February 25, 2013

American Accents Come in Handy - Week 27

Well, I just hit my 6 month mark on a mission! I'm already halfway to being halfway. Since missionaries aren't allowed to burn ties at the 6 month mark anymore, Elder Hunter bought me a pâtisserie to celebrate instead. Maybe not as fun, but it was delicious anyway.

Welcome to transfer 4 of my mission life, in the town of Toul. I've gone from Strasbourg's extensive tram and bus system to now walking to tiny villages through grass fields and horse pastures. Yesterday, we found the door to a little trailer in the middle of a farm to knock on. Needless to say, it's been quite the change.

Usually, when missionaries leave Strasbourg, the JA (Young Single Adults) of the ward throw a party at the Family Home Evening the night before. However, since the missionaries aren't able to go anymore, the JA had to be a little extra creative to find a way to have a party and still stay in the rules of the mission. So, instead of having a meal at FHE, we had a meal for lunch on P-Day at a hip restaurant that only young French people would know about that serves all-you-can-eat Alsacian flammkuche. As if that wasn't enough of a party, we got invited to a member's house for dinner on Tuesday night, and the JA gave us another celebration. They're awesome ... and no, the fact that they read my letters is not the only reason I'm saying that. Hopefully they'll be able to get by without me saying "j'ai une question!" Every few minutes. C'est dommage que je ne peux pas vous envoyer des lettres comme missionnaire!

Anyway, after spending a fantastic Tuesday packing suitcases all day, I took a train to Nancy to our apartment, dropped off my things, and went up to our car to learn how to drive a manual car in France. What an adventure THAT was. After an hour and a half of driving around a neighborhood getting used to a clutch and gears, we had to take the zone leaders to a gas station so they could fill up our car. They were understandably a bit apprehensive of coming into the car with me after driving for only an hour and a half, so they desperately offered a prayer for protection before we left. I don't know if it comforted them, but it sure showed me how little they trusted me behind the wheel. I guess it worked, because we're still living.

After winding through a few neighborhoods, we had to turn onto one of the congested streets of Nancy. At this point, Elder Maxwell bent over into a fetal position and grabbed onto the seat in front of him. Elder Reed likewise had little screams escape from his lips every now and then. We made it to the gas station despite Elder Maxwell's apparent lack of faith in my driving skills, and we quickly took a minute to take a deep breath to recuperate. Soon after pulling in, we realized that the station we were at did not offer receipts, so we had to drive to another one. While we were figuring out what to do, an angry man from the Middle East came up to our car and started yelling at us to move. Our American accents came in handy as we pretended to be tourists that didn't know what was going on and we slowly rolled up the window while he was yelling.

We eventually got the gas and everything was fine, until we came to a red light that required me to put the car into first gear going uphill. Even with my extensive training, I succeeded in awkwardly stalling the car half a dozen times through a handful of cycles of the stoplight. There were a few angry people that had to turn around us. But, on the bright side, I can drive now! Not even a problem. After a rather stressful day of riding in the car, Elder Hunter and I went to KFC to reward ourselves. Fried chicken has never tasted so good with 6 months and counting of no American food besides McDonald's.

Alright, I suppose I've rambled enough about a few things that have happened. Have a fantastic week, and if you're in America, be grateful for normal-sized roads.

Elder Wilson

February 20, 2013

Christmas Came Early ... Er, Late

We just received a package from Trevor (yay!) filled with Christmas gifts for every member of the family, Kinder Eggs (German chocolate) and a full SD card. He sent the package a little late because he wanted to use all the memory on the SD card and it took awhile to fill it. But he did and he sent 285 photos and 27 videos! Here are just a few highlights: 

Overlooking Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (no flash photography is allowed inside)

Some local architecture around Strasbourg

This is right next to his apartment

The European Union building

View from the top of Strasbourg Cathedral - you can even see his apartment

World famous Strasbourg Christmas Markets - some of the largest in Europe


Same sign, but farther away. Notice the bullet holes?!

February 18, 2013

We're Not Going to Kill You ... We Just Want Cake - Week 26

Well, the whole mission had a bit of a panic attack this Saturday afternoon. Since it was the end of the transfer, we were supposed to go and check our emails to see where we were all getting transferred. But, the email system wasn't working, and everyone flipped out. Luckily, we got calls later that night to tell us where we were going, and I'm getting transferred out of Strasbourg to the city of Toul, which is actually not very far away. It's pronounced like the English word "tool." I can imagine the jokes at zone conference: "Look, it's the tools of Toul." What an unfortunate cognate. Also, it's a small city, so instead of using a tram system, we'll be driving a car.

This is a bit of a problem. 

You see, driving in France is insane. All the roads are tiny, and it seems like there aren't too many rules.

Do you wish the two-lane highway you're currently driving on had three lanes? Go ahead! Make another lane! Nobody cares!  Even if you have to drive with two tires on the sidewalk, it's okay!

Are you in a rush to pick up a fresh baguette at a boulangerie with no parking nearby? Just throw on the hazards, and you can park your car in the middle of the street! If you stay a little longer, go ahead and park on the sidewalk so you don't have to pay for parking! Who cares? No rules!

I can knock on doors all day, but I'll admit that I'm a bit concerned about driving.

On the upside, we're in the process of getting a new apartment in Toul, and it's supposed to be one of the largest, newest and nicest apartments in the mission. Oh, yes. Very posh.

But, since I'm still in Strasbourg until Wednesday, I'll update you on what's been going on. On Saturday, after the disappointment of not being able to access the transfer email, Elder Manivanh and I went tracting through some apartment buildings near the university. We got to one very large and imposing wooden door, knocked on it, and waited a minute. A 17 year-old girl answered, she saw us, she screamed at the top of her lungs, and she ran away.

Wow, that was sure a confidence builder. We made a girl think we were going to kill her. Come on, I know we're dressed in suits and we're two years older, but we're not THAT scary, are we? We're just two hip, young, good-looking guys wanting to share the good word. She eventually sent her friend to come back and see what we wanted, and we were able to convince them we wanted to talk about Jesus.

The girl who had screamed bloody murder looked at me, looked at Elder Manivanh, then quickly said in English, "Hey, I just made some apple cake. Do you want some?" She must have been swooning over Elder Manivanh's charm, because it was quite the change of pace. Elder Manivanh and I exchanged glances, shrugged, and I said, "Sure, I could use some cake right about now. Why not?" So, we went in and had some cake and Coca-Cola.

As it turns out, this girl was having a party of sorts, because there was a whole group of 17 and 18 year-olds hanging around in the apartment. When we came in and started eating cake, they all gathered around us and sat down like we were going to tell them a bedtime story. It must have been Elder Manivanh's charm at work again. We were astounded by how trained and well-behaved this group of teenagers were, so we decided to share a story with them about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. They liked it, we gave them copies of the Book of Mormon to read, and they sent us on our way. Just before we left, one of the 18 year-old guys posed a question:

"Hey, so you have to be 21 to drink in the United States, right? Here, since you only need to be 18, I bet you've been going crazy. How often do you just go and try as much alcohol as you can?"

We curtly responded that we don't drink, and he was a bit shocked:

"WHAAT? You came all the way to France, and you don't even drink? You guys are crazy."

I guess we're just misunderstood.

Have a fantastic week, and I'll talk to you next from the chapel of Toul.

Elder Wilson

February 11, 2013

Corn-fed Americans - Week 25

Hello, hello! Happy Chinese New Year to you all. This was a particularly advantageous week to have a Laotian companion, because we got to do our fair share of celebrating the Year of the Serpent. Last P-Day, we found an Asian store full of interesting things like fish heads and chicken feet, and we bought all the necessary ingredients for Elder Manivanh to go crazy with his Asian cuisine for a few days. It's been a good week of enjoying homemade egg rolls, rice, and spicy things. He likes making really spicy food "like his mama made." I'm not complaining because it's usually pretty good.

Saturday was kind of a bummer at the beginning. We started the day with a handful of rendez-vous scheduled with investigators, and one-by-one, they all fell through, rescheduled or canceled on us. By the time we reached our last scheduled lesson with our investigator named 'F', we were really hoping it would go through. Sure enough, he texted us a few minutes before we got to his apartment to tell us he couldn't be there. Having nothing else to do for the night, we went and started knocking on some doors until, suddenly, 'F' called us back and told us he was going to try to make it to our lesson.

Lo and behold, he made it to the lesson, and we went to Subway to teach him. It's not the most ideal teaching atmosphere, but it's one of the few warm places that doesn't charge 5 euros for a drink. There, he told us that he always feels different/good when he talks to us, and he wants to join our church. We set a baptismal date with him in March. This is especially interesting when some background is added. After he committed to be baptized, he asked us why Mormons dress differently. Apparently, he thought that all Mormons were required to wear missionary clothes (a shirt and tie) for the rest of their lives. -News Flash- ... we don't. I guess he would have been okay with it though, because he found out we wear normal things AFTER he said he would be baptized.

Even though it's been freezing cold outside, we've been able to do some decent contacting. Remember the guy I talked to who said he believes in water? Well, this week, we met someone who doesn't believe in God, but believes in the "power of music." 

This Wednesday, the missions of Paris and Lyon are teaming up to have a super inter-mission finding day. Basically, all the missionaries in Switzerland, France, Belgium and Luxembourg will be doing all the same finding activities at the exact same time. That should be pretty cool.

Yesterday was ward conference, so we had a ward meal after the church meetings. Luckily, we have Italians, Portuguese and French people who all cooked for it, so we had quite the array of fantastic food. Later that day, Elder Manivanh and I went to the Malagasy family again and sure enough, we had another unexpected buffet of African food. This time, they stepped up their game and had multiple courses, with dessert  and hot chocolate at the end. In the middle of the meal, they told us that they had figured out why Americans are so much taller than everyone else in the world. Apparently, it's because we eat a lot of corn and since corn plants are tall, eating corn makes us tall. Elder Manivanh has taken to calling me "corn-fed" from now on. "Hey, corn-fed ... do we have any more cold milk?" That's me.

That's about all I've got for you for this week. The transfer email goes out this Saturday, so I'll let you know where I'm going!

Stay classy,

Elder Wilson

February 04, 2013

The Law of Moses in a Gangster Style - Week 24

For some reason, the people of Strasbourg have been liking us a little extra this week. Everyone has just been more nice than usual. Here are the reasons why:

During a rendez-vous with a man named Philippe earlier this week, his girlfriend called him, and their conversation went something like this:

     (girlfriend) "Who do you have over?"
     (Philippe) "Oh, Jesus is over again."
     (girlfriend) "Who?"
     (Philippe) "Jesus is here. The angels are teaching me again."

Oh, Philippe. You're just too much.

The next night, we were walking home to the apartment when three guys yelled at us from across the street. "Hey, you! Yeah! We want to talk to you!" So, we walked over to see what they had to say. One of the guys was from Africa, the other from Jamaica, and the last was from France, but they all spoke English. The guy from Africa told us that he met missionaries a few years ago, and he had a lot of respect for them. Then, he said that a few hours earlier, he had been trying to tell the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon to the friend from France, so he wanted us to tell the story to them. We agreed, taught them a bit, and kept talking to them. Then, they started talking about their religious beliefs.

The guy from Africa told us a big metaphor about the Bible with African safari animals. "Bible says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It's like a lion and a leopard. They stalk their prey, and they communicate with their eyes. An eye for an eye, you see? Then, the lion can't climb trees, but the leopard can, so they work together. But, sometimes they get in a fight and fight each other. A tooth for a tooth. Understand? Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth." 

I feel like I was suddenly transported to the Congo. But, at this point, the Jamaican friend cut in:

    (Jamaican) "Eye fo' eye and tooth fo' tooth was da Law of Moses, man. Jesus 
                     taught you turn da other cheek."

    (African) "Yeah, I know dat, but the Law of Moses is more hardcore sometimes, 
                  you know?"

    (Jamaican) "Yeah, I know man. That's why I follow the Law of Moses in a
                     gangster style."

What does it mean to follow the Law of Moses in a gangster style? I haven't the foggiest. But, there's something to know about Paris missionaries: we talk to a lot of African people. And, in doing so, we pick up on a good number of cool African languages. I even know some of the clicking language. Anyway, upon learning that the guy from Africa was from a region that speaks Swahili, I whipped out all the Swahili I know. At this point, they kind of freaked out, shouting "Man, white boy got RESPECT!" and patting me on the back and giving me cool African handshakes.

Yeah, I guess I'm cool, but whatever.

Saturday, while contacting on the street, we talked to an older couple, who told us that they weren't interested and walked away. Immediately after, a 20ish year-old college student walked past us, stopped, turned around, and said to us, "What, am I not important enough to be saved? Why did you stop them, but you didn't stop me?" Basically, he contacted us. He's really awesome though, and we have a rendez-vous set up with him for next week in a hip, cool college-town pub. Again, that'll be two Sprites for the Mormon missionaries, please

We met another nice person as we were getting off the tram last night. As the doors were closing behind us, someone yelled, "Hey, Mormons! God loves you guys!" and gave us a thumbs-up. The same thing happened a week ago in the same spot, when a lady said to us, "Hey, it's the Mormons! You guys are awesome!" What have we done to earn this extra respect? Still trying to figure it out. But, it's been nice.

Moral of the story? If you see missionaries, please be nice to them.

Elder Wilson