Saturday, December 27, 2014

Baptisms, Pranks, and Goliaths

Well, it looks like I won't have my package before Christmas but that's me and two other of our Elders here in Arad so I'm not the only one :) I don't mind spending a later Christmas, but I'm just worried I won't get it until it's time for me to go home.

We actually haven't had the party yet, that's tonight. But it sounds like there is going to be truckloads of saramale, cozonac and caroling so it'll be, you know, Romanian.

Branch Christmas Party
We had a great turn out for the Branch Christmas Party
Brother Moldovan playing his music at the Christmas Party and
I sang some of the songs in English that he had me translate

Well, this week was pretty darn fantastic.

More important things first. We pulled another kinder surprise egg prank. I'm not sure if I've kept you updated with all of them, though so I'll start from the beginning:

1) We gave Elder Chatterton and Elder McArthur kinder eggs where we carefully opened them, took the toy out, and resealed them. They were very disappointed. We promised a toy in the next one.

2) We stole the toy out of them again and put in a rubber band. We promised a real egg next time.

3) We took the chocolate and the toy and wrapped actual eggs. They gave up on expecting a real gift.

4) We baked brownies in the foil...... well, I guess you'd call them blue-ies from all the methylene blue that was in them. Ha ha ha ....

5) Now we have Elder Robinson in our district. We gave all three of them kinder eggs and the others turn to him and say, "It's not real. Don't expect a surprise in there." Elders Chatterton and McArthur open theirs first, and we put in black rocks and a note that said "You are not on the nice list. This is a warning from Santa." Well, a few minutes later Elder Robinson opens his and... it's real. He pulls out his toy and says, "Whoa, this is really cool!" and the other Elders go, "WHAT!? They gave you a real one??"

LOL they're a little upset with us. For Christmas, though, we're finally giving them real ones. Haha...

Elder Chatterton and Elder McArthur

So on to what really has been going on this week. It started pretty slow not being able to get into people's homes. The people whose homes we did get into we've been sharing a video from the church about Christmas, "He is the Gift". Then on Wednesday we drove out to Lipova to do some follow-up contacting. Well, Georgi didn't even come to his door, so we left him a note for when we're coming back. And contacting the rest of the day was pretty unfruitful. BUT. The day wasn't over, so we tried to seek out a less active who lives out there. She had just returned home and was a little surprised to see us (the not good kind of surprised). She let us in anyway, and we chatted a bit and she warmed up to us pretty quickly. She is such an awesome lady! She calls herself a rebel and she's very funny. She got a little offended at something a long time ago, but after our visit she said she really wanted to come to church that Sunday. She hadn't been for years. Unfortunately she couldn't make it because the rain delayed the train too much, but she is coming to the branch activity tonight. SO COOL!

We also have been working with Dan (Florita's husband). Even though he isn't capable of expressing himself very much, you can tell that he's excited to be baptized. We're excited too. Sora Routson is a lucky duck because she's getting a monthly baptism here at the start of her mission :) Haha, well it's a nice way for me to end anyway.

Ioana's doing well, too. She's gone home now though for the holidays.

Ioan, an English student and friends with the Smiths, invited us to a Christmas concert. It was really nice, the first half a decent choir sang a bunch of traditional Romanian carols. The second half the orchestra came out and they were AWESOME! It was a nice concert.

Attending the Christmas Concert

We've also been holding "concerts" of our own (and by that I mean caroling). We went to the government building, where there are a lot of shopping booth-cabins set up and lots of people, and sang and had crowds come by and listen. It was great. We got talking to a few of them and passed out wrapped copies of the Book of Mormon. Merry Christmas.

Caroling for Christmas
Handing out wrapped gifts of the Book of Mormon

And then we had Maria's baptism. It was amazing. She told me she has been feeling really calm and the love of God all week. It was great preparation for a great event. She brought 20 friends and family to it, and the spirit was very strong all throughout. It was awesome. I still can't really comprehend that it actually happened.

Maria's Baptism
The Smiths, my companion and me, and Maria
A lot of Maria's non-member family and friends came to her baptism
Maria at her Baptism
Visiting with the guests after the baptism

It's been pretty wet and rainy here, too. However, on Saturday evening I woke up at 2:00 A.M. and there was snow DUMPING outside. Sora Routson had been up before that because there was a thunder-rain storm right before the flakes just dumped. Normally snow gently floats, but these were huge and they fell like hail. First snow!

Well, it didn't stick and it stopped snowing by the time we got up at 5:30 (because the Brasov sisters came in - Sora Cox included - to see Maria's confirmation). But, it snowed! And we're hoping and praying it will snow for Christmas! There was enough snow collected on the cars, though that I could make a snowball and throw it at my companion :)

Church was well attended, and Maria was confirmed. She wanted Elder Smith to do the confirmation, though, which meant I had to translate. That was one of the most nerve wracking translations I've ever had to do... I think I did well though. Later I sang for the branch "This is the Christ." Brother Piper gave an excellent talk on the birth of the Savior. It was a great meeting.

Maria's Confirmation on Sunday

Relief society was actually nice, too. Normally the RS teacher just reads out of the manual and gets mad when people want to comment/talk about it (we've been working on that...). But this week it was great, there was no arguing and everyone participated and commented and discussed and it was really nice.

Today we played basketball (it was that nice outside. So much for the snow), but it was so much fun.

This week I've been reading about David. There's a ton you can learn from his life. I really love the story of the lowly shepherd boy facing the giant Philistine armed only with a staff and a sling who was able to take the opposing champion down in a single blow. I think one of the most prominent lessons from this story is that everyone has Goliaths, but not everyone is a David. Who is going to have courage enough to attack opposing forces head on with so much faith in the Lord? With all the doubts and shadows and risk that hangs over the obstacle needing to be defeated, who will step up and fight for the cause of good? Not everyone.

Maria was able to defeat her Goliath of forgiving the people responsible for hurting her son. What a courageous feat, and for that she was able to receive the sacred ordinance of baptism and feel so much peace like a river. If she had been baptized with that Goliath still there, I don't know how well she could have felt the spirit even after receiving it. It's wonderful she's overcome that. What a great woman.

Anyway, we have a Christmas party to crash so I'll leave you with that. Nobody go pulling any pranks. Have a wonderful Christmas everyone! I look forward to talking with you face to face, even if there's a couple of screens and a few hundred miles in between :)

Sora Nicalled to Serve

Romanian Smile
Sunday Dinner at the Smiths

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Full Week of Being Full

Family, friends, and fans,

This week we started by meeting at a member's house to prepare some Christmas songs for the coming branch party. Brother Moldovan is lead guitarist in a rock band and he wanted me to translate a couple of Romanian songs into English and sing them. One of them is called "Vis de Iarna" and it's about spending Christmas away from home, haha...

Merry Christmas from Our District!

I actually did not get the package, and apparently there's a ton of missionaries that haven't received theirs, either. There must be something wrong with the mail system because a lot of missionaries here will be have to get their Christmas packages late this year. Which is a bummer, really, because by the time I get it it'll be time to go home :/ Oh well, it's always the thought that counts, right? :)

There was snow in Bucharest last year, I saw snow for about a total of seven nonconsecutive days haha. There's apparently been snow there this year, too, but so far I haven't seen any. It's weird because this is actually strange weather for Romania, it should be snowy every winter. But it's been warm. I've been getting away with a light jacket. Haha, still dreaming of a white Christmas...

Arad City Hall with Christmas Lights

I haven't received travel plans but the proposed itinerary is that I leave on January 21st from Bucharest to Paris France, then Paris to Salt Lake City, arriving on the 21st of January :)

So for Skyping, does it work to do Christmas morning my time, Christmas eve your time? I don't know what your plans are going to grandma's house and everything but let me know if there is time your Christmas evening that we could try Skyping, and we'll finalize it next week.

So we just had transfers and our district is the same but we have a third elder, Elder Robinson.

Full story #1: (Based on the title of this email)  We met with another member who made us Carbonara Pasta and it was delicious... but she gave us probably about two servings too much and we got really full but we ate the whole plate.... and then she pulled out some clatite (Romanian crepes) and expected us to eat those, too. We talked on the phone with Sora Smith later and she said we sounded full. We didn't eat again that day.

We got into a less active's house! I've gone to this lady many, many times before and she's always rejected us. Well, we were in the area and felt impressed to stop by. She let us in and started telling us how much she has been needing us to come, and the only reason she rejected us before was because her family was around and they are super against the church. We caught her at a time when she was alone at home and she was relieved to see us and told us the times when she's alone so we can come more often. Goes to show you that you never can give up, ever, and to be super in-tune with the spirit and to do everything He says even if it makes no sense.

Wednesday was a little bit of a resting day because Sora Routson caught a bad cold and we wanted to take time for it to get better, but we were working even in the apartment. We took an extra map of Arad and marked all the sister members on it, and we're going to take rounds now to try to visit as many as possible before I'm gone.

We've been doing a lot of bloc knocking this week, however it didn't turn out being all too successful. We still go out and do it without getting discouraged, but I read a story from a past Liahona issue about Elder Holland on his mission that made me feel better. He shared about being a missionary on his first Christmas from home, and him and his companion knocked on doors all Christmas without any success but kept that Christmas memory of it's true meaning close to his heart. I related to it well, especially last year when I was in the exact same situation opening up a new area with only two members :) Here's the talk:

We went to Sora Florita's house, and talked to her about her husband who is turning 75 in January and also has cancer. He's always sat in on all the lessons, and now he's decided he wants to be baptized. We attempted a first lesson with him, however Sora Florita took over a ton and we didn't make it all the way through :) But we scheduled a date with him, so Dan Ciosu will be baptized on January 10th, and they even talked about plans for the year after that to be sealed in the temple, woo!

Full story #2: We hadn't eaten for a long time on Friday, and as soon as we get home we ordered a couple of small pizzas and ate it all, usually we can only eat half but we were that hungry. Then we went to Florita's a little later. Bad move. Well, she feeds us a bowl of tomato soup, which isn't bad I mean, you can fit in soup. So we finish it and we're really proud of ourselves, but then she brings out the real course. Some potato sausage thing... oh my gosh I could not finish it I tried so hard. Fun fact of the day: Whenever you can't eat any more, Romanians will always serve you seconds.

We played pool (silly, missionaries can't swim...) for a sort of youth night activity, but the only ones who showed up were Ioana and the Piper's grandson Manu. It still was fun, and I forgot how really horrid I am at billiards but I started to get the hang of it and sunk a couple of pretty great moves.

We met with Maria again, and, well . . .  This week she is getting baptized!  She doesn't want to wait any more, even to talk to her husband. She will be baptized this Saturday the 20th and be confirmed the day after. This is it, what we've all been waiting for.  This will be the best Christmas gift, for me and most especially for her.

Sunday was really nice at church. I've been working with two less actives ever since I got to Arad, Elisabeta and her granddaughter Eve, and they brought Eve's parents who are also members to church. It was the first time I've even seen them, because they've always been rejecting us. It was awesome! And Maria came and we announced her baptism and the whole branch got way excited.

It's kind of unfair in a way, it's like finally things are really getting started and I've only got a month left :) There's still just so much to do and I want to make sure it all gets done, you know?

Full story #3: We were starving after church but we didn't get home and to eat until about three. So we eat a lot, forgetting that we are having dinner together as a district at five. Well, I prep the food (it was my turn to make the main course, I made ranch chicken and potatoes) and everyone else is starving but we're just kind of like, meh. But then we go ahead with this three course meal... it was delicious but MAN. I am sick of eating!!!

Which is weird considering I actually lost a couple of pounds over all this.......

After district dinner we had a debate about stars and wise men, which was intervened by watching the Christmas broadcast. I loved President Eyring's talk.

I'm sorry I've been slacking with sending you photos... I'm just always busy and then I forget and then I don't have time... but you'll see them all soon enough so... :)

We bought a foot and a half tall live tree and decorated it with lights and popcorn, and it's actually the cutest darned thing ever. I'm excited for Christmas.  Still have to bully the Elders into caroling with us, though.

Full story #4: Not full of food food, but spiritual food. This was a good week. I love what James E. Talmage shares about the Christmas event in Jesus the Christ. If you haven't read the book, I strongly urge you to read at least the scenes about Christmas.

Anyway, that's about all the exciting stuff that's been going on. Thanks to everyone for their love and support, I feel it strengthen me every day and these upcoming baptisms are in part thanks to your love and prayers and sacrifices. Everyone have a good week, and I will write again next Monday before Christmas!

Sora Smith

Sunday, December 14, 2014

ZĂPADĂ! Stai... nu. Numai e ceață = Snow! Wait No, Only Fog.

Well, we haven't seen snow yet but other parts of the country have. It's definitely not warm, though. The warmer days are like fall but it's still pretty chilly most of the time. I'm guessing there will be snow soon, I mean, since I never saw it last year I wouldn't mind snow at all :)

The Arad Sisters and Elders

Well, we've been teaching Clara and she understands well, the only hurdle really is her family which is posing to be a pretty big hurdle.

Things with Maria are going well, she wants to be baptized no matter what.  This week we're going to see her with Sora Smith to talk about when and the details surrounding it.  She may however wait until after seeing her husband in prison, though, before deciding when.  I hope I get to see it but even if no, whenever the right time is for her is the right time.

I didn't get my package but the Elders are going down for transfers and hopefully they'll bring it up with them.
Sora Smith Senior's New Granddaughter

Kinder eggs aren't really a tradition, they're just chocolate with a toy inside from Germany that are available year-round :) David Mayhew brought some over once a long time ago, they don't sell them in America though. I love them and I collect all my toys in a jar on my study desk. The chocolate is good, too, but we all know the real reason we buy them...

This year for Skype we can really do anything. We're pretty flexible on this end so I say find a time when the whole family can be there and we'll schedule around that.

This week went pretty well, I'm going to be completely honest though I don't exactly remember everything we did this week but it went something along the lines of the past 15 months of emails. We met with people, we endured the piercing fog, ran into some wild dogs, you know. The usual stuff.

I made some pancakes from scratch after church last week
I didn't make quite enough though.

We have started to teach our convert the post baptism lessons and we are involving Cristina. President has asked her to be a member friend/guardian. I think it'll help the both of them.

We also have been taking care of members who need financial help... a lot, actually. Now that the leadership has been grabbing a handle of the branch money problems, ropes are getting tightened and so that leaves us with quite a bit of work to do :)

On Thursday we went to Oradea for an exchange. I was with Sora Merrill again and we met a guy on a bench who was so grateful for a gift of the Book of Mormon. It's been a while since someone who I gave the book to actually expressed sincere gratitude to receive such a precious thing.

We also did carol contacting. I haven't been with anyone who's wanted to sing for a while, lol my current district isn't too excited about singing but it's the Christmas season so I'm going to force them out anyway.
Here is our District Christmas Greetings Photo
Saturday we had zone conference, and it was a great one. It's got me all pumped and ready to finish this last transfer with a bang. Christmas is going to be great, too, and we have a lot of things planned but you'll just have to wait to hear about those :)
Zone Conference
President Ivory giving us a great message at Zone Conference
Our Zone Conference Dinner
Saturday evening we had the Christmas program in Oradea. It was actually a lot of fun and everyone did such a great job. It was fun learning the different Romanian carols (and even a couple in Hungarian...) and a ton of people showed up so I'd say it was a huge success.
Singing my solo in the concert
Singing in the choir at the concert
We were even filmed by a local news station

Anyway, we found out about transfers and the district is staying pretty much the same except our elders are getting a third missionary so that'll be different:)

Well, here is the start of my final transfer. I never thought I'd get to where I could say those words.

You know, it gets a little weird when you expire before the milk does...

Anyway, have a great week and may the spirit keep you warm and happy! (Although it sounds like in Utah you don't really need that) ;)

Sora Smith
Getting ready to take our Christmas photo


Sunday, December 7, 2014


I haven't gotten the package yet, nothing going between here and Bucharest. We have a Zone Conference this Saturday though so maybe I'll see it then.

We haven't really been able to make it to any of the rehearsals for the Christmas concert because Oradea is three hours away and it takes too much time out of a proselyting day. Missionary work comes first. I have all the music, though so at least I know what's coming up.

Picture taken at the Arad Meeting House before English Class

WEEEEELLLLLL this week was kind of weird. I mean, it's weird thinking about where I was this time last year, here, in Romania. I remember thinking that I'd never get around to my second holiday season. Well, here I am, another trip around the sun.

Well, Friday the Elders came with us to visit Sora Krista. We normally go with the Smiths but this time we hopped on a free bus to a store called REAL which took us pretty much 3/4 of the way out to the hospital and walked the rest of the way. We saw her and talked a bit, I told her about Thanksgiving and that we're all thankful for her and she started to cry. Oops. Well, after we left it was drizzling a bit but we had fun kicking rocks to (at) each other all the way back to REAL to take the bus back. It was a fun way to spend a rainy day.

We also talked with Clara's family about her being baptized. She's the a handicapped girl who has been faithfully coming to church and activities for months. Her family pretty much shot down the request to teach her with them present for them to see how much she understands. They kept saying "She doesn't understand. She's mentally sick, she can't decide for herself. She only comes to your church because it's the closest," and on and on. That made Clara really sad, she really wants to be baptized. And she understands a lot. If she can beat everyone at a game of Uno, she understands enough to choose for herself to be baptized.

Playing Uno for Family Home Evening

Well, it's not all over with Clara. We taught her the restoration lesson, without her family to explain how she "doesn't understand". She understood it perfectly, and asked questions, and made relevant comments. Well, we'll be really working with her and her family to see what we can do.

That evening we got a call from Sora Smith. She knew how we were planning on buying this one particular cake, so she asks, "What time tomorrow are you getting that cake?"
"I dunnno."
"Oh, okay. Well, you want to come over in the morning for a Romanian lesson?"

We saw right through it.

Saturday morning we went to the Smiths for a "Romanian lesson."  Ask me if I even prepared anything :) I considered asking "So, where are the Elders hiding?" but I decided to let them have their fun.  We all sat down and talked for a minute, then this THUD happens, and then the Elders pop in singing "Happy Birthday" with a cake and presents, one of which they blew their cover dropping it on the floor. (As if they even had a cover to begin with). CAN'T SURPRISE A COUPLE OF PRANKSTERS.

Surprise Birthday Party for Me and My Companion
Me and my companion were born one year apart on the same day!

The cake was delicious. Speaking of pranks and cake, we brought some "cake" of our own. It was a little blue colored.... you can guess what happened, it's happened before :)

We've been pulling some Kinder pranks on the Elders. We'll give them a Kinder Egg that we've opened carefully and taken the prize out and replaced it with trash, or a rubber band... or a real egg. We wanted to bake the "cake" into another Kinder Egg but it didn't work. Anyway.

We had 5 lessons on our birthday, so it was a pretty good day. We met with Cristina, Alexandra, Florita, Maria, and our last lesson bunged us so we had time to go out for ice cream with the Elders before the day was over. So yeah, it was a nice birthday.  We didn't manage to get the lanterns, though so we'll have to send those off another day.

After church on Sunday I made everyone pancakes and syrup that I made up the recipe. They were great but it didn't make enough, lol. Oh well. I like the whole eating after church thing.

And... that was about all the exciting stuff. Today we'll be seeing Maria again, she apparently doesn't want to wait to talk to her husband anymore before being baptized. And we've been arranging for the Elders to go to teach her husband. So things are going well.

Today is the first of December, or basically Romania's Fourth of July. Pretty much every store is closed.

Arad City Hall

Well, I'm out of time but things are going great and I'll talk to you more later!
Love, your favorite Romanian missionary

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Breaking the Ice

The woman playing the accordion in the video you saw, was probably Vera, she's about as culture as you can get :) She sometimes comes to the English classes.

Well, this week I finally got to see my first baptism! It was amazing, and Maria came so that was special. I was talking to Fratele Piper, a counselor in the branch, and he was excited about it and said that this baptism was "a break in the ice." I'm so glad the members are feeling the momentum from all this, things are just going to keep rolling from here.

Apparently someone commented to Sora Smith how all the sudden Arad has all this potential and fire going on, and she was just like "all the sudden? Noooo... this was months of hard work and preparation." Yup, it sure was. But man it's been so worth it.

We now have a new elder, Elder Chatterton in his fourth transfer.

Also there's this handicapped girl, Clara, who has been coming for the longest time to church all on her own, and now we have the confirmation to teach and baptize her, too. We'll involve her family in the lessons, who knows what will happen.

One of the counselors of the church presidency in Romania, President Chirila, came to Arad over the weekend and apparently things are going to start rolling a little further as pertaining to the functionality of the branch. It's been a long process, and it's definitely not over, but man Arad is being so blessed and going through so many changes, it's soon going to be so strong and I look forward to the day when it will be.

We went contacting in the village of Lipova just under where the ruins we always visit are. After tracting through the mud and encountering a flock of a million turkeys and then being chased off by an angry farmer man, and dropping a Book of Mormon while fleeing to safety (-5 beauty points for future husband) . . .

We found and spoke to one man chopping wood in front of a really humble home. Georgi's parents were Pentecostal but he doesn't believe there is a God after "praying for 20 years and not ever getting an answer". It was an interesting conversation, it went all over the place, but in the end he took a Book of Mormon and promised he would read it and try out the test in Moroni 10:3-5.

Let me tell you why he took the book and challenge.
It was not because we proved him wrong with some scripture/doctrinal fact.
It was not because we have clever words to get him to take it.
It was because of the pure and simple testimony that no one can deny.
This man didn't want to take the book, he didn't want to believe something that obviously has been hurting him for years. He's felt neglected by God and didn't want to believe He exists because it hurts.
We had no power to convince him of anything.
But, by bearing testimony, we allowed the spirit to grab a latch onto his heart and tell him the truths we cannot convince him of; that God loves him and this is His Son's church. That is an important lesson for anyone.
Arguing doesn't convert. Biblical evidence doesn't convert. Amazing doctrinal facts doesn't convert. The spirit does. The best way to bring the spirit into their hearts is your testimony.

Well, there you go.

The reason I share this is we had another visit with the Seres family where we took Elder Smith, and it ended up being a Mormon vs. Pentecostal, "let me show you where you're wrong" battle. No conversion took place. That never works.

We spent Thanksgiving with our district at the Smith's, and it was so great. We all pitched in and brought a dish, and I took the plunge and made pumpkin pie all from scratch (and I had to prepare the pumpkin myself... they don't sell canned pumpkin here.) It turned out great, I was actually a little nervous haha... but we ate, said what we were thankful for, and then argued over a game of phase 10, haha I was winning until everyone realized I was winning...

Shopping on Thanksgiving/P-day


Thanksgiving Card Game - Phase 10

And now we're here. This Saturday since it's both mine and Sora Routson's birthday we're going to buy a cake (because I still remember what happened last time I tried to make a cake on my birthday...) and set off lanterns like they have on Tangled. It will be fun.

Well, I've kind of exhausted my energy for writing so I'll end it here. I'll write again on Monday so chances are next email will be pretty short :)

Sora Smith the First

P.S. I promise I will send pictures Monday... :) I have a ton...