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.