There are some events in your life that you don't recognize as a moment that you will always remember until after it happens and then you reflect on it some and realize the gravity of it. I'll tell y'all about an experience that I've had this week that elicited such a response. It happened when we were visiting a less active family to help them get them involved in missionary work by sharing the gospel with their friends so we can start teaching them. They fed us dinner and we taught a lesson to them, but then they said that they had a favor to ask of us. Using language that they knew their little girl couldn't understand, they explained to us that she the mom was pregnant. Apparently because she is a little bit old to be having children and she has some other health problems, she will be going to the doctor to assess the health of the baby and mother. They haven't told anybody, including their daughter, because they aren't sure what is going to happen but they told us because they wanted her to have a priesthood blessing. The husband could not participate for reasons he didn't specify but I'm glad that they trusted us enough to ask for our help. We were about to start when they both said that they would like me to say the blessing. I guess it made sense because it was the first time they met Anziano Pyper and I had seen them a couple of times before, but they also knew I wasn't very good at speaking Italian. As I was pronouncing the blessing on her, I realized that it was the first time that I had actually said a priesthood blessing, let alone in Italian. I'm starting to see more and more the purpose of the priesthood. It isn't a means to exert power over other people in the church, but rather is a way to serve others and carries with it that responsibility. Our prophet, Thomas S. Monson, is known as one of the most service oriented people on earth. Since his early adulthood he served countless widows, sick people, and poor people in his numerous callings, all in the name of Christ and his priesthood. Our Savior, the prime example of priesthood holder, never used it for selfish purposes but instead served others. He healed the sick and fed multitudes but when he was suffering of hunger or bodily pain, he refused to do the same for himself. Ok I know I pretty much already a spiritual thought but I want to do another one really quick because I feel the need to do so. This week we met with our little Peruvian miracle man, Isidro, again and we talked with him about how he is doing with some of the commandments we talked to him about. He expressed concern to us his doubts with the Law of Tithing and Word of Wisdom and said that he doesn't know yet what the benefits will be for him or why he has to keep them. In essence, he doesn't know why he has to keep them because he has never tried it. We were almost out of time when he told us this so we decided to talk about it the next time we see him. I felt that I should really put some thought into a response to his questions because at this point, he just needs to attend church one more time and get this out of the way and he will be ready for baptism. As I reflected on his doubts, I realized that it was completely based on a lack of experience on his part with these commandments and that they may sound strange at first but that once he puts it into practice, he will see the blessings that will come from observing them. I thought about how a person who had never seen rain or snow had it described to them: little drops of water or flecks of ice falling from the heavens, seemingly spontaneously. However, if they are shown a fresh layer of snow or get caught in a spring rainstorm, that uneasiness, doubt, or fear will soon turn to delight as they dance around in the cool shower or make snow angels for the first time. When we meet him next I will be sure to try show him how sometimes we just need to have the faith to follow God and that he will take care of the rest. From what it sounds like, everyone back home is well and blessings continue to be showered on all of you. If there is anything that any of you want to talk through or want me to keep in my prayers, please don't be afraid to contact me. Also, please don't neglect to think of all the good things that are happening in your lives and inform me of them. I want to know! Con un cuore pieno d'amore Anziano Younce
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Hey everybody I hope you've had a good week. This week has been pretty good to me. I'll start at the end of last Wednesday, after my emailing time was over. We were doing English class and we decided that since there were so many people at different levels in our class, we would do 3 classes. So the Sorelle took the absolute beginner students, Anziano Pyper took the advanced students who pretty much already know English, and I took the intermediate ones. The people in my class really don't know how to speak or understand a lot of English but do know a fair amount of grammar so I had to mostly speak in Italian and be able to translate lots of random words and phrases that they had questions about directly. I did surprisingly well and one of the students who has been coming since the beginning of my time here remarked on how much my language skills have improved since my first day. At the end of the lesson I was going to share a short spiritual thought with them and the thought came to my head to share a video where Elder Holland explains the Book of Mormon. While it was playing I realized that I had that thought because the 3 people I was with had all at some point expressed some sort of interest in our church or had been picked up by us as an investigator even though only one had received a Book of Mormon and none of them had read it(I don't know how that happened). After the video was over I talked about what the Book of Mormon means to me and the powerful effect that it can have in a person's life as it has in mine but for the first time ever, I didn't feel limited by my ability to speak in Italian. The words just flowed from my mouth and even the student of ours that had been dozing off the entire time before was sitting up and listening. After I was finished I asked the people who didn't have a Book of Mormon whether they would like one and they were very interested so I quickly ran upstairs to get a couple of copies for them. I know that I couldn't have done that without the guidance and power of the Spirit. I finally am starting to feel like I can do this "missionary" thing on my own. Obviously, for a lot of things it is helpful to have someone with me that knows the language very well, but it is comforting to know that if I needed to that I could do things on my own. The rest of Wednesday was a little rough because we had ward council and we butted heads with the bishop some more but I won't go into more detail since I don't like to criticize local leadership to such a large audience, especially since he really does mean well and is trying to do his best. The rest of the week was pretty normal for the most part. Isidro didn't show up to church again because he had work, which is a problem because if he can't change his work schedule he won't be able to come to church at all. Since we've had a lot of referrals lately, we have been busy trying to schedule appointments with all of them but, as usual, it is harder than it should be because that's just how it is to be a missionary. There seems, at times, to be an invisible wall of force of some sort that prevents us from being as successful as we would like to be. It's exhausting working against the grain like that but we just have to "continuare avanti" with the knowledge that it will not always be that way and that we are doing the right thing. By the time I send my next weekly email out, there will be a new Mission President here named President Allen and the old one, President Dibb, will be gone. I've really liked Dibb even though I've only been with him for a few months. There are some rules that he has made that lots of people don't agree with but all of them have been for the purpose of protecting us and making us most effective missionaries that we can be. I've been told that there are two main groups of mission presidents: ones that focus on missionary work and ones that focus on missionaries. President Dibb definitely belongs in the former category but from what I've heard of President Allen (my companion's parents know him from back in Idaho), he is a very relaxed person and is open and friendly with everyone around him. His wife apparently even told the parents of missionaries serving here who came to their farewell to write down something that they can bring out to Italy for their missionaries. In essence, I'm sad to see President Dibb go but I'm excited to see how things are under different leadership. All I know for sure is that I want to try my hardest to be a person that the president can count on for anything he needs to be done. This week I've been reflecting on exactly how fortunate I am. Of all the places in the world that I could have been born into, I came to America. I received a complete family who loves me and who taught me from a young age the teachings of Jesus Christ. I was born into the gospel and now have the opportunity to share those same blessings that I've received with people in far off lands. Then I realized that everyone on this earth has been blessed enormously as well. We all have a Heavenly Father who loves us beyond comprehension and who blessed us with life and this earth. We have a Savior who made it possible for us all to return to live with God again. I am amazed everyday as I try to think about all the eternal potential in the people around me and I know that each of them are beloved sons and daughters of God. If there is ever a time in life where it seems like privileges or talents were unevenly distributed or like nothing is going your way, remember who you really are and that your final destination is not at the end of this life. You were created for grand purposes. Vi ringrazio per tutto il sostegno che ricevo ogni giorno da voi Vi voglio bene Anziano Younce
Before I begin, I would like to just talk about some things I'm grateful for. I'm extremely grateful for my loving and supportive family who, even though they are thousands of miles away, has found a way to uplift and sustain me. I am grateful for all of the church leaders and teachers I've had over the years that have been instrumental in getting me to this point in my life. I'm grateful for the chance I have to serve here in Italy with the best people on the planet.
So my trainer, Anziano Hansen is now far away from Cimiano. Luckily, my new companion has arrived and has been fantastic. Anziano Pyper is from Idaho Falls and is one of the goofiest guys ever. There really isn't a dull moment with him around and we have gotten along really great. One of the best things about him is that he is a great people person so he has been able to connect with all of our investigators very easily. Also, he is good friends with one of the missionaries who work in the mission office, which is very handy when you live so close to the office. Actually, we have connections all over the two Milano zones. On Saturday we went to an all you can eat sushi place for lunch with pretty much everyone in Milano and we are all buds, including the APs and office elders.
Sometimes there are days and weeks on the mission when you wonder whether what you are doing is enough. Then along comes a miracle that seems to say "you're doing just fine". I had a couple of those this week. We were just walking home one day and a man approached us and said that he and his son had some problems that he wants to fix. We talked with him and got a prayer lesson out of it before getting his contact information and giving him the address of the church and our number. He came to church the next day and then later that day he called us and set up his own appointment. When we met with him the next day, he said he wants to meet as often as possible, as in every day if we can, because he really wants to change his life. We gave him a Book of Mormon and restoration pamphlet and set up an appointment for the following day. When we met him, he had already started to read the book and we taught him about the restoration without a hitch. Next time he plans to bring his son as well so we can teach them together. It's moments like these that give me that little boost to keep going forward. I know that God is watching out for each of us and that when we are feeling at our lowest, that is when He is with us the most. Through prayer we can reach Him and He can give us the emotional rescue that we need. I've learned how to turn to prayer for that spiritual and emotional support on my mission because if I didn't, I would have probably exploded from all the stress a long time ago. I wish that I had discovered this little "secret" to a stress-free life a long time ago. It has helped me see the hand of God in my life so that I can see exactly how close He is to me. Even if you not feel him close, He is there and is waiting to come to your emotional rescue so you can see how much He loves you.
Thanks for all the emails everyone! I'll talk to y'all next week.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
This week was amazing in some ways and frustrating in others.
First off, I feel like we didn't get to teach nearly as many lessons to nearly as many of our investigators as I wanted to but I guess there were some things that got in the way. Early in the week we got "bidoned" (a term we use here for being stood up) a bunch early in the week. On Monday we had 4 appointments lined up at the church building and non of them showed up even though we called all of them and they all said they were on their way. On Thursday we had a "scambio" (exchange) with the zone leaders and while it went very well and I learned a lot, we didn't get to talk to any of our people for a day and a half. Then, on Saturday, the European cup championship soccer match was being played in Milano so all of us couldn't use the metro (meaning we pretty much couldn't do missionary work in any efficient way) and then had to be inside our houses by 5.
Alright. Now for all the tender mercies of the Lord!
Usually we are lucky if we get 1 referral in a week but last week we had received 4 and we already have another 3 this week! We have been meeting with Michele a lot lately and he is super close to coming to church. He has told us so many times that he knows that this church is true and that the Book of Mormon is true (though he always reminds us of how boring it is to read it) and that he needs to go to church but there are still some matters of stubbornness in his way. However, I have no doubt in my mind that by the end of this transfer, he will have come to church. Also, yesterday, after Anziano Hansen's farewell party, we ran into someone on the metro who used to be an investigator but who fell through the cracks and was never baptized. He is an African refugee but has been here for a few years already so he has his documents and is no longer living in one of the refugee houses so we can teach him. He was so excited to find us again. Anziano Hansen is leaving for a little city by the coast out in the boonies of the mission called Ancona so he will no longer be here. Starting Thursday I will have a new companion and I will no longer be in training. It seems like the Lord has given me all these people to take care of as a way of testing me. I have learned from tough experience that when the Lord gives you an opportunity, you make the best of it. I'm reminded of the parable where a master gave his 3 servants varying amounts of money before he left for a lengthy spell. When he returned, 2 of them had doubled their money but one of them, hoping not to mess up and lose the money he had been entrusted with, didn't do anything with it. The master said to the first two "well done, good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things". To the one that didn't make an increase, he took away that which had been given him. I think one of the lessons to be learned from this parable is that when the Lord gives you something, don't be selfish. For instance, because He has blessed me with abilities and opportunities to care for many of His children, I have the responsibility to do so and if I do it to the best of my ability, he will offer more opportunities and will give me even more blessings to be able to do so. If I don't do so, he will take away all of those blessings and will not receive an increase. This principle doesn't just apply to missionary work. Use your talents for good and do good things. Take those opportunities you are given to improve other people's lives and you will be blessed.
So this transfer I'm staying in Cimiano and I am getting a companion named Anziano Piper. He is in the same group as my trainer was so they know each other very well. I've only heard amazing things about him so far so I'm very excited. I'm also nervous because for the first week or so I will be pretty much in charge until my companion knows all of our investigators and the members. I'm a little scared but luckily I think my Italian has really picked up. Instead of staying silent because I don't know what I'm saying, I just start speaking and hope that the words come to me and luckily that has helped a lot both with understanding and speaking because I get some practice and because I am more involved in the conversations so I can follow it a little better. Anziano Hansen will be with someone from Spain who grew up in Pavia, Italy (which is actually in our zone) named Anziano Sossa. His English ability is very limited and apparently has decided he will only speak Italian with his companions so Anziano Hansen is worried because he still isn't totally confident with his ability to speak Italian but he is an amazing missionary and man so I'm not worried for him at all. He gets along well with everyone so that should help.
Thank you everybody for your love and support! I feel your prayers and I enjoy all of the encouragement I receive through emails.
Vi voglio un sacco di bene!
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
These past two weeks have reminded me of a scripture from the Book of Mormon that I memorized in Sister Despain's seminary class (thanks to a catchy tune). In Ether 12:6 it says "And now I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things. I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen. Wherefore, dispute not because he see not for he receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." Last week was absolutely brutal to us and I started to lose hope in my ability to fulfill the Lord's errand but we tried to exercise faith by taking steps with investigators towards baptism and by shifting our efforts from some people who need to do some more personal preparation for baptism to the exhausting process of finding people to teach. In this area we had just about given up on "finding" because, at least while I've been here, we haven't had any success. However, we felt impressed that instead of wasting our time on people who are not ready to listen to us, we needed to make an effort to find the people that the Lord has already prepared for us. Because we exercised our faith in something that we hoped for but could not see, the Lord decided to bless us tremendously. My companion says that he has never had success in "finding" the way that we have this week. The miracles were not limited to just finding though. One time, we had an appointment with our new convert, Anthony, and he didn't show up and wasn't answering his phone. We were worried about him but it wasn't the first time this had happened so we forgot about it. Anyways, afterwards we were about to head to la stazione centrale for a lesson with someone but when we called to confirm with him he was not answering. In the past he has been super flaky even when we were able to get ahold of him and he hasn't ever come when we have not gotten through. As the metro came my companion turned to me to make a decision about whether we should go or not. At this point I was about 97% sure that he wouldn't show up and even if he did, he was one of the people that we were going to drop considering he isn't progressing at all and even if he was, he couldn't be baptized because he lives in a refugee camp, it wouldn't be a big deal if we blew him off to get some awesome finding work in. In addition, we hate going to centrale so in essence, there were about zero reasons for us to go to the appointment. If I were to follow my own logic and desires, I would choose to go looking for people to talk to in a beautiful park on a gorgeous Italian spring day. However, I was moved on by the Spirit to go to the appointment so we hopped on the metro. It just seemed like the logical thing to do even if it really wasn't. Immediately when I got on the metro I was regretting the decision and thought that my companion would soon be teasing me gently for wasting the Lord's time. When we got to centrale we decide to walk around and look for our guy and then if he wasn't there, go back. While looking, we found Anthony sitting next to a friend of his. We started to teach Anthony and his friend listened in as we talked about eternal family and he seemed really interested so after the lesson we exchanged numbers and will see him sometime soon! There were many other miracles that happened this week that I do not have the time to write but you get the picture. By exercising faith we leave room for God to work miracles. Yesterday was one of the best days I've had on the mission so far. It started out with us going to the church early so that we could unlock it and set it up for the new missionary training conference. About 25 minutes before we left Michele, one of our beloved investigators, called us and told us to meet him at the metro station so he could show us something. When we got there he took us to this little hole in the wall pasticceria that has super cheap and super good dolce. On the way there and back we were talking about his life and his experiences with investigating the church in the past. He has really grown to love and trust us and we live vet him in return. He is definitely someone who I will miss and who I will tell people about when I get home. After that little adventure we were at the church where I got to see President Dibb, probably for the last time, and all the new Sorelle who I saw at the MTC before I left. We did some catching up but soon left because they had the training to do and we had work to do. At the church we picked up an Anziano who had just come back from the States for some surgery and for the next 5 hours until his companion could pick him up, he was with us. It was awesome having him with us because I learned a lot and he is a pretty cool guy. After we handed him off to his companion, we went to the house of an investigator of ours named Prince. He is from Africa and he is very involved with some ministries up here so he is very interesting to talk to. He reminds me of some of the people I would talk about religion to in high school because he always tries to tempt us into a Bible bash. My companion let me sort of take over the lesson because I have a lot of experience talking to people like that, growing up in the south. It was actually very fun because he had many very complex questions that he wanted answered that could be answered with simple principles of the gospel. I don't think I've ever met a man that is as curious as he is. His questions are not designed to try to trip is up. Rather, he wants to know more about what we believe and why and we try to find common ground but when we can't find any, we bear testimony and give scriptural evidence. The problem with appealing to the Bible for answers or any other scripture by itself, for that matter, is that there are many ways to interpret it and just about every scripture from the bible we used he turned around the other way. That is the reason that the Book of Mormon and modern day revelation is so necessary, though. There are infinite interpretations of any one scripture but with two witnesses, the Book of Mormon and the Bible, we can gain a clear picture of what God wants for us. Unfortunately, Prince only takes the Book of Mormon to be a study of our religion and not to be the word of God yet but that is what we are working on with him. I may have had an awesome week and I may be on cloud 9 right now but that doesn't mean that I will always be there. Even now I still feel the pull of Satan into thoughts that would bring me down from this wonderful state. Thoughts of self worthlessness are always from him so never let him pull you down that way. He wants you to remember the imperfect person you used to be, even though you have changed. He wants you to think about the shortcomings you have now, even though you are trying your best to be better. He wants you to lose all hope for the future by reminding you of what you weren't and aren't, even though your potential is infinite. He does this because his past, present, and future are pitiful. He is the lowest of the low and he can't improve so he wants you to feel the way that he does. I bear witness that God loves everyone on this earth and that He wants everything that is good for you. My favorite thing about being a missionary and thus a representative of Jesus Christ is that I just get a glimpse of that love that He has for people. On the days where I feel like I'm going to pass out from exhaustion, that love that I feel and all that potential that I see is what motivates me. It motivates me to try to show people what I see. Never let Satan pull you off your cloud. You have been born for better things than that. Alla prossima settimana, vi voglio bene! Anziano Younce
Ever since we baptized Anthony we have experienced a slowing down in our work. I knew that things were just too good to be true and that the mission couldn't be this rewarding without a few difficulties arising. We have been trying to figure out how to move our investigators forward but at every turn something has been preventing us from doing so. It is especially hard to help these people to come closer to Christ when then don't show up to appointments also, like has been happening a lot lately. In the past apparently Cimiano has been the worst area in the mission when it comes to cancellations, sometimes approaching a 75% cancellation/stand up rate. We look at our whiteboard every day and glare at the empty space where we write baptism dates. We have decided that some of our investigators who are really not interested in baptism and do not keep our commitments, but have been meeting with us anyways because we have been hoping to change that, will be dropped. Instead of using our time on them, we will be helping those who ARE ready to accept our message whether it be the handful of investigators we have now who are ready to do that but we have had difficulty meeting with, or finding new people to teach. We have been going to lots of members houses and less active families to show a video that President Dibb is recommending. Actually, there is a funny story about this effort of ours. Since Friday I have been sick and Sunday was the worst day for me but I could stand and talk so I went out and worked. My symptoms included a headache, sore throat, and absolutely no appetite. We scheduled to meet with a strong member family followed by a less active family on Sunday to show them the video and talk to them about how they can be involved with missionary work. We didn't say anything to either of them about staying for dinner and, in fact, said that we couldn't stay long because we were very busy. I was dearly hoping that they wouldn't have food for us because I couldn't eat anything but when we got to the first house, they brought out enough food for 20 people and told us to eat. I ate as much as my throat and stomach could handle so that I wouldn't appear rude and then we showed the video and got out of there. By now I was feeling like I was gonna throw up because there was food in my stomach that didn't belong there. I was hoping beyond belief as we walked from our first appointment to the next that they wouldn't have food but when we walked in I saw a bunch of food on the table and almost walked out the door right then. Normally I would be excited to eat a bunch of traditional Milanese cuisine like risotto and fried chicken filets (I don't know what they call them) but not that day. I decided my strategy would be to get the smallest possible scoop of everything and the smallest filet and spread it out on my plate so it would look like I had gotten more than I did and then to take small bites and chew it for a long time. For most of the meal it seemed as though nobody noticed until somebody brought it up and they started making fun of me for taking tiny bites and chewing so much, like a baby. I'm afraid that they were offended that they made all that food for us and I didn't eat much. I couldn't really do much about it considering with each bite I put in my mouth my body had the urge to throw up. When we finally got out of there my companion turned to me and said "why didn't you just tell them that you are sick so you can't eat much?" I almost decked him right there because I didn't know that I could do that. I really wish he told me that I could say that because it would have saved me the upset stomach and the relationship with that family. We are gonna go see them again soon so hopefully I can explain to them what happened last time and show them how fast and how much I usually eat.
This week we have also done a ton of "finding", where we go up to people on the street or in the park and try to start a gospel conversation with them and eventually get their number so we could see them another time. We haven't had any success so far because I am awful at finding due to my very limited knowledge of Italian but I found myself getting better at it and becoming more bold.
I chose the title of my email, "Riders on the Storm", because first of all it seems as through we have been riding through a storm this week, but also because the opening lyrics of the song are "riders on the storm, riders on the storm, into this house we're born, into this world we're thrown" and I have been reminded of those lyrics so many times since I've been here. I see people every day who seem to have been thrown quite roughly into this cruel world and are left to eke out a meager living before they die. They are just hoping to hold on through the storm. Little do they know that they are designed for a much greater purpose and that their Father in Heaven is still there. This reminds me of one of my favorite hymns, "Master, the Tempest is Raging" as well, with the accompanying inspiring account from the Bible. When the Apostles of the Lord were caught in a great storm and it seemed that they would perish, God was still watching after them and he still loved them but he wanted them to literally and symbolically turn to Jesus Christ to save them. When they did, the seas were calmed and their faith was strengthened by the experience. Before, I had never thought of the story from the perspective of our Heavenly Father, but my experiences have helped me see his hand in our lives and in our trials. This week has truly been a storm for me and unfortunately I have been letting it get to me more than I should but I know that I have received strength enough to handle it by turning to the Master. The whole time I have never been forgotten but for some unknown reason, I needed to learn to turn towards my Savior for strength. Never forget that you can turn to Him in every difficulty and in every trial. Sometimes He will not help in the way that you want Him to, but the help will come nonetheless. If there is one thing of which I am sure, it is that we have a Father in Heaven who loves us with all his heart, might, mind, and strength and that He will not let us fail. That is why He sent His Son. Thanks to Them, we can survive the storm that sometimes seems as though it will envelop us.