Monday, October 21, 2013

Three Months Out!

Three more days marks three months! That's like, 1/6 of my mission right there! Holy cow, time goes so fast. Not that I'm counting down or anything...

Like I said, we had transfers and Sora Gerhartz and I (along with Elder Conover and Lake) are staying here in Oradea. I think it's a good thing because we only were just able to get started by the end of the first transfer, now we can actually get to work with what we've set up!
Here is a picture of a fortress in Oradea that's shaped like a star from birds-eye view.
We were going to tour it, but it was closed.  The second picture is of us standing in the fortress doorway.
On transfer day we had to go down to Bucharest to get my visa (I'm legal now!). We went on a first-class sleeper train, but the driver was extremely slow so what was supposed to be a 12-hour train ride turned into 16 hours.   Here is a picture of Elder Lake (left) and Elder Conover (right) on the train ride to Bucharesti for getting our visas.
Anyway, I missed seeing my whole district from the MTC! Apparently, they were all together at the visa station EXCEPT me because I was still hours away :(  I still ran into Elder Sookhoo, Elder Brown, and Elder Lybbert, and I even got to chat with Sora Newell for five minutes. The others I missed seeing. Oh well, I have many more chances to see them.  Apparently, the missionaries in this mission all know each other and are really close.  I like that. 

Every new missionary group on their first day in Romania goes to a hill to where Romania was dedicated as a mission and reads the dedicatory prayer. But, since my group was in a tough circumstance with losing luggage and rain and everything, our group didn't get to do that. BUT! This last transfer day, three of us were able to get together and read the dedicatory prayer.  Here are Elder Lybbert, Elder Brown, and I on the place where the Romanian Mission was dedicated 20 years ago.

A lot of cool things happened this week. We've been meeting with one woman, Mihaela, who is accepting our lessons very well. At the end of our third lesson with her, we asked her to come to church and she seemed a little dodgy about it. Initially we thought it was because she was afraid of her husband finding out she was meeting with us. She said he is "împotriva", meaning against religion. However, we found out the real reason she is hesitant to come to church is because she's just scared. And really, it is a scary thing going somewhere so unfamiliar with a different culture and language. I should know, I'm in Romania. So we asked her and she gave us a "I'll come if... if the weather's nice," and we prayed that she'd come.

As far as Maria goes (the lady we went to church with), we haven't talked to her since we went to church with her and so we were wondering if she would come with us to ours or not, since she is so attached to her church.  We're thinking it's just not time for her yet but the time we spent with her was not wasted.  So, Sora Gerhartz and I prayed Saturday evening as to what we should do about Maria.  
We had decided it's close to time for dropping her as an investigator.  However, I got a response from Heavenly Father that told me if Maria were to come to church this week, He would pour out His spirit on her and in the future she will recognize that, that is what she's missing in her own church and want to come back. 
So guess what?
Yesterday (Sunday), Maria, Gabriella, AND Mihaela came to church for the first time. I was so happy to see all of them there! Not only that, but an investigator of the Elders' came as well. Four investigators at church this Sunday, it was so great! It was the first time in a LONG time that any investigators came to the Oradea branch,  proof that something good is happening here!

So we have three progressing investigators now, four other investigators, and three potentials. Our work the first transfer has been paying off!

The other four investigators are Kevin, the 8-year old boy we're teaching English to, and his family. We had another lesson with them, and though we haven't had one of the "official" lessons with them yet, they're getting more and more interested in us. Kevin has a lot of energy and likes us a lot. His 17-year old brother Eric knows English pretty well and seems to have his head on straight, which isn't common in Romanian 17-year olds. Their mom asks a lot of sincere questions, and she may be more open to the gospel than the grandma who we initially had the lessons with, so we'll see.

I have really been learning a lot of things about Romania while living here that you really can't look up on the web, either because it's hard to explain or because no one wants to. They're a very interesting people. All of them are so faithful and are really open about their religion. It's interesting, though, because they don't really understand completely what faith means. It's kind of like, they believe they know everything already, and what they believe is correct, but incomplete and they just need the fullness of the gospel and they'll be happy!
No one's really that happy here. It makes sense, having just come out of communism only 20 years ago. The really sad thing, though, is that a lot of people are content about feeling sorry for themselves and not doing much to make the country better. We ask to help people all of the time, but they always reject our offers. It's like, they don't want help, they just want our pity.

We talked to a Romanian man a few weeks ago who was moving to Florida and he spoke about these things. He mentioned how Romanians are all about their outward appearance - which is so true. You'll see Romanians wearing fancy clothes driving expensive cars, and they are left with not enough money to even put bread on the table. It's so sad, and it makes me want to work even harder to bring light into this country!
On the other end of the spectrum, there is a lot of really great people here, too. We waited for forty minutes one day for the tram because it was broken, and the old woman we were talking to left us with her departing message, "Deci, în sfârşitul, tramvai a venit." (Well, in the end, the tram came). So that's my message for this week. No matter how long it may take, in the end the tramvai will come and you can be on your way.

I can't wait to see how the gospel will heal this country. It's only just beginning to pick up here, but when it gets rolling, I'm excited to see how it will change the people. I can see already the seeds we're planting every day.

Enough with serious things. I have a funny story.
So normally when we leave our apartment, there are some gypsies outside. Some days we hand them a piece of fruit or something, but we didn't have anything today. As we were walking past, a young gypsy girl approaches us and Sora Gerhartz (thinking the girl is going to beg,) says to me "It's your turn." So, the girl says something to me I didn't understand at first, and I gave the usual response "Nu pot" (I can't), because we can't hand money directly to beggars, it turns us into a target, (which is why we have tithing and fast offerings). Two strides later, it registers in my head what the girl said. "Cât e ceasul?" (What time is it?) and I felt so bad! She just asked me for the time and I said "I can't!" hahaha... so I turned and gave her the time. We've given her some old shirts and things before, so she's turned into a little friend.

Anyway, that's about it for this week. Things are coming along! I'm working really hard. I sleep really good every night, because I'm so tired at the end of the day! I've worn through my boots already...

I miss Pepper.  I hope things are going well with everybody. I'd love to get recipes if there is any time! (Like zuccini bread, fox brownies, Becky cookies, stuffed peppers, some yummy and simple things!) But I still have things to cook, so really it's only if you have time.

Don't forget to have fun while you're working so hard! Go golfing. See a movie. Start a puzzle, I dunno.

And I'll write again next week!

Cu Drag,
Sora Smith

Transfers, we are staying in Oradea

Sorry, I don't have a lot of time this week so this email's gonna have to be really short.

English classes are over now, but will start again in a couple weeks due to transfers. We got our transfer boards and nothing is changing for us in Oradea, which is surprising because no one has ever stayed together longer than two transfers and this will be Elder Lake and Conover's third together. But I'll stick with Sora G. here in Oradea for the next six months, which is a good thing because we've just gotten started with our investigators.

That's right, I said investigators. We have a handful of investigators now, which is great considering we started with nothing and worked our way here!

Maria and Gabriella are still considered investigators. They have been coming to English classes but we haven't met with them in a while. We're trying to play it slow to not pressure them.

We had another lesson with Mihaela and she is keeping her commitments, so she's a progressing investigator now. She seems really interested, and so we hope things will work out with her and her family because she's a great woman!

We've been trying to get a hold of Ani but haven't been able to, so you know....
We're now teaching an 8 year old Romanian boy with the American name Kevin (named after the home-alone kid ha, ha) and his family. We're actually a little tricky with this one, his grandma wanted us to teach him English but they couldn't come to the class so we decided to come teach him in his come and so we compromised 30 minutes of English and 30 minutes of a gospel lesson with his family. He is such a funny little kid!

Anyway, I have to run, but things are great, Romania is great, I got to hear the rest of conference and it was great, and I'll talk to you more next week!

Pa pa!
Sora Smith

Sunday, October 13, 2013

First Transfers

Hello all,

I've was able to see a little bit of Conference, about half of the Saturday and Sunday morning sessions. It was cool because I got to watch them live! But because it started at 7 in the evening here in Romania, we couldn't watch the afternoon sessions. BUT! I will be able to read them on my own time.

I absolutely loved what Richard G. Scott said, that God doesn't hold weakness at the same level as rebellion. That was so profound, I love Richard G. Scott, and not just because I got to see him at the MTC :)

Yup, I'm over my Curent (spelled with only one "r", because Romanians never use double consonants!)  Sora Gerhartz's finger is healing great, we've been going back to the doctor to get it cleaned and looked at. Today, when we arrived to get it cleaned, there was a HUGE line that was going to take an hour or two to wait in. But, when the doctor stepped out for a minute and recognized us, she said, "Come in real quick!" and she let us skip the entire line. She likes us a lot and she's easy for me to understand so I can freely talk to her in my Romanian :) She says we can always skip the line each time we come.

We did English classes again, and I had four students this last time! My class is growing. I really don't like the lesson plan, though, so I decided to create my own, and the classes are going a lot better now and are more fun. One student, Andie, has been coming to English for many months and never stays after for the spiritual thought, but now she is! I think she likes me. She's in her 20's and she's really cute. And her English is perfect, haha, I don't know why she keeps coming.

I miss going to the temple! We won't get a chance to go to Kiev at all. You missionaries with temples close by are so lucky.

So, what do you get when you mix boredom, curiosity, and a box-dye sale at Kaufland?  Answer: A red-headed missionary! Yup, you have two red-headed daughters now. Surprise! I don't know if I'll keep up with this red hair or not, but for the time being, I kind of like it, hahaha.

So, this week, I finally had my first lesson! (We don't count the one with Maria because it wasn't really our lesson, we just sat in with the elders on their lesson). Surprising that it's only been my first lesson, huh? Let me explain why: Usually new missionaries come into a city where there were already missionaries and investigators to jump right into. I didn't. I was white-washed into my area, meaning we had to start completely from scratch. But hey, I can say now that I was whitewashed into my first transfer, that's pretty cool!

When we went villa knocking a week ago, we met one woman named Ani who had a big family, she was very cheerful and she shared grapes from her vine with us. We had to leave quickly, though, so we told her we wanted to meet later and she agreed. So, this week, we were finally able to meet with Ani and give her the first lesson (and the very first lesson for me!).

Sora Gerhartz tells me it was the worst and hardest lesson she has ever had on her entire mission. How's that for a first lesson ever?  Ani and her family call themselves "Charismatica", which basically means they believe that God doesn't have a religion, but they believe in faith, Christ, the bible, etc. Ani and her daughter Eunice had a really hard time accepting the fact that Adam and Moses and Abraham were prophets. They don't believe in prophets, which is funny because they believe in the bible, apparently.

But really, the whole lesson we tried teaching about the restoration and they bible bashed against even the most basic things we said, like about how prophets speak the word of God and the concept of apostasy, etc.  The worst thing they had misinterpreted, though, was when Ani said the words, "Eu stiu, eu STIU ca eu deja am viata vesnica! Dumnezeu mi-a marturisit." (I know, I KNOW that I already have eternal life! God told me so.)  Sora Gerhartz and I just looked at each other and... you know. It wasn't a good lesson.  We ended with just asking her to at least read and pray about the Book
of Mormon, saying that if something is true God will tell us and she says "Yeah, we'll see then." So really, I'm not sure if she will read or even open her heart to the spirit, but at least we did our job and the ball is in her court now.  Then, as we were leaving her villa, she left us off with, "You two should preach repentance instead of all this strange Mormon, Jospeh Smith stuff," and that was that. Wow, I still get fired up talking about it, it was such a crazy lesson.

Then, on the other side of the spectrum, we had another first lesson this week!  I can't remember if I already told this story, but a couple of weeks ago it was my turn to decide where to go, so I just got on the bus and asked Heavenly Father to guide my feet. I felt impressed to get off on a stop we had never been before, and I walked right into an empty looking park and immediately contacted a woman sitting alone on a bench. We asked to talk more later, and she agreed as long as it was after September 29th because she was testing for her doctorate in economics.  So, we finally got to meet with her. Her name is Mihaela, and she is Orthodox which means a lot when I say she accepted the message of the restoration, because Sora Gerhartz told me that she has never converted a member of the Orthodox faith. WOW that lesson went a whole lot better than the one with Ani!  Mihaela was polite, she listened intently, agreed to another lesson, is reading the Cartea lui Mormon, she asked real questions..  Unfortunately, however, her husband is really against all religion and he has no idea she has been meeting with us. She's been coming to English class and then meeting afterward, so all he knows is that she's coming to English. We're a little concerned about him. We hope this will work out.
So, about Maria. We've been trying to get her to come to Sacrament meeting, but she loves her church so she can't ever come because it's at the same time. This week, though, because we had conference, our church service was at 5 p.m. so we thought it would be perfect for Maria to be able to come. So, on Sunday morning, we went with her to her Catholic service (the church was absolutely beautiful! I can't take any pictures inside of it, sorry,) and asked her to come to ours at 5. She said no, because she really just didn't want to. We're really disappointed, and we think it might be time to drop Maria because she will not progress unless she comes to sacrament meeting, which she won't. We're giving her a week or maybe two, but then we'll have to let her know. We're hoping and praying to help her discover how much she and Gabriella need this church, but we don't want to push her, either.

Anyway, that's pretty much what has happened in the last 5 days. The good news is our numbers are slightly increasing each week, so we've been seeing how our white-washing here has begun to take effect and open the mission. The crazy news is we get our transfer boards this Friday so we'll see who is where next transfer (holy cow I'm almost in my second transfer!). Sora Gerhartz predicted we'll stay together, usually trainees and trainers do the first two together. So, all is well in Romania, and we'll have to see where this week goes for those we met with last week.

Never thought I'd see a "no farting" sign.  Ever.  This was on the wall in the restaurant LactoBar, honestly, we saw it and Elder Lake says "Haha, that looks like it says no farting." and then, after closer inspection, that's what it really was.  Hahaha, we had a good laugh.
LactoBar is the closest thing to an American burger we've found here. It's not actually that great, but we love the decorations. A car in LactoBar, we had to take a picture with it.

All of the men here just keep on trying to hit on me!

Thought for the week (in Romanian, of course):
Sunt foarte recunoscătoare pentru înțelegerea pe care le avem în aceasta biserică. Mulți oameni au ochelari de cal peste ochii lor, deci mulțumesc Tatăl Ceresc pentru Cartea lui Mormon și fiecare lucru avem să știm unde să mergem și cum să credem.

Oricum, mulțumesc pentru rugăciunile voastre și dragostea pe care am primit-o de la voastră! Vă iubesc!

Sora Smith

(And a translation because I'm nice):
I am very thankful for the understanding we have in this church. Many people have blinders over their eyes, so thank you Heavenly Father for the Book of Mormon and everything we have to know where to go and how to believe.

Anyway, thank you all for your prayers and the love I have received from you. I love you all!

Sora Smith

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Two Months Already!

Well, this week has been a little crazy! But I'll get more into detail in a minute.

The 12-week program is something they have for new missionaries. My companion and I have to take an hour out of every day for 12 weeks to pass off these checklist things, like watching The District Videos or doing role plays and talking about gospel-y stuff. The works.

Of course I remember Uncle Rudy. That's really sad to hear that he passed away.  I remember when I was really little I was wanting my very own camera, and we went to a family reunion where Uncle Radell gave me one. I asked him how he knew and he said "A little birdy told me". I did get to see him a little before I left, I can't remember when it was but it was at Grandma's house and I remember him saying a lot of really sweet things.

What's interesting is our investigator, Maria, just had a death in her family, too, and it was her great aunt. I guess this is a great opportunity to relate to her and let her know that we really can be with our families forever.

I can't believe it's been two months already, and one month since arriving in Romania! It seems like the days move really slow, but then you hit the end of the week and you wonder where the time went. It's a little crazy!

We had exchanges this week where the sister training leaders came and I spent the day as companions with a different sister, Sora Steipli. It was kind of weird not having the same person around me 24/7. I did block-knocking for the first time. There is a lot of block housing in Romania left over from the communism, so one form of contacting is climbing to the top floor of a block and working our way down going door to door. It's nice because it's all indoors and the weather has been getting a lot colder.

I also did Villa knocking for the first time. Sora Gerhartz and I decided one day to contact in a part of town we haven't been before, so we traveled to southern Oradea where there are a ton of villas and I actually like doing that because people are more likely to listen a little longer.

I've actually had a lot of firsts this week. I've had my first getting the door slammed in our faces, my first getting spit at (by a gypsy), and (wait for iiiiiit,) my first experience with an authentic Romanian dish!  I'll explain that in a minute.

So Romanians, like any other culture, have a lot of weird superstitions. For example, whistling by a church is really bad luck. Or you can't set your purses on the floor.  But the worst superstition of all is Current.

I don't know if I mentioned before about Romanians hating drafts. Every Romanian will have an AC, but none of them will ever use it. If you're in a car, one window can be open, but if you open another window and it creates a wind current, Romanians will say "Current!" and cover their ears and tell you to shut one of the windows.

They think that the Current will go through your ears and make you sick. It's common to see people walking
around with pieces of cotton shoved in their ears to block out Current. It stinks when you're riding in a Maxi Taxi and Romanians will shut the windows and all you want is to be able to breathe.

So guess what? Earlier this week, I was experiencing some allergy symptoms for the first time in my life which somehow affected my body making me a little ill. Do you know what all the Romanians tell me? I HAVE CURRENT!

LOL. I caught Current. I need to remember to buy some cotton to stick in my ears.

So, Sora Gerhartz and I were going to stay in on Saturday because I was a sick (with current, lol), and we had Zone Conference coming up so I wanted to be well for that. However, while I was sleeping Sora Gerhartz was doing the dishes, and she bumped a glass cup off the counter and tried catching it, but it shattered in her hand and sliced her pinky open.

Now, Romanian hospitals are sketchy business, so if we need medical attention we talk to the missionary doctor of Europe who lives in Frankfurt, Germany. But, if it's an emergency, we need to contact Sora Hill first to find the safest place to go. So, she gave us some hospital addresses and we go from place to place trying to find somewhere that's open on a Saturday afternoon. It was two hours until we were able to get her into an urgent care clinic! And this whole time I'm still ill, so the both of us had a rough Saturday.

So, now I'm healthy again and she's all stitched up and her poor finger is healing, and I don't know how but even with that off day and zone conference AND exchanges, we still managed to get a lot done this week.

Zone conference was really great. We traveled to Arad on Sunday evening and there were a lot of missionaries there, I only had ever met a few of them. Elder Brundage was there so it was nice seeing him again. No one else from my MTC group was there, though. President and Sora Hill were there and talked a lot about some really uplifting things. Sora Hill talked about the history of Christianity after Christ's death and mentioned some interesting facts about Paganism's translation into Christianity. For example, St. George's Cathedral has a statue of him slaying a dragon, and the reason is because they stole the story of Perseus and Andromeda and adapted that into Christian doctrine. Also, the reason many Christians depict Christ with a circle around His head and the cross is because it's adapted from the Egyptian Sun God. And the reason why Christ's mother, Mary is so worshiped in other religions is because they adapted her personage from another Greek Goddess. It's interesting hearing the complete history of how the doctrine of Christ's church was changed into the religions we have today, and how much sense everything makes.

Then I had my first Romanian dish! It was Chorba, a kind of soup that was super good. We also had chicken and potatoes and stuff that meal... gosh, it's been a long time since I ate so much ha,ha! Sora Gerhartz and I usually have to worry about our own meals, so they're usually small and quick.

I've finally had students for my advanced English class! A girl in her 20's named Ani has been coming, she's really good at English and just wants to practice more, which is what the class is for. The first lesson I taught was boring, because I followed the teaching guide. The second lesson I decided to just read a passage from the Book of Mormon and talk about it. Ani was a little worried about it, she was probably thinking I was trying to trap her into reading it ha,ha. But we only read out of Alma 32, just about faith, which is something she is very familiar with, so it turned out she was just fine with it. After English classes we have a non-obligatory spiritual thought, and Ani has been coming to English classes since before I came to Oradea, and not once has she stayed for the thought, but yesterday she did! So little by little, even though it seems like we're not doing much, we're making improvements to this city.

Anyway, those are all the big things that have happened. A lot of little things go on here and there, we've been having a lot of lessons with the members and they're all really great people. I've made really good friends with two members of the branch, Vlad and Bela, who have been coming to help out with English. I love the branch a lot and I can't wait until we help it grow even more.

And the language is coming on great. I don't see myself improving right away, but then I look back and think how much more I can speak than a few days ago, which is pretty sweet. My district keeps telling me I'm doing better than they did in their third transfers. So that's pretty cool.

So, despite the crazy weekend, I've been working really hard and I've been doing great! I'm out of time, so I'll write to you again sooner than usual because of my weird p-day schedule this week! Because, you know, it's Wednesday today and I'll write again on Monday.

Cu drag,
Sora Smith