is rather similar to that of a funnel cake, hot doughnut, or the best deepdish pizza crust you’ve ever had in your life. It is a savoury dish, typically eaten with crushed garlic, cheese, and ketchup. It’s fabulous.

Our sweet friend Denisa made this massive platter of delicious langoše for our family! We had to send Sestra Jones a picture, so she could enjoy them with her eyes :)

Last week, our sweet friend Denisa made this massive platter of scrumptuous langoše for our family! We had to send Sestra Jones a picture, so she could enjoy them with her eyes 🙂

This week Sestra B and I were prompted to ask ourselves the question of whether all those lessons we were teaching were motivated by our purpose (to bless and lift others by bringing them closer to Christ), or simply out of wanting to report good numbers. It took some of the wind out of our sails (as did the rigorous travelling: to Bratislava and Prague and Bratislava and finally back home), but we’ve been blessed with miracles nonetheless!

Making "spectacles" of themselves: A bit of fun to brighten up the long journey to Prague.

Making “spectacles” of themselves:
A bit of fun to brighten up the long journey to Prague.

Our exchange with the sisters in Blava was rushed, but lovely really: Sestra BMin and I were together once again (they were companions in the MTC, and again in Žilina for a couple of months last year). Two ladies we taught in an outlying city accepted baptismal dates (a mother and daughter). Leadership Council in Prague was exciting: Sestra B and I will be in charge of running an entire hour of training in Bratislava this month!

Celebrated 4th of July with Elder and Sister Wr, that was fun.

Love notes from Heavenly Father: one day we were so discouraged, just feeling rejected and having a rough contacting block. Then we found Rosy, a gorgeous 14-year-old from Shropshire whom we taught to pray. 🙂 L and JM progressing. We feel really blessed. ❤

Love you!  Sestra Jones

 

 

The Greatest

30 June 2014

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” 1 Cor 13:13

I love the church members here in Žilina. Absolutely adore them. It’s humbling to learn once in a while just how deep an impact our words and behaviour as missionaries have on others. Sestra Se travelled and taught with us a lot this week, much for the purpose of visiting teaching before June was good and finished. And on every train and bus we boarded, Sestra B and I held true to our resolve to speak with everyone we could. “We taught people in their streets, and in their homes, and [on their trams] and [waiting at their crosswalks] and [while asking for directions to a panelák]” (Alma 26:29). She later said what a spiritual awakening it had been for her, and said that it refuelled her commitment to be a member missionary.

Last week we took P (who is waiting for mission papers still, but going to the temple this week!) out contacting with us and she too said that although she’d been terrified, it was one of the most memorable spiritual experiences she’s ever had. Moral of the story is: nothing builds your testimony like sharing it, so pray daily for opportunities and then do all you can to teach and testify to those that the Lord places in your path. Then pass on the torch by lighting the courage of others in your family and branch. It will not be easy, nor may it yield immediate fruit, but missionary work will ultimately result in incomparable joy. (see Alma 26:35-37  “Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began…” )

What a week it’s been! We embarked on our first exchange as Sister Training Leaders, and learned our fair share about revelation in the process. We had a branch activity scheduled for Saturday, but felt strongly that that was the day we needed to go to Brno (Czech Republic) instead. We counselled and “wrestled in the Spirit” and in the end just decided to follow our first impression. Thank goodness we did!  😀

"As the dew from heav'n distilling, gently on the grass descends..." Sudden summer downpour = Drenched missionaries!

“As the dew from heav’n distilling, gently on the grass descends…”
Sudden summer downpour = Drenched missionaries!

We left on Friday afternoon by train, taught a few lessons, and arrived in time to plan together. We had no lessons set up for Saturday, so it was the perfect chance for some morning contacting to refuel their finding. I was paired with Sestra R (the Canadian sister who was in the MTC with me), and we boldly went out first thing to teach three young adults lounging in the park. (The entire time we were talking together,  they were trying to open a wine bottle, but it proved very unco-operative and would not budge!  A bit of heavenly interference, perhaps? 😉 ).  Plus we taught another student from Olomouc, who was leaving Brno that same day but accepted a Book of Mormon and said he wanted to be baptised.  Sestra R stopped a gorgeous young lady from China, also on her way to Olomouc, who had tried learning about God before but felt she’d failed in her search. Not so! (the missionaries in Olomouc must need angelic assistance, cause it’s certainly flowing their way!). We then had great studies after lunch before a district singing display. Just in time for the World War I memorial musical parade to pass by as it happened, so perhaps not the best timing! But Sestry B and F had a fruitful day as well, so it all balanced out great. One of the less-active members of the church that they contacted came to church the following day! 🙂

In our call-in last night the Brno Sestry told us that in that single exchange the total of lessons they taught that week had doubled. Wow. Like Elder Teixeira said, we can break the patterns of the past (” Saturdays are dead to missionary work” = MYTH BUSTED). Revelation is a powerful thing, and the Elders and Sisters in this mission are just fantastic. The one little hiccup in our exchange was the trip back: we got stuck in Trenčín and had to spend the night at the sisters’ flat there. But then I never complain about sleep-overs. 🙂

I was privileged to give a talk in sacrament meeting this Sunday. I had prayed and thought about the topic to share, but it wasn’t until that train ride from Trenčín on Sunday morning that my thoughts finally came together – as something very different than what I’d first expected! I was myself amazed (but not entirely surprised) that D’s talk about faith led perfectly into mine about truth and obedience, almost as if it had been planned. We had another miracle that day in that our neighbour F (who I suppose could be described as a bit of a cynic – he adamantly claims he’ll never believe in God, but yet defends us missionaries to anyone he hears badtalking the church) attended sacrament meeting on a whim and ended up having a good experience. Sestra H’s elderly (and VERY Catholic) mother also attended for the very first time.

I’ve only got a little time left, but some exciting new investigators are N and her 82-year-old mother M. They are SO in tune with the Spirit. They welcomed us and Sestra Se into their home, gobbled up the teachings about prophets and revelation and just need to read the Book of Mormon to gain solid testimonies of the Restoration. A similar family – the O family- have been investigating for a number of weeks (maybe Sestra B and Johns are just magic, but they prove that tracting does work!).  They believe that every worthy man can be a priest, but don’t yet see the necessity for belonging to a single church. They scoured the Restoration brochure thoroughly and handed back 3 typed pages of concerns with Bible references! How many investigators take the time to do that, I ask you? 😀 We’re fasting and praying that these elect individuals will have their hearts touched and softened so they may enter Christ’s fold and contribute to the building of His church here in this beautiful city.

I ADORE Sestra B. I feel that she is God’s gift to me in my last transfer. Our friendship is so rewarding and her example is so dependable. We’re working in unity to inspire each other to be our best selves. We’re still teaching more than ever before: 30 lessons last week despite a trip to Bratislava and 28 this week despite the exchange! Plus, I love getting to call the other Sestry every week and share in their joys and trials! We’re off to Leadership Council in Prague this week to plan the upcoming training. Eep! Training a room of 50 missionaries!? We remind ourselves that were born ready: “whom the Lord calls, He qualifies”. 😉

Love you all oh-so-very-much,   Sestra Jones x