December 31, 2012

How to Know When Your Attack Dog Isn't Trained Enough - Week 19

Well it's the last day of 2012 and as is usual for holidays, France is in full party-mode. This is especially true in Alsace (the region where Strasbourg is located) since it has been influenced so much by German culture. You see, Alsacians don't celebrate a normal 24-hour Christmas. Here, the holiday is three days long, and they basically never stop eating for those three days. One member told us that they usually start their meal at around 6 on Christmas Eve and eat until around 3 in the morning, then go to bed and do it again the next day and the day after that.

We were invited to members' homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, but we unfortunately had to leave around halfway through the multi-course meals to make it home on time. However, I still managed to have some fois gras (duck liver) spread on bread, raw salmon appetizers, and about a dozen of the first courses. There's France and its fancy food for ya.

On Christmas day, President Poznanski gave us permission to watch a Disney movie, and we watched Hercules. It was pretty great to watch something created for no other purpose than just for entertainment.

The best part of the day was talking to my family for a couple of hours through Skype. It was a nice break and it is always great to talk with the fam. I am glad everyone is doing well and that Santa brought some pretty great gifts. Thanks to my family for the early Christmas package (I got it about a month ago) and for the ones that I know are coming. French mail has been pretty slow since the entire country closes down for the holidays, but it's okay that I haven't received the packages yet; it will be like having two Christmases.

After Christmas, we went on exchanges with another companionship of Elders in our district, and I was with Elder Clawson in the little town of St. Dié. I don't know if it's because St. Dié is so small or if it's because the missionaries drive around a lime green hatchback car named Ashley but somehow, almost everyone in the town knew Elder Clawson. I stopped some people on the street and told them we were missionaries, at which point Elder Clawson addressed them by name and asked them how their daughter and family was doing. Somehow, he knows everyone in the city.

At one point during the day in St. Dié, we came across streets with signs calling them "Purgatory," "Way to Hell," and "The Path of Burning." Elder Clawson noted that there was a street called "Paradise" a few blocks away. It seems that we only need a map of St. Dié to make a Plan of Salvation diagram. Anyway, a few minutes after turning down the streets and knocking on the doors, we started having some of the most violent rain and wind that I've ever seen. Coincidence? I think not. Unfortunately, I had lost my umbrella a few days before, and thus got drenched completely through within a few minutes. Curiously enough, the weather stopped soon after we left that neighborhood. 

At the very end of "'The Path of Burning," we met a lady who was a little unhappy to see us. She opened the door and yelled at us to get off her property, then called over her dog and sent him to attack us. I don't know exactly what she was expecting, but the dog just kind of walked up to us and we started petting it. He was a nice dog, and HE at least seemed happy to see us. Upon noting that her original tactic of an attack dog had failed, she just yelled at us some more and called her husband to come out. We thought she could definitely benefit from a message on how to find happiness, but we instead decided it to be wise to leave quickly as she had asked. Maybe if she moved next door to the street of "Paradise", she would be more pleasant. In the meantime, I'll gladly stay here in Strasbourg.

The sister missionaries in Colmar found us a new investigator while they were lounging around our train station in a layover. 'D' is open to scheduling multiple lessons a week, wants to go to church, and didn't freak out when the member we brought to help teach her somehow taught her the Plan of Salvation and the Word of Wisdom in the course of a few minutes. She seems promising.

Since it's cold outside, when we teach people who want to meet in the middle of the city, we usually have to teach them in cafés. This week, I realized how classy I felt to be teaching a lesson in a café in the middle of France with waitresses serving me expensive cups of hot chocolate on saucers with little stirring spoons and sugar cubes.

Yesterday was the last day of the Christmas markets so most of the crowds have cleared out and things are getting back to normal. I will miss being able to get waffles and crepes from the street vendors, though. Instead of buying them on the street from a stand, we now have to go INSIDE the shop next to the sidewalk. I think instead of buying waffles though, I'll start expanding my pastry knowledge.

And that's been my life for the last seven days. Happy New Year, and thanks for checking up on me!

Elder Wilson

Our multi-course Christmas Eve dinner, during a brief eating respite.

December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas! - Week 18

Well, this is a little awkward ... It seems that the 21st of December has already passed, and I'm still here. Oops.

Well I've now been in France for just over two months, which means that I've been in Strasbourg for the same amount of time as I was in the MTC. Yeesh, I was in there for forever. Time has flown by here though.

We went to Paris this week for a combined zone conference with President and Sister Poznanski and the Assistants for a training. Luckily for us, the training involved watching a movie; and it wasn't even the Restoration or Joy to the World! They showed us most of the movie Iron Will and made it a big metaphor to missionary work. Throughout the training, they paused the movie and gave us all Christmas presents that symbolized different parts of the story. Then, at the end, Sister Poznanski gave us all little Arc de Triomphes with a quote from Napoleon talking to his soldiers: "Vous ne rentrerez dans vos foyers que sous des arcs de triomphe." You will not return to your homes except under arcs of triumph.

After the conference, the senior missionaries serving in Paris made us all a Christmas meal and we did a white elephant exchange. It was supposed to have a spiritual significance, and Elders naturally got creative. Some of the presents ranged from a giant rock, a Catholic candle, or a picture an Elder printed of himself and framed in tinfoil. I'm still working on figuring out the spiritual meaning for that one, but I'm sure it's there somewhere. Unfortunately, we stayed a bit too long at the Paris chapel before we realized what time it was. As soon as we remembered our train time back to Strasbourg, we quite literally ran through Paris and the metro to get to the train station on time. Not exactly an easy task with the metro being full to capacity. Basically, to get into the metro cars, Elder Dunn and I had to kind of jump into the crowds and shove our way in before the doors closed on our bags. Not exactly the most comfortable of public transportation rides. We barely made it on the train though, and we even got on the right one this time! Unlike last week.

Since we sprinted through Paris, Elder Dunn and I were thirsty and I was willing to spend any amount of money to get a bottle of water. Luckily for us, France considers the constant availability of alcohol to be a civil right, so every train running through France is handily equipped with a large bar. As we walked into the train car, we found out that the Sisters serving in Colmar had the same idea, and they too were enjoying their 4 euro water. So, the four of us ended up spending our time out of Paris in the bar. Drinking only water, of course. Expensive water that tasted worse than tap water, that is.

Yesterday, I gave a talk in Sacrament meeting. I'm not sure who chose to have the missionary who started learning French four months ago speak in front of the ward, but I was able to talk for 15 minutes in recognizable French. See? Miracles DO happen! At the end of the meeting, the Bishop called up Elder Dunn and I and the ward gave us Christmas presents. They're so nice! We don't get to open them until tomorrow on Christmas, but we think they probably gave us some copies of the Book of Mormon. That would be great, because then we could add them to our collection of the 150 other copies in our apartment.

Just kidding, we actually have no idea what they gave us.

After church, we met somebody who came to Sacrament meeting for the first time. We ended up having a lesson with him, and he's already read the entire Book of Mormon and just decided to come to church on his own. What a great guy! We also taught a man who just came from the Congo. He said he's been searching for a church to join, and he feels like God directed him to talk to us on the street. He asked for a copy of the Book of Mormon so he could read it and just before informing us that he would be attending church as soon as possible, he asked us when was the soonest we could meet with him. Finally, we ended the day with a lesson with an Middle-Eastern woman. After teaching her the Plan of Salvation, she told us through tears about how her entire family was killed, leaving her alone to move to a foreign country and learn a new language. We're lucky to associate with some awesome people.

We will be going to a family's house for Christmas tomorrow and they are going to let us use their computer to Skype with our families. This family has a son who's on a mission in Canada, and he left a few weeks after me. We actually knew each other in the MTC. While I was in the MTC, I searched for as many native French speakers as I could find, which ended up being about a dozen. So I met this missionary's cousin, who was a sister missionary and was in the MTC at the same time as he was. She introduced me to him, and they're both from Strasbourg. I forgot about what city they were from until I saw their pictures on the bulletin boards in the church building. It was a real full-circle moment. Since this family has a son on a mission, they've been really nice to us and give us rides places, even though the mom is in a wheelchair from a recent surgery. They help us in the hope that someone does the same for their son.  

That's all I have for you on this fine Christmas Eve morning. Enjoy the holidays and eat a lot of food. Call me, maybe? (tomorrow)

Elder Wilson 

December 17, 2012

The Last Email Ever - Week 17

I'm sorry to say that this is going to be my last email I'll ever send home. That's because, as everyone knows, the world is ending on Friday. Too bad. I suppose I've lived a good enough life. 

Hopefully you can distinguish the sarcasm seeping through the computer right now.

People ask us all the time if the world is ending or why we think the world is ending. We answer back that they only need to worry if they reject us, because everyone who talks to the missionaries and reads the Book of Mormon will be saved and won't die from the Apocalypse this week.

Just kidding, of course we don't say that. We calmly tell them that we don't think the world is going to end. However, I wonder if the above method would give us more success ...

We had a good week despite the panicked people asking us about the end of the world. It was a bit disappointing, because we had 20 lessons fixed (almost three times the mission average for this week) and half of them fell through, which is really abnormal.  It's common to have a few fall through, but not 50%. Most of our investigators could get close to baptism if we can have enough lessons with them during the week, and the only hindrance to having more lessons during the week is finding members to teach single women with us. We spent three hours on Friday calling members to teach with us, and all of them rejected us. Eventually, we had to have a less-active skip institute so we could teach our investigator. Technically, we're not even supposed to call any members to teach with us. We're SUPPOSED to just tell our DMP when we have lessons, and he's supposed to schedule members to come. However, seeing as we don't have a DMP (ward mission leader) we do the work of the missionaries and of the DMP, including going to his meetings. Still, we have 6 investigators who are closer to getting baptized every week. We have a list of 250 less-actives or so we could go and visit in Strasbourg, as compared to the 80 'actives.' It's the same story for all of France though. I think that even though there's like 30000 or so members in France, less than 8000 are considered active. The few hundred missionaries make a big difference when that is considered. Regardless, we have plenty of things to keep us happy. 

First of all, we had a bit of a ridiculous day on Tuesday. Every Tuesday morning, we get on a train to Nancy for district meeting. This Tuesday, we got up and went to the train station as usual and got on the usual train, despite running a few minutes late. Elder Dunn and I were exchanging looks of success for barely making it through the train doors before they closed when the train started moving out of the station. Our looks of success may have turned into looks of horror when we noticed that the train was moving the wrong direction.

As it turns out, the train going to Nancy was a few minutes late, so we had accidentally gotten onto the train going to Bâle. We were really afraid for a few minutes when we thought that the train had taken us across the border into Germany and out of our mission, but we got off in a French town named Selestat and bought tickets back to Strasbourg. We basically wasted a few  hours on the train, but we thought it was funny afterwards when we had to explain to the Zone leaders why we wouldn't be at district meeting.

The next day, we taught a lesson to a couple while knocking doors in an apartment building. Upon finding out that we were American, they immediately offered to make us cheeseburgers and fries and brought out their American flag to hang on the wall. They're fascinated with all things American, and it's their dream to go to the United States. Actually, this is a fairly common thing in France. French people want to go and visit the United States much more than Americans want to come and visit Paris ... and that's saying a lot.

Another example of this happened yesterday, when a French person told me how awesome their few weeks in Wyoming were and how cool it was to see 'real cowboys' and gigantic American cars. Also, when we don't want French people to understand us when we speak English, we just talk in southern accents. They have no chance at understanding any English in a southern accent.

If you didn't know, missionaries knock on a lot of doors (and I have had the good fortune of only having three doors slammed in my face in the last 2 months of being here.) In France, a lot of the tracting we do takes place through the intercoms situated at the door of apartment buildings. Instead of knocking, we often just push buttons. Anyway, people say funny things through these intercoms. After we had people say they believe in aliens or that they only speak Alsacian, we rang an intercom last week that was particularly funny. It went something like this:

(Elder Dunn) Hello, we're representatives of the Church of Je---

After which, he was cut off by the lady at the intercom:

(Lady): Oh, you're missionaries? no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no! no!

And she continued saying "no" over and over again for another 20 seconds, after which Elder Dunn decided to join in for some reason:

(Elder Dunn): no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no? no?

I'm not sure why we thought it was so funny, but anyone from the sidewalk was probably intrigued by two people yelling "no" at each other through an intercom.

We get to go to Paris this week for Zone conference! Hopefully I'll see something besides the metro this time; cross your fingers.

That's all the news from here in France. I hope you all have a fantastic week. And by the way, I wasn't kidding when I told you to do some service and shovel a driveway for the Elderly. Yes, you.

Talk to you next week (since the world isn't ending.) And hopefully we can talk a member into letting us come to their house on Christmas day so that I can Skype with the family!

Elder Wilson

December 10, 2012

The Cake Was Worth It - Week 16

Hello! I hope everyone is enjoying the snow and cold weather. Here's a shout out to all my friends receiving mission calls! It's so fun to hear where everyone is going around the world.

Now that Elder Dunn and I are the only two missionaries in Strasbourg, things have gotten a lot more quiet ... and more busy. Let's review the day just yesterday:

We had our schedule full of lessons, so we didn't have enough time to go back to our apartment and eat a meal until 8:00 at night. We were a little sad about that, especially considering we couldn't go to MacDo's and get a 1 euro cheeseburger for lunch because it was Sunday. We left and went to church anyway, and it just-so-happened that a few families had decided to bring lunch and eat it together in the gym after the meetings. I'm not sure why they decided to eat a meal at the church, but I didn't complain when they invited us to go and eat lunch with them. 

The problem is, however, that the worth of a missionary is sometimes determined by how much they can eat. So, three platefuls of food and two desserts later, we were finally able to leave the church and head to our rendez-vous. The lesson was canceled after we called to confirm, but as luck would have it, we were called immediately after by a super nice member to go over and eat some cake at her house. So, we set out to get the bus to Sister Bell's house.

5 minutes of jogging later, we got to the bus stop and discovered that the bus line didn't run on Sundays. So, we jogged for another 10 minutes to the next bus line, only to find that it didn't run on Sundays either. The same was discovered at the next bus line after another 5 minute jog. By that time, we realized that we were in the middle of nowhere without any form of transportation.

So, we thought it was a good idea to just run to Sister Bell's house.

It wasn't a good idea.

We made it, of course, but only after a 45 minute run over sidewalks covered in ice while wearing suits, dress shoes, overcoats, and bags of books around our shoulders. The reason why it wasn't such a good idea was because 20 minutes before, Elder Dunn and I had just eaten a gigantic meal supplied by the members. I'm just happy we didn't throw up. 

On the bright side, the cake was delicious.

We left in time to make it to our next lesson on the other side of the city, and we taught an awesome lady from the Middle East. In fact, we found her a few days ago. We had a few extra minutes, so we decided to knock on a handful of doors. We decided on a building, and Elder Dunn felt like we needed to go to the third floor. The first door we knocked on was hers, and she was really interested to have us come back.

She had a lot of questions like, "Why don't we have a record of the gospel given to the people living in America?" Needless to say, Elder Dunn and I were more than happy to answer all her questions. However, the lesson went over and we barely missed a bus, so we were late to our next lesson and the investigator had already left. We called and apologized before trying to figure out what to do.

We had an hour left in the day, and we needed to teach one more lesson and find a new investigator to meet our goals for the week and for the day. We called one of our investigators who hasn't answered the phone or the door for three weeks. She not only answered the phone, but she said she wanted us to have a lesson with her right away AND she wanted to bring a friend. Plus, it just-so-happened that we were a 10-minute walk away from her apartment, which is pretty miraculous considering our area is large enough for 2 hours of travel by bus and train in almost any direction. So, we ended up meeting all of our goals in the very last hour of the week with an unplanned rendez-vous. We must be doing something right.

I found out that two transfers before I came, President Poznanski took missionaries out of Strasbourg because they couldn't find anyone to teach. This week, Elder Dunn and I taught close to twice as many lessons as the mission average for the week, even with a good number of lessons that fell through and with extra hours of having to organize and plan. So yes, we're being blessed, and I know we can do a lot better.

Anyway, that's a day/week in the life of the Elders in Strasbourg. We're staying busy, fighting off the cold, and fighting off the concourses of tourists coming for the Christmas lights and street markets in the birthplace of Christmas. 

Have a wonderful Christmas season, pull out the scented candles, and go shovel the driveway of an elderly couple for service.

Unless, of course, the person reading this considers themselves elderly, in which case you should get a young person from next door to shovel for you. And no, grandma, I wasn't referring to you when I said "elderly."

Bonne Journée,

Elder Wilson

December 03, 2012

Rats Can Be Taught Too - Week 15

Hello! It's already been another week, so it's time for another email!

It's now snowing in Strasbourg, which means that everyone brings out their winter scarves and hangs up their autumn scarves for the year! I only have one, so it doesn't really make much of a difference to me. Maybe snow will be a bigger deal for me next year after I've purchased a wide variety of scarves. Here's what's happened since last week: 

We found out that Strasbourg is being reduced down to two Elders instead of four. Elder Mahieu is going off to Liege, Belgium and Elder Cooper is going to die in Le Havre in Western France. In the mission, going home means you're "dying," and the MTC is supposed to be the womb, and coming into the mission is being born. The first missionary you're paired up with on the first day is your mother, your trainer is your father, and anyone else who helps raise you is a stepfather or godfather. Thus, each missionary can construct a family tree. Sometimes, however, your mother can also be your father, and you could technically have your son later be your wife if you later raise the same son. We're all about family history.

Because it is just Elder Dunn and I now, we suddenly have a huge apartment with four desks, four beds, a couch, two IKEA poang chairs, two refrigerators and six chairs all to ourselves. We have the entire city to ourselves, and I think the closest missionaries are an hour or an hour and a half train ride away. Our area is huge, and we could never possibly see all of it. Strasbourg is one of the biggest cities in France, all for us. In fact, one of the major headquarters for the European Union is here, and we knocked on some of the doors of ambassadors last week and this week on accident. 

Also on the bright side, the other companionship is leaving us with a handful of investigators and a few dozen potentials. We're going to be busy next transfer with lessons.

I've been told from members that there used to be 8 Elders and 6 Sisters in Strasbourg a few years ago. I suppose Elder Dunn and I must be doing the work of 14 missionaries. 

Last P-Day, we decided to go to around the city to all the Christmas marchés, which are just street markets set up everywhere. We refrained from buying the hot wine, but we couldn't resist dropping a few euros on Belgian waffles smothered in Nutella and dinner crêpes. Elder Dunn wants to keep going back, and I'm not complaining. 

On the same day, we also climbed to the top of the famous cathedral in the city, Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. It was apparently built in 1400 or something, and it overlooks the entire city. If you have the means to visit, I highly recommend it.

I went on exchanges again in Nancy, and we ended up teaching a man on the street. He seemed really normal, until he turned his head to look the other direction and we saw a rat living in his hair. The man's hair was long, so the rat just snuggled up on top of his shoulders and was kept warm by the long locks of hair. I was only a little distracted the rest of the lesson by the rat tail hanging down by his mouth. There's always interesting people in Nancy.

At least the man with the rat in his hair had normal religious beliefs. It's always interesting to talk to people like the man a few weeks ago who said he believed in "water." His reasoning was that everything in the world is made of water. The trees are made of water, the dirt is made of water, and even we are 99% made of water, or so he said. When we told him that the sun was definitely not made of water, he replied by yelling, "You don't know that! Have you ever been to the sun?!" I have to admit that I've never been to the sun. Maybe I'll find out that trees are actually made of water and I'll drink one one day, though.

We ate dinner at a nice member's house last night, and she happens to be from Africa. She fed us a bunch of crazy African food and French food mixed together, like soup with a bunch of bones in it, a whole fish, raw ham, chestnut pudding, Belgian fries, tea, gingerbread and European chocolate. It was quite the mix of different food, and also quite delicious.

One night when we were out tracting, we taught two lessons... ironically both in English. The first lesson kind of happened by chance. Since there's so many doors to knock on in Strasbourg for so few missionaries, we sometimes only knock on the doors with lights on inside so that we waste as little time as possible. However, when we found a mailbox whose owner had the same last name as my companion, we decided we had to knock on the door even though the lights were out. Mr. Dunn ended up being home and, upon sticking his head out the window to talk to us, he let us come in and teach him.

And that's my life up to now. I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and has a more impressive Christmas tree than the tiny fake one in our apartment!

Elder Wilson 

November 26, 2012

Sorry You Can't Speak Missionary - Week 14

Good afternoon, and I'd like to have a moment of silence for all the families who may have lost a loved one or close relative in the casualties of Walmart Black Friday. I went last year, and I almost didn't make it out alive.

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was as great as mine was! The zone decided to have Thanksgiving here in Strasbourg, so Elder Dunn and I went to the train station early in the morning and greeted everyone. We all went to the church for district meetings before we sat down for a Thanksgiving dinner in the gym. There's construction going on in the church building, so there were some interesting reactions from the workers when they saw 25 twenty year olds in church clothes speaking English and bringing ridiculous amounts of food to eat. People here generally don't know that Thanksgiving exists, so we explained it to people the week before. French people are generally surprised when we say we're American and they see that we're not obese, so they easily understood why Thanksgiving is so American when we explained we get together and eat as much food as we can. The food was good considering that a bunch of Elders cooked and transported it a quarter of the way across France.

After our meal, we went and played a game of football with the Zone at a nearby park. No one in France really understands football after we try to explain that there's imaginary lines and you have to take turns called downs, so we gathered a little crowd of people walking by trying to understand the game. The few native French missionaries just kind of stood and watched since they had no idea what was going on. Anyway, it was really fun to see reserved and spiritual missionaries go crazy and chase someone down to stop a touchdown. I'd also like to make sure that everyone knows that my team won.

After Thanksgiving, things turned back to normal and we went back to real missionary work the next day. 

On Saturday, we went and did some service for a family in the ward who needed some help maintaining their yard. We went early on Saturday and, miraculously, they trusted four Elders with three chainsaws and a power sander to make their yard look better and chop wood for the winter. We didn't lose any lives or limbs, though Elder Mahieu may have lost a few fingers. 

If Mr. and Mrs. Mahieu read this, I want to assure you that your son is fully intact and that was only a joke.

After we had our fun with the power tools, the family fed us a meal called raclette. I don't know how French people all stay so fit when they eat things like raclette. Basically, for this meal, we were given potatoes to begin with. Then, to prepare the meal, we take thick slices of cheese, top it with big chunks of bacon, put the mixture in a machine that melts the cheese, take it out, pour it over the potatoes, top it with ham and more bacon and cheese, and repeat. We repeated this cycle six or seven times before being given ice cream filled with extra layers of chocolate. I'm surprised missionaries don't gain 100 pounds every transfer. And for whoever lives in Northern Utah, I'm fully planning on buying a raclette machine when I get home, so you're all invited to have some in 2014.

We spent a good chunk of the day doing service for this family, and we ended up only having an hour at the end of the day to find more investigators and to meet our goal of teaching a lesson. Elder Dunn and I had planned to go tracting and knock on some doors, but I felt at the last minute that we should change our plan and talk to people on the street next to our apartment. We walked out of our apartment, turned the corner, and started contacting people. In fact, the very first man we talked to wanted to instantly learn more about the Book of Mormon, so he invited us to sit down on a bench and we taught him a 40 minute lesson right on the spot. We only talked to one person all day, and we still met our goal of teaching a lesson. That's a 100% success rate! We were definitely blessed that night to still meet our goal without any real time to do it.

On Friday, I took a vow to only speak French for as long as I can so I'll hopefully become fluent faster. I can understand most things, so it sometimes creates funny situations. I don't know how, but French people have some kind of superpower that they can know we're American before we even say anything and reveal our accents. It may be because we don't wear scarves every day and don't have pointy French shoes, but I still don't know how it happens. Since they see we're American, they assume we can't understand French as well and that we're tourists. So, they decide to make fun of us and Americans in French and assume we have no idea what they're saying. We play along and act as American as we can, then say something complicated in French to them as we leave. It's funny to see their reactions when they realize we understood everything they said about us. 

We try to do the same thing in English, but it actually works because instead of speaking English, we speak missionary, which is a combination of French, English, Mormon, teenager, and made-up words.

We taught the man who is a Jehovah's Witness this week, and we had to strike a deal with him. He said that the only way we could get him to church is if we go to his church for an hour in exchange. We agreed, so we went to an hour of church with the Jehovah's Witnesses last night. I've felt out of place before, but I felt particularly out of place being an American missionary wearing a name tag with our church's name on it and attending a Jehovah's Witness church in French on the border of Germany. Nevertheless, our Jehovah's Witness is coming to our church next week!

That's all I have for you this week! Things are going well in France, and the Strasbourg Elders have plenty of investigators and people to teach.

You are now allowed to listen to Christmas music, since it's after Thanksgiving.

Talk to you next Monday!

Elder Wilson

The "Artist" from last week's letter

Us having Mexican food at family home evening with the young adults
(editor's note: Gotta love how the hamburger is cooked on a crepe pan ... 
only in France)

Us on a train to Nancy ... I need to take more pictures!

November 19, 2012

Becoming an Artist Was the Best Option - Week 13

Dear everybody in the world,

We had a mission conference this week, which doesn't happen very often ...  I've been told that the last one happened over two years ago. So, we hopped on a train to Paris early Friday morning and met up with all the nearly 200 missionaries at the Versailles chapel. After taking a picture as a mission, Elder Neil L. Andersen spoke to us for a few hours and told us how to be better missionaries. It was great! There were two seventies there that spoke to us as well. It was especially fun to see everyone from the MTC and hang out with them for the day. However, since the conference was so long, we didn't have much time to do anything else except travel back through the metro to the train station. We had some really great views of below Paris though! Lots of concrete, vending machines and escalators. Maybe next time?

There's a few park benches across the street from our apartment, and a few homeless guys sit on them all day, every day. Usually, they talk to each other or drink beer and play chess. Elder Dunn and I have been stopping and talking to them every time we go in and out of our apartment, and they like to talk about philosophy and religion with us. They're funny guys. A few days ago, they asked us our opinion on what moves they should make next for their chess game. The next day, we went and bought an extra baguette for them on the way back to our apartment for lunch. Too bad they don't want to get baptized.

It was Elder Mahieu's birthday this week, so I made him a birthday cake. I made Texas Sheet Cake while he was gone, and we shared it before we went to bed. In France, desserts from the Elders are famous because American desserts have a lot of extra sugar in them. So, when Elder Mahieu from southern France tried my American cake, he basically thought it was one of the best things he's ever had. We bought him a birthday card as well. Actually, it wasn't a birthday card, but a baptism card we found at the store. It said "Happy Baptism" on the front with pictures of a newborn baby, and we thought it was particularly appropriate for a missionary. We told him in the card that we hope he has a lot of happy baptisms and that the girl on the card is actually just a young-looking 8 year old.

On Saturday, Elder Dunn and I were tracting in a neighborhood of apartment buildings a few tram stops away from our apartment. We only had an hour or so available to go knock on doors, but we were exhausted. Towards the end of our hour, we decided to go and try one more building of twenty or so apartments. On the very last door of the last building we had time to knock on for the night, the man opened and let us teach him. He was really interested and was taking notes about the Restoration and the Book of Mormon. He then told us that he's been studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses for the last year, but wants us to come back and teach him some more while his "Bible friend" is there. We'll see how it goes.

There's been two Americans, Brother Stokes and Brother Johnson, who were sent by the US government to live over here for a few weeks and learn French. It was so refreshing to talk to and hang out with two nice, normal Americans. They were great and helped us out all the time. They contacted with us, taught lessons with us, and even took Elder Dunn and I out to a nice restaurant for dinner. America is full of good people.

Lastly, I went on an exchange with Elder Hall and spent the day in Nancy, which is about an hour and a half train ride from here. On the train to Nancy, a man came over and talked to us in English for a while. He said that he was given three options: to either go to a mental hospital, to jump off a bridge, or become an artist. He chose to become an artist. He taught us his secret symbol (which is really just the boy scout salute) and we took a picture with him. There's all kinds of interesting people here in France.

That's all I have time for today, but I hope everyone has a fantastic Thanksgiving! Thank you family for sending me a package with an entire Thanksgiving meal inside ... I'm glad we'll be able to celebrate! You're the best!

I'm thankful for all of you. Eat twice as much turkey for me. Have a fantastic few days off of school.

Elder Wilson

November 12, 2012

No Phone Numbers Necessary: We Have Superpowers - Week 12

It's been another fantastic week! The days are starting to fly by. Let's review some things that have happened:

After church yesterday, we had another fight with the army of primary children. They didn't get my nametag this time, but Elder Dunn wasn't so fortunate. Just wanted to let you all know that my nametag and I are both safe from the Strasbourg ward ... for now.

I think I finally got the hang of using French keyboards.

It's been raining all week here, and even snowed once. After walking around the city for two days and being completely soaked from head to toe, I realized that people might not have been taking us as seriously with streams of water running down our faces and with waterlogged shoes squeaking at every step. So, I finally went and bought an umbrella. I walked outside a few days ago and, upon realizing it was raining again, I opened the umbrella and walked down the street, feeling like I had finally conquered nature because I would stay dry for the entire day. I kind of smirked at Elder Dunn because I could tell he was going to get soaked very quickly. I came to regret this thought because 10 seconds later, across the street from our apartment, a bus drove by and drove through a puddle, which launched a wave of dirty street water the size of a tsunami right at me. I thought that this sort of thing only happened in movies, but the umbrella was completely useless. Stupid bus.

While we were out contacting in the middle of the city a few nights ago, we were actually having quite a bit of success. We were standing near a tram station and were stopping every person that walked passed us on the street and talked to them about the church. One man had seen us doing this from down the street and apparently, upon seeing that he would have to talk to us, came up with a plan to get out of it. When we stopped him, he said something along the lines of, "I know that you're missionaries and you want to share a lesson with me about your church, but I need to get on the tram." He then kind of smirked and said as he began walking away, "... of course, if you want to get on the tram with me, you can teach me the lesson." Elder Dunn and I grinned at each other and ran to catch up with him. When we said, "Of course we'll get on the train with you and teach a lesson to you!" he got a really surprised and frightened look on his face and told us it wasn't necessary and that he didn't ACTUALLY expect us to be willing to get on the train when he told us we could come. Silly man, apparently he's never met missionaries.

We were out contacting earlier this week around the same area in the middle of the city when we stopped and talked to a man on a bike. He had thought a lot about religion and told us that he had come to the conclusion that God doesn't exist. We ended up talking to him for 45 minutes and the contact ended with him rejecting an offer of a second lesson, rejecting a copy of the Book of Mormon, and declining to take our phone number. Three days later, we were on our way to the other side of the city. Elder Dunn had forgotten his bus pass, so we decided to walk across the middle of the city. After 10 minutes or so of walking, the same man ran up from behind and stopped us again. He said that a few minutes before he saw us, he had changed his mind from the few days before and decided that he wanted to talk to us again. He regretted not taking our number. The man said that just before he had rounded the corner, he envisioned us in his head, turned the corner, saw us, and chased us down. We ended up talking to him for another 45 minutes, but it ended the same as the last time. When we asked him if he wanted to exchange phone numbers in case he wanted to talk again later, he replied by saying that instead of calling, he'll just envision us in his mind and we would appear around the next corner. He advised us to do the same.

I've tried and it hasn't worked yet, but I'll keep you updated.

We took a train to Nancy last week for Zone Conference, and we're going to be taking a train to Paris this week for Mission Conference with Elder Andersen. Trips around France are so fun! I never get tired of riding passed castles from the middle ages scattered all throughout the countryside.

We usually buy a fresh baguette to share for lunch at a boulangerie on the way home and while there on Saturday, I accidentally bought a bunch of pastries with the extra euros in my pocket. Oops.

We're teaching an awesome man from the Congo. He just got a tumor removed from his neck, so we went and visited him in the hospital and taught him a lesson. I'll never get tired of him calling us his "brothas in God" or rather, the French equivalent. Anyway, he told us about how he got to France. He said that when he found out that he had a tumor in his neck, he had to leave Africa to get it removed so that he wouldn't die from the lower quality medical care in his village. So, he set out on foot for France. I'll say that again. He set out ON FOOT to France. If you didn't realize, France is on a different continent. Anyway, he made it to France after three years of traveling and finally got his tumor removed. Talk about dedication and commitment. He's so great.

We're teaching quite a few people here in Strasbourg! France isn't NEARLY as difficult to find people as everyone says it is. Everyone told me that I would be lucky to get one or two baptisms on my mission in France. Much more than that is possible and it's being done by Elders all over the mission.

That's all I have for today! Good luck with whatever you're doing, and I'll talk to you again next Monday. Same time, same place? Okay, good. See you then.

Elder Wilson

November 05, 2012

The War Against the Primary - Week 11

We've waged war against a bunch of seven year olds. It's getting pretty violent here in Strasbourg. Let me explain.

The ward here in Strasbourg has a primary that finds enjoyment in attacking the Elders. Of course, they look nice and cute with their French-cut clothes and their little French voices coming up through their smiles. However, their main objective is to steal our nametags, run away with them, hide them, and never give them back. Their leader is an older Aaronic priesthood-age boy, and he directs the assaults. His second in command is a younger boy with a brown jacket. Last week after church, I didn't know any better and they ran past and took my nametag without a problem. The other Elders neglected to warn me of the impending attack, so I was left defenseless to their merciless acts. They took my nametag and ran away with it, causing me to attempt to get it back for a solid hour. It took all four of us to get our nametags back last week.

This week, things got serious.

To be smart, I decided to hide my nametag in my bag before church ended so they would not be able to take it. They ran over and patted me down, using five to hold me still and the rest to search in my pockets. Eventually, they figured out my technique and that it was in my bag. So, they watched until I wasn't paying attention as I was talking to another member, and they somehow ripped the bag off of my shoulder. I went off after them to find that they had gone in a car in the parking lot and were dumping out the contents of my bag on the seat, searching for my nametag. I just stood helplessly at the window of the car. They found my nametag eventually and, through a series of complicated exchanges, split into teams, some taking my bag, some taking my tag, and a few groups pretending to hold things so as to be a decoy.

These are seven year olds, mind you. Cruel, genius seven year olds.

I eventually bartered for my bag after I stole some keys from one of the kids that attacked me, but I still had to get my nametag. They used every tactical advantage of the building as possible, fully incorporating both floors. 

I eventually got it back after involving the other missionaries and a handful of other members of the ward.

Needless to say, I don't think I'm taking a nametag to church next week.

Things are good here in Strasbourg though! We're teaching a good number of amis (investigators) and people on the street are generally willing to talk to us. Normally, our days go like this:

After studies in the mornings, we go outside and walk around the river that goes through the middle of the city for an hour or two, contacting and talking to people until lunch. Then, with the exception of a few rendez-vous (scheduled lessons) or two sprinkled throughout our day, we do other finding activities. Usually, it's either walking through centre-ville and stopping and talking to people as they pass us, or going porting (door-to-door). Many of the buildings here are 10-story apartment buildings with locked doors and intercoms at the front, or bats as we call them (short for bâtiment or building). Since the doors are locked, it takes a bit of work to get inside. We start at the bottom and ring the intercoms, talking to people through the speakers and seeing if they're open to hearing what we have to say. When we find a nice person to open the door for us and invite us in, we have access to all the doors in the building and go from floor to floor, seeing if anyone is interested.

We often meet interesting people when we're going out to find investigators. Sometimes, when we ring an intercom, ladies like to stick their heads out the windows from three or four stories up, asking what we want from them. I'm sure it's a pretty comedic sight to see two Elders yelling about the gospel in broken French up to a lady hanging out a window. It happens fairly often though.

It's also interesting to hear responses about people's beliefs. We've gotten our fair share of people telling us they believe that extra terrestrials put humans on Earth and gave the prophets power to do miracles to accomplish their evil alien desires.

Of course, there's also a fair number of atheists. And by a fair share, I mean 7 out of 10 people.

Last week, when it started getting cold, I noticed that everyone wears scarves. There are even more scarf-wearers than there are atheists, and that's really saying something. So, of course, I went out and bought myself a scarf. Hopefully it catches on in the States, because everyone looks so stylish with a scarf on.

When we were contacting a man last night, after my companion asked him a few questions, the man noted that Elder Dunn was American, judging by his accent. Then, he turned to me and asked me what city in France I was from. I hadn't said anything to this man yet so he hadn't heard my accent, so he must have thought I was French because I was wearing a scarf.

France is a very nice place. We took a train for an hour and a half to Nancy for a district meeting, and we passed a number of old castles sitting in the French countryside. Those don't exist in America.

Thanks for the support and for taking interest in my mission! I miss you all and I hope life is fantastic for each of you. 

Until next week, 

Elder Wilson

View outside our apartment. This is the tram we take to go everywhere.

Elders in my apartment. My companion is Elder Dunn, the one on the right.

My meal of fancy cheeses and baguettes.

Elder Oliverson and I in Paris on our first day in France.

 Inside Notre Dame Cathedral.

Elder Price and I at the MTC just before getting on the bus to go to the airport to leave for Paris.

Leaving for Paris ... nonstop flight.

October 29, 2012

Short Update From Strasbourg, France - Week 10

Well hello from France! It's been a while since the last P-Day email, so there's a lot of recap to do. Let's go back to last Monday, the 22nd.

After packing all of our things, all 13 of the missionaries going to Paris met at the travel office of the MTC at 1:30 in the afternoon to get on the bus. We got to the airport, had some time to call our families before getting on the plane, and got on. The plane wasn't actually too full, so most of us got to sprawl out over a few seats and got to have a little extra room to ourselves. Not much happened on the plane itself, and we ended up just trying to sleep as much as possible the whole flight over. After 10 hours of flying, we touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport, got our bags, went through customs, and met the APs and President and Sister Poznanski in the airport. They took us outside and gave us some pastries to start off our day. The 13 of us followed the office Elders through Paris to go to the Prefecture to become legal and make sure we don't get deported. We contacted people on the way to the Prefecture and back, and I was surprised by how much French I was able to understand from everyone around me. In conversations, there actually wasn't too much I wasn't able to understand or say. It's a good thing we had such great MTC teachers! 

That isn't to say that French is easy; I just thought I would go through a transfer or two without understanding what people say.

After dinner at an ironically American restaurant titled Buffalo Grill, we slept in the mission home for the night.

The next morning, we went to a place called Consecration Hill, as is tradition for the new missionaries. This hill is basically a huge park that overlooks the city of Paris, and the office missionaries had us set goals for our mission. After that, we went to the center of Paris, saw Notre Dame, met our trainers, and went off to our new areas. I'm currently assigned to Strasbourg on the German border with Elder Dunn as my trainer or, as he is called in the mission, my father. Papa Dunn has a good ring to it.

Our trip to Strasbourg had a slow start to say the least. We bought tickets to get to Strasbourg from Paris, but our train kept getting delayed. We finally got on two hours after we bought the tickets, but the train engine never started. Apparently, someone cut a cable on the track, someone else jumped in front of a train (I suppose it could have been the same person that did both of those things, but probably not), and the workers at the train station went on strike ... all in the same day. So, we didn't actually get to Strasbourg until 6 or 7 hours after we bought the tickets. I suppose I know the interior of the train station fairly well now though. Sorry, but that's the best "look at the bright side" I could come up with. 

So now that you're all finally caught up to how I got here, I'll note a few observations about France:

  • I think nearly every single cereal has chunks of chocolate in it, and the chocolate is probably better than the chocolate that comes in bars in America.
  • Everyone here smokes all the time.
  • This keyboard is ridiculously difficult to type on since all the letters are switched around.
  • Cheese and wine sections in stores are probably larger than the rest of the store combined.

We went into a fromagerie for lunch yesterday and bought a bunch of different, exotic cheeses. Of course, we bought a fresh baguette for a euro at the patisserie around the corner from our apartment as well. It was SO good. 

I'm sorry I can't write much today ... we spent too much time in the store buying good food. I'll hopefully have more time to talk about what I actually do and about our investigators next week. In the meantime, have a fantastic Halloween! 

Love you all,

Elder Wilson

French keyboard

October 26, 2012

First Day in Paris - Week 9

Some pictures of Trevor's first day in Paris. After a 10 hour flight, all the new missionaries look pretty rested and happy to be there. They landed at 10:45 in the morning and then off to the mission home for food, introductions, interviews with the Mission President, and dinner out at a restaurant. The next morning, they met their new companions and learned where their first area will be. Strasbourg ... here he comes!

Meeting President Poznanski for the first time.

A mission tradition: To welcome the new missionaries, Sister Poznanski gives them French pastries - pains au chocolat!

Outside the Mission Home.

Meeting the APs and waiting to be interviewed by President Poznanski.

First meal in France. And do you notice what they are eating? Cheeseburgers and fries! So American ... okay, except for the French fries.

Trevor meeting his first companion, Elder Dunn. Please take good care of my son, Elder Dunn!

Meeting the new companions.