Monday, September 9, 2013

First Week in Romania


P-day is Monday now and will be for the rest of my mission.   There is so much to write in so little time, so I'll try to condense it in the short time I have! ...just kidding, I actually have a lot of time for emailing here because my mission president is super awesome and gave us all the time we want.  So hopefully I can detail the past week and a half as much as I can remember!

On Monday morning, we got up at 4:30 to get our luggage together and to the airport. We were bussed to Salt Lake, which was really weird for me because, unlike the rest of my district, I was only just leaving home for the first time. Everyone else came to Provo, but as we were passing by UVU and center street in Orem, I was like, "Oh wow, I'm actually leaving all of this behind." So that was weird.

We arrived at the Salt Lake airport, checked our luggage etc., and as the seven of us in my district were standing by the gate waiting for the departure time, a missionary approached us. We thought he was being a friendly missionary just saying hi to other missionaries, but when Elder Brundage greeted him, "Buna ziua, ce faci?" (Hello, how are you?),  he responds IN ROMANIAN. We were all shocked when we see his tag is in Romanian too. We thought we were the only ones! This new elder asks if we know who he is, none of us knew, and he's all like "What? Vizante or Frandsen never told you?" Apparently he was in the MTC before us, but he went on a medical leave so he was departing with us. Crazy, right? So our district went from seven to eight, although it didn't matter much because he was on a different flight, unfortunately.

So, we flew from SLC to Dallas, Dallas to Amsterdam (which we went straight from gate to gate so no sightseeing there for me), then Amsterdam to Bucharest. The plane food was surprisingly good as far as plane food goes. I don't sleep on planes or trains very well, apparently. From Sunday to Thursday evening, I probably only slept a total of eight hours. Not only that, but the time zone is nine hours ahead in Romania, so once we arrived it was 1 P.M. in Romania and we had to stay up until it was evening. All of us were drooping and lacking energy, it was kind of sad. I wish I could have watched us better as we arrived, but I suppose we'll get to when the next batch of new missionaries arrive!

When we arrived, we were missing 8 bags of luggage between the eight of us. I was only missing one, but poor Elder Brown and Elder Lybbert were each missing both. It's a good thing we had the necessities on our carry-ons. So, after we sorted out a way to get our luggage back, we drove around Bucharest to get paperwork things done. I was so tired, I honestly don't remember what happened or who was even moving my body, because I know I wasn't. At the end of the day we wind up at President Hill's residence in Buch and eat some REAL FOOD!!!! Chicken and eggplant and potatoes... too bad I can't remember what they tasted like. I just remember it was good. Sora Newell and I then went to stay at the apartment of some sisters serving in Buch until the next day when we would find out where we were all going to be serving.

Picture of Bucharest from online
Bucharest is a pretty large city with many old buildings, and I'm sorry to say I was unable to take any pictures. I don't really remember much of it either, other than there were stray dogs everywhere. Also, the drivers in Romania are really scary. I'm thankful I will never have to drive a car here.

The next morning we go to the mission office and are each interviewed by President and Sora Hill (who are both super great people, by the way!). Still tired and jet lagged, I don't remember the names or the faces of any of the missionaries I met there, but apparently all of them knew me already.  I guess everyone read my profile because they'd say things like, "Oh, you like to sing" and I'd respond, "Thanks, I didn't know that." :-) Then we drove around to more paperwork places for visas and such, then Sister Hill went over some stuff I don't remember, THEN we got to find out where we were going and who our new companions were! (What is sad, though, is that this was the last time our district was together since we were all going to different cities) :(

I was assigned to the city of Oradea with Sora Gerhartz. What's funny is that apparently all of the missionaries placed "bets" (because we don't gamble) on who would go where, and ALL of them guessed I'd be going to Oradea with Sora Gerhartz.  So, we boarded a sleeper train and were on a 14 1/2 hour ride to Oradea. Oradea is very north and is close to the Hungarian border, so there are many Hungarians here.

What's cool about being assigned to Oradea is that the city has been closed to sisters, so Sora Gerhartz and I are white-washing and opening the area. There are four of us in the district here, the other two being Elder Lake and Elder Conover. They were really happy to have two others assigned here because they've been the only two for quite a while. But, because we were the first sisters here, we didn't have an apartment so we had to stay the first four nights in a hotel. It was a spa hotel with massages and "organic" tanning (whatever that means). The president must trust us a lot, there was a flat screen TV, a pool, a mini bar right in our room, and a whole spa which would have been great after all of that traveling. We didn't use any of that. But hey, at least we got free breakfast every day.

Elder Conover and Elder Lake were in charge of finding us an apartment, and we were able to see it this morning after checking out of the hotel. I have to say, it is SO nice having a place where my stuff belongs and to call home now. Ever since Monday I haven't had that, so it's been a week that I've had to carry my things around with me. Now that I have a place to belong I feel more settled and easy. The apartment is really nice, too! I haven't taken pictures of it yet, but I will! According to Sora Gerhartz, it's the best apartment in the mission. The elders did a good job finding it.

It was really hard getting my bus pass because I only have a temp Visa.  Sora Gerhartz and I had to wait in many lines and talk with many people, it wasn't until 5 in the evening on day two in Oradea we were able to find someone willing to work with my situation and make me a paper pass, which was really nice of her. It's nice not having to buy a ticket each time we get on the bus, which is many times a day.

So, more about Oradea/Romania.

The architecture!
The buildings here in Oradea are so beautiful. I took some pictures that I'll try sending. There are SO many churches here (which is unfortunate because we can't proselyte near a church) that are so pretty - some of the buildings kind of remind me a little of main street in Disneyland teehee :) Many of the buildings are old, but they're all really colorful and have cool designs.

The food!
I actually haven't had a lot of what you'd consider "Romanian" food yet. What we had at the Hill's on day one in Bucharest was made by a Romanian, and it was really good. But because we've been living in a hotel we've been having to live off of ham and mayo sandwiches with fruit for the past few days. I DID, however, get a Kinder egg! Kinder chocolate is SO GOOD. The fruit here is amazing. It's extremely sweet and flavorful, especially the watermelon which is to die for. I don't think I'll ever be able to enjoy an American watermelon again after this.

The people!
...are grumpy. Vizante wasn't kidding about Romanians never smiling, BUT there are still many great people here once you get them to talk to you. Romanians really like to keep to themselves. Romanians also have the best and the worst tastes in fashion. The men are extremely well dressed, the woman are extremely under-dressed. Also, I don't know why, but apparently it's trendy here for men to wear super short shorts and shave their legs. Everyone smokes here, and that's in Romania and not just Oradea, so not only does it look like Disneyland, it smells like it too.

The Branch!
There are only 14 people in the branch, but they are all really great people. We only just met them yesterday, so I don't know much about them, but from what I saw in church is they are all really strong. Sora Gerhartz counted the empty chairs in the villa (where we have sacrament meeting) and it is now one of our goals to fill the 22 chairs before we leave Oradea.

The language!
One thing that's very fortunate about me starting in Oradea is that the people here talk very slowly. I can understand people! I can follow conversations! And then my jet lag starts catching up to me and suddenly I have no idea what words are coming out of their mouths. But sometimes it turns out I'm okay because they're actually speaking in Hungarian, and I didn't learn Hungarian. Even so, my Romanian just keeps on improving and my district is impressed that I'm so much farther than they were when they began, in half as many weeks from the MTC. Sora Gerhartz was there for twelve but says I know more than she did, which is really cool how apparently the Lord is hastening his work.

My district!
Sora Gerhartz is really sweet and silly and reminds me a lot of Emily Hinkson from LDC for those of
you who know her (her first name is Emily, anyway, so it all works out). She is a really good trainer and I don't feel inadequate which is something I'm sure a lot of brand new missionaries struggle with. I know right now that even though I can't communicate perfectly and still have a lot to learn, I am doing all that is required of me right now which Sora Gerhartz reminds me of every day.

I haven't spent a whole lot of time with the Elders, but they are very kind and good from what I know of them so far. They're diligent and hard workers, I have learned that about them for sure, and they do a good job in their work (as evidenced by the nice apartment they picked out for us) :)

Let's see, is there anything I forgot...

The first time I ever contacted someone was a street contact with a woman to whom I said "poftiti" (here you go) and gave her a pass along card. She spoke many fast words and I was so nervous I didn't know what she said or what I said, but guess what? Now we're going to give a first lesson to her and all of her brothers and sisters. Apparently that doesn't ever happen. That all started from me saying "poftiti." I guess Heavenly Father wanted me to have a good start.

Another day we contacted one particular lady named Florica in the park one day who, when we asked if she knew that God loved her, began to cry. We sat with her and she spoke how lonely she was. She spoke about her husband and how he hit her, but that he has passed on without ever hearing about God.  Sora Gerhartz asked if she knew where he was, she responded with "probably in hell." We told her about the spirit world (in a contact, yes, but it felt right) and that he has the opportunity there to hear about the gospel. She began to cry again, but we definitely touched her and we hope that contact will bring her closer to learning how lonely she doesn't have to be.

Oh, good news! People think I'm French! One lady was surprised to hear I'm American, because she's like "you look and sound French." Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

It seems the subject of encouragement has been coming up a lot. I guess that with a difficult mission like Romania, many missionaries get discouraged over the lack of numbers and the amount of rejections. Something that President Hill has mentioned is that there are different kinds of missions, and ours is a finding mission. Some missions have many members with referrals of people who have been found that are ready for the gospel, but that's not the case in Romania. Most of our time will be out of people's homes and out and about looking for those who need to be contacted. We are very much pioneers in Romania, preparing the people for the future when it will become more of a teaching mission rather than a finding.

President Hill also said something that I really like, which is that "people will need up to 7 or 8 'touches' and their hearts will open." We contacted someone yesterday who said no but took a pamphlet, that is a 'touch'.  Some people will accept the gospel on the first 'touch.'  But I love how clear it is that he said 7 or 8 touches, that even though that may take a long time, it's how the Lord prepares their heart to receive the gospel. It's nice to think of it in terms of touches, because even if someone rejects you, they're still one touch closer to opening their hearts to Christ. That's another thing we have to remember as missionaries is that they are opening their hearts to Christ, not to us. I can't remember the scripture, but Christ says to not be discouraged when you are rejected because we need to remember that the people rejected Him first.

Anyway, that's what has been on my mind lately, especially with so many of us out on missions. I'm so grateful to be able to look at this in such a positive light, but I do know there are those that struggle and I can see why.  Satan is trying so hard to hinder our progress, but Thomas S. Monson has said that "no force in the entire world can stop the work of God." It's also cool to look at it this way: since time began the world has followed a pattern: prophet, apostasy, prophet, apostasy. . . until Joseph Smith, and now we have the knowledge that there will be no more apostasy before the Second Coming. The word is here to stay. I just thought that was cool.

Well, I'm off to do shopping and get all moved into the apartment, so I'll write to you again next week!

Sora Smith

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