So we have been meeting quite frequently with James, our new convert, and Anthony, our investigator with a baptism date who is friends with James. If you recall from last week's email, they have recently been kicked out of their government housing and are now homeless. Through all of their difficulties they continue to have amazing faith. Unlike our very difficult investigator, their experiences have humbled them tremendously and now they trust so much in the Lord and his plan for them. I think I have learned far more from them than they have ever learned from us. They watched General Conference with us on Saturday and Sunday and we have been calling them every day to check up on them and give them words of encouragement. It is a difficult situation though because there isn't much that the church can do for them here because there aren't the same welfare programs and bishops storehouses here like there are in America. They both came to watch General Conference with us on Saturday and Anthony stayed the entire time on Sunday as well! He has been progressing so well and I really do think he is ready for baptism. This week we started meeting with another African man named Andrew. He was being taught by the Anziani in Lampugnano before they realized that he was in our area. On our second lesson he told us that he used to have a baptismal date for February but that it never happened. We promptly set another one with him for the end of April. Andrew has been asking great questions during the lessons and I can tell he is really thinking about all of it and is trying to understand it but he can't read which could make it difficult to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately we have to hold off with Anthony's baptism until the church decides whether or not we will be baptizing people who do not have documents which prove they are in the country legally. That would hurt the work in Italy a lot because many of our best investigators are refugees from Africa who have come here looking for a better life. They make up a large portion of every ward as well and are the most faithful and humble people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. They all are so ready to hear the gospel and accept it but they might not get the chance. Fortunately we think that Andrew has a permesso because he is going to a sort of government mandated class so even if the change takes place where people who are here illegally cannot be baptized he should be fine.
Now I will share a sad experience which actually turned out to be an amazing learning opportunity.
This week I had my first experience with dropping an investigator. He was a minister back in Ethiopia for awhile before coming to Italy so he thought he was very knowledgeable in the bible and with religious things (in actuality his reasoning based on scripture made absolutely no sense and his questions were even weirder). He had been through a lot in his life and had seen some terrible things but while those experiences should have humbled him, it instead hardened his heart. He would ask us questions for all the wrong reasons like to trip us up or to try to get into a "bible bash". We would answer with simple gospel principles and bear testimony but it was obvious that he was not allowing the Spirit to touch his heart because each time we would feel the Spirit start to enter the room again he would deny it by claiming that he had seen more in his life and had more experience than us so he was entitled to being right. He would then chase that Spirit away again by insulting us and our efforts. At one time we said that we are sacrificing 2 years of our life vest to help others to come unto Christ because of our faith and he denied that it was a real sacrifice. My companion then bore a powerful testimony and said that his father had died a few years ago and that his family needs him back home because they no longer have a father and this man tried to one-up him by saying that his father had died before he ever met him and used that fact to try to bring us down. Needless to say, the room was completely devoid of the Spirit despite our best efforts and I was struggling to feel Christlike love for this man because of all these terrible things he was saying to my companion. These weren't the reasons that we have ceased to meet with him though. The reason we dropped him was that he was unwilling to change. There have been difficult investigators in the past who have gotten baptized but they usually also keep commitments and progress spiritually, no matter how slow. This man fundamentally and adamantly was against praying (which confused me because he was a minister and was still deeply religious) and flat out refused to read the Book of Mormon. He had been taking the missionary discussions for awhile but hadn't followed up on any of these invitations. As missionaries the only thing that we can do to help others to come unto Christ is bear testimony to bring the Spirit and extend invitations. There is no way to help them if they will not listen to the Spirit and seek the truth through it. I'll admit that for awhile I was mad with this man. I didn't feel charity, compassion, or love for him (something that for, any future missionary reading this, is necessary to have for everyone you see and especially for your investigators). By the time it came for me to go to bed that night I was plagued by the thought that I couldn't do anything to help him. That hatred that I had started to feel was turned on myself. I felt guilty that I in some way had failed him and had failed God. I couldn't sleep for a long time because of these thoughts but then an impression came over me that this is not my work and is not my message. It is His message. All the Lord wants me to do is try my hardest and open my mouth. He wants me to love his children and if I do all these things, he is pleased with me. I am reminded of an MTC devotional from a few years ago that they showed us while we were in the MTC by Elder Bednar or the quorum of the twelve apostles. It was called "Character of Christ" and in it he said that it is necessary for a disciple of Jesus Christ and especially his missionaries to turn out from themselves. Christ was the ultimate example of this action. Absolutely everything He ever thought, said, or did was in service of others. He was ridiculed, despised, insulted, and disrespected a whole lot more than I have been on this mission but He never ceased loving. He never thought of His s own pride or comfort or ego. I realized that in my own pride my thoughts had turned away from the needs of those people who I have been sent to serve and I had turned inward. To be honest, before coming on a mission I thought that humility was one Christlike attribute that I had perfected (pretty ironic, I know). Since this experience I have realized how far I have to go. It's a good thing that a mission is probably one of the most humbling experiences a person can go through. It is a constant struggle to become worthy of being called a representative of Jesus Christ. I bear my testimony that missionary work is a divine work and that it is important to God. He will bless his servants who are faithful and he has prepared and will continue to prepare His children to receive this message and our job is simple: find them and invite them to come unto Christ, He who is mighty to save. The field is white and ready to harvest so it is a great time to be a missionary. We could have spent countless lessons preparing that difficult investigator to open his heart but the Lord doesn't tell us that the field is brown ready to plant. He has told us that it is white ready to harvest. Our time for these 2 years is, in reality, the Lord's time and so I believe that misusing it on people who are not ready to accept our message is a sin. While we might have been planting seeds by talking to him there was a field of white and it is harvest time. Someday our former investigator may be ready for the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ but in the meantime, there are countless souls who the Lord has prepared for us.
Yesterday we had a really sweet experience that helped me see my purpose here a lot clearer. We were having an absolutely awful day of proselyting where absolutely all of our appointments fell through, we did a lot of waiting for people who never showed, and one of our investigators dropped us. In the afternoon, though we had correlation with the ward mission leader where we were to discuss how we could help investigators, less active members, and new converts. We had just finished saying the opening prayer when the sister missionaries called and said that one of their new converts needed a priesthood blessing. To give you some background on this new member, she, her husband, and her 9 year old son had been baptized a few weeks ago. A week after the baptism her husband ran off for unknown reasons and we haven't heard from him since. Now her son is without a father and they are left trying to figure out how they can provide for themselves in his absence. When the sister missionaries called us she had just found out that her mother, who she was very close to, had passed away. If I was in her shoes, having been promised countless blessings if I were baptized but then having my family torn apart I would have been flat out angry with God. When we got the call, the ward mission leader immediately stood up and we all headed to the sister's house. When we got there we gave her the blessing and then shared with her some thoughts and scriptures about the plan of salvation. Then we proceeded to visit with her for about 3 hours, playing card games, talking, and playing with her son. There are a lot of other things that we could have done during that time (3hours is a long time for a missionary) like setting up appointments or making surprise visits to the houses of our weaker investigators but I know that God wanted us to be with that family for that time. We are instruments in His hands and I know that he was answering a prayer and showing that sister His love for her through us.
Today we went to Bellagio which is at the tip of a peninsula going into Lake Como. The bus ride to and from it was absolutely gorgeous. I will make sure to attach some pictures in another email. We got there and it was pretty much a tourist town but the view was still fantastic and there were some cool shops that we browsed. We bought some "Lake Como ties" from a couple of shops because they are famous throughout the mission for being awesome quality. They aren't as cheap as "Firenze ties" (which are only 2.50 each for missionaries) but they are awesome and I will be sure to send some pictures of them as well. We got some pizza from a little shop which my companion said is the best pizza he's had in Italy and got some gelato which he also said was the best he's had here. That means a lot too considering he spent 3 transfers in Firenze which has the best pizza and gelato in the mission! So all in all it was a fantastic P-day. However, because we did so many changes between metros, trains, and buses and were running around all over the place nonstop the entire time it hasn't been exactly relaxing. Next week for P-day we are staying in Milan to see the original Last Supper painting so it will be a more restful day. What I've learned so far is that P-day is a sacred day to a missionary. Since we can't participate in Sunday afternoon naps and Sunday's in general are very busy, P-day is our day of rest and needs to be protected at all cost. Without it I think all 74,000 or so missionaries around the world would go insane.
I thought conference was especially fantastic this time. When the prophet spoke in priesthood session I could see he was physically very weak and was struggling to say what he wanted to say but I could still feel the power in his words just as strongly as when he was first called to be the prophet. I watched the hour long movie about his life on Gospel Library this week and I was once again amazed by the amount of service that man has given to the church and to God over his lifetime. He has truly been on the Lord's errand. Remember to pray for him and the other general authorities. They need our support now more than ever. It makes me so sad to hear people oppose them during the sustainings each and every conference so now more than ever we need to voice our support for the priesthood that they have because they truly are men of God. We didn't get to see the second Sunday session because of the time difference but we are planning on watching that this week at some time. Everyone keeps talking about Elder Holland's talk and he always astounds me so I can't wait to hear his words.
Ci vediamo nella prossima settimana!
Vi voglio bene