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