July 29, 2013

Hugging the Sisters and Free Pea Soup - Week 49

Well, we went to Paris this week again, but this time for a mission leadership council with President and the assistants. We got to the north train station in Paris just in time to see someone get pepper-sprayed, and someone else get handcuffed. Welcome to city life, Elder Wilson. 

Getting to the church in Paris was especially fun because I got to see all my MTC and mission friends all in one place at one time. It was the last time I'll be seeing some of them since a lot of people are dying (going home, not for real) in a week. It was a five hour long meeting in a small room with 80 people, which normally wouldn't have been a problem had it not been for the lack of air conditioning and the huge windows bringing a greenhouse effect into play. Good though. 

Next was an adventure to get on the train back to Brussels. There's always a problem with trains, though I shouldn't be complaining with what happened with the train in Spain. We had around an hour and a half to get to the station, so Elder Wood and I decided to get some friends together and head over to KFC since we haven't found one in Brussels. As we were leaving, we got word saying that our train would actually be leaving in 45 minutes, so we ditched the plan and got some McDonalds to go. We headed down into the metro to get on an RER train to the station.

As we were standing there on the platform, we looked across and saw a group of missionaries waiting on the other side. We yelled across the tracks to tell them that the train would be pulling up in a few seconds. They decided that our train would be faster, so they sprinted up and down the stairs to come with us. As they were coming, the train pulled up and the doors opened. We hit the metro system at rush hour though, so the train was already packed with people with no room left to get on. We just stood there hopelessly, as the second group of missionaries came sprinting behind us with no intention of slowing down. With a death shout of "GET IN!" and the doors closing, we got slammed into the train by a half dozen Elders and Sisters.

To make all the missionaries get on the train, the Elders at the back had to push and shove the group. One thing led to another, and I ended up smashing a cheeseburger and fries into a man in front of me and had a three minute metro ride in what was essentially a group hug. FYI, we're not really supposed to give group hugs with the four sisters, but it happened so we could make the train. Always an adventure.

The next day, sitting alone in our apartment for weekly planning, Elder Wood and I had a little tussle. We couldn't agree on who is better at Guitar Hero, so we sealed a pact to have a showdown in a year and a half when we're both home. It was pretty serious, and we exchanged cell phone numbers to make it happen. We're friends again now, though.

We continued the search this week for a family to teach. I've never taught any families on my mission, but this transfer with Elder Wood, we're teaching like five of them. On Saturday, we even found another. We were out tracting (and by tracting, I mean pushing buttons and talking through intercoms) and got let in on the second try. Usually, we go weeks without being let in. Anyway, they were a nice young family with lots of questions. They started off by saying, "I don't know if we have too much time ..." When people say that, we usually fight for five minutes to share a little scripture with them. "... so you'll probably only be able to teach us for a half hour." Uh, excuse me? Don't mind if we do. We took a seat, they served us bowls of pea soup, and we chatted about the gospel for 45 minutes.

Upon exiting their apartment and giving each other a customary high five of success, Elder Wood and I heard a voice yelling at us from a bar. We went back to talk to the guys beckoning us, and got a response like this: 

"Hey! Come have a wine with us!"
"Sorry, we don't drink wine."
"A beer then!"
"Nope, not that one either."
"Come have a glass of water for all I care! I just want you to come tell us about what you believe! I'm atheist, but I'm really curious!"

We unfortunately had to leave to get home semi-on time, but we exchanged numbers and we'll meet up soon.

There you have it. The adventure never ends. Have a fantastic week, and don't wear socks with sandals! Especially with capris, if you're a man. We saw some dudes wearing that this week.

Elder Wilson

On top of the Basilica

Elder Player, Elder Davis, me, Elder Wood

My companion, Elder Wood

Still on the hunt for the best frites in Belgium

Elder Maxwell and Elder Reed. Good friends that I lived with in Nancy. They're going home in 7 weeks and 1 week respectively.

July 22, 2013

Surprise Baptism and Getting Kissed ... Again. - Week 48

It was a pretty insane week! Buckle up and sit somewhere cozy. Get some popcorn and chocolate covered cinnamon bears. Ready? Okay.

So we started off the week by getting stopped by the police again. I'm not sure what the deal is with Brussels, but they apparently have some pretty tight anti-religion security. They pulled up and said something sassy like, "So, you're preaching the good word to the nice citizens of Brussels, eh?" "Well, you could say that, I suppose." Once they took our IDs and found out that we weren't jerks, they gave us their phone number and said to call them if we ever feel like we're being harassed. 

After that, we were peacefully sitting on a bench waiting for a bus when a homeless guy walked up to us and asked for a euro. We're technically not allowed to give out money, and he smelled pretty heavily of alcohol. Elder Wood responded to his begging with, "Sorry, I'm afraid I can't give you money, because I smell alcohol on your breath and I don't want my money to go toward your drinking." The drunk man got a little angry we accused him of drinking, so he yelled at us saying he hadn't consumed any alcohol and then took the liberty of blowing in our faces, to prove it, which actually reinforced our belief in the contrary. We still had to explain that we couldn't give him money, but he just kept getting closer and closer to our faces with every rejection and asked again. Finally, he gave up, pointed his finger at Elder Wood and said, "You, sir, have no heart!" and walked away. Charming.

The next day, we met people with quite a different reaction to us. We were contacting down the street and were about to contact two ladies, but they beat us to the draw. "Hi! We want to invite you to our evangelist church!" They started giving us fliers and pamphlets, when we thought, "Hey, WE'RE the ones that are supposed to be doing the inviting here! Don't take our job!" and with  that, Elder Wood started giving them pass-along cards and contact info. They were two Colombian young ladies and were really nice and apparently they thought likewise about us, because when we said goodbye, they grabbed us by the shoulders and European cheek kissed us. Um, excuse me. That's against the rules.

That brings us to Saturday. We need a bit of a back story here:

Once upon a time, the sisters found an investigator named Doris. Doris is really nice and has been coming to church for the last month. I've been friends with Doris and her three children and gave her a blessing one time. Two weeks ago, Doris mentioned that she would like me to be the one to baptize her, and I of course accepted the invitation. A few days after that, the sisters told me that they would be having a member do the baptism and said that I didn't have to worry about it. So I interviewed Doris, she passed, and the baptism was scheduled for this last Saturday.

And now back to the day of the baptism. Elder Wood and I got to the church a little early to deliver fancy cheeses to be used as refreshments for afterward and were helping to set things up. I casually picked up a program and noticed that my name was listed as being the one performing the baptism. My first thought was, "Oh, looks like the sisters made a mistake on the program. They must have not changed it." I called up the sisters to inform them of the unfortunate error on the program, only to be informed that I would, in fact, be the one doing the baptism.

Uh, come again?

And so it was about 10 minutes before the baptism and a small team of missionaries scoured the building for white pants, a white tie, towels, an extra shirt and underwear. By a complete miracle, we found one of everything we needed and everything happened to be in my size. The baptism was awesome, and I was so happy to do it. When Doris came out, she kept saying things like, "I just feel so happy right now!" We got to confirm her in church yesterday, so it was just a good weekend all around.

And there you have it, the latest and greatest of the Strombeek 1 Elders. I wish everyone a fantastic week and I'll be back next Monday as always.

Happy Belgium National Holiday, (like Independence Day)

Elder Wilson

Belgium Independence Day celebration AND a new king takes the throne. 
Hail King Philippe!

Sunset at the Basilique just outside our apartment.

July 15, 2013

Improvisation - Week 47

Whelp, this week was literally one full of garbage. They closed down our old apartment, which left my companion and I with the senior couple to get rid of everything inside. Brussels requires all garbage to be sorted between three different bags, so we spent a few mornings separating old food, old missionary clothes and old books into different piles in the apartment. On Saturday, we rented a van and took everything to the dump, where we got to once again separate the garbage, appliances and old furniture into different piles at the dump. I know you wish you were there.

After we were done with the trip to the dump, we went to the sisters' soon-to-be new apartment and got to ... you guessed it, build all the IKEA furniture. It just never ends.

On Saturday night right before we were about to go to bed, we got a call from a member of the bishopric in the ward, asking me to speak in Sacrament Meeting the next day. Our ward is so cool, I got to respond to his request with "Sure, what language do you want it in?" I spent part of the first hour of church figuring out what I would be speaking on, with the intention of doing the same for part of the second hour. Normally in place of Sunday School, we have an investigator class. At first, we didn't have enough investigators at church to have the class, but a bunch showed up at the last second and we decided to throw one together. 

Sometime in the middle of the opening prayer of the class, we realized that no one had a lesson and no one had the intention of being the instructor, which meant that I would probably be the one to teach. By the time we said amen, I still didn't have a topic in mind, much less a lesson plan. It all worked out fine though, and we finished in time to make it to the next meeting I would be speaking in.

This week, Elder Wood and I have been focusing on trying to find a family to teach. Apparently it worked, because we went from teaching one family to teaching four, which is about four more than I've ever taught on my mission so far. One family is from Tonga, and the father is actually already a member. His wife is Anglican, and they have a little newborn son. Can anyone say "perfect?" At the end of our first visit with them, the mother said she was really happy that we were over and felt something special when we were there. The father said that there were a handful of things that happened to him that day, and he took our visit as the final sign that he needs to do something with the church.

Right after we walked out, Elder Wood and I gave each other a little high five and spotted another young family walking down the street. We went over and contacted them, and they gave us their address and asked us to pass by their house this week. With pleasure.

A third family is from Brazil and told us they want to come to church with us next week. Stay tuned for some results of our recent family hunting.

Last P-day, Elder Wood and I found a European version of DI where they sell clothes by the kilo. It just so happens that ties are very lightweight, so Elder Wood got four ties for three euros. We might have to hit that place a second time.

All in all, it was a decent week. Sometimes, if we're in a tall building, I get to look out the windows over the city and say to myself, "I'm in Brussels and we get to go to Paris every month. Cool. I'm pretty lucky." That usually brightens the day.

Have a good week!

Elder Wilson

July 08, 2013

Going Swimming (shhh ... don't tell) and Free Concert Tickets - Week 46

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! I do love America ever so much. On the morning of the 4th, Elder Davis, Elder Player, Elder Wood and I all got together in the apartment, put little American flags everywhere, and said the Pledge of Allegiance while facing America. It took a decent amount of effort to figure out what direction America was. At one point, all of us were pointing in a different direction and debating with each other why America was facing the direction of our finger. 

"Well, if you calculate from the direction that the sun sets and rises, it's definitely that way."

"Actually, judging from the moss on the trees, it should be that way."

"No, no. You're both wrong. Just look at the map of Brussels. America is for sure in that direction."

We were about to make a makeshift boy scout compass when we finally figured it out. Just for the record, -cough- I was right -cough-

And so it was that we celebrated the birth of our nation. Unintentionally, we actually had a sort of fireworks display as well. It went a little like this:

"...indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all."

It was silent for a brief second, then Elder Player noticed something.

"Hey guys ... do you hear that?"

We followed the sound to the kitchen, where our sink drain was overflowing with water and liquid was flooding from the counter and pipes onto the ground. Oops. Missionaries aren't allowed to go swimming, but we got soaked nonetheless. 

Not knowing what to do, we just started using buckets to try to get rid of the half inch layer of water on the floor and stop the flooding. In the middle of the madness, I called the senior couple to get some backup ASAP. They didn't answer, so I left a message:

"Hi, Elder Okelberry. It's Elder Wilson. I just wanted to call and wish you a happy fourth of July and hope you're able to celebrate. Oh, and also, if you wanted to know, I thought I could mention that our kitchen is completely overflowing with water and flooding the apartment and we'd like your professional opinion so it would be nice if you could come over as soon as you get this okay. Thanks. Bye. See you soon I hope."

A few hours, mops, towels and a visit from a plumber later, we once again had our apartment in a livable condition. Go America! That was the most entertaining morning I've had in a while!

On a different note, last Monday after a lesson with a man from Ghana, he stopped us at the door and handed us two energy drinks. "Take these for the road!" That began a trend of getting free things that continued throughout the week. This last Saturday was the best.

We started the day by going over to visit a recent convert in our ward named Owen, who graciously gave me a free USB flash drive for my photos. What a nice guy. On the way to our next lesson, we got a call from the senior couple informing us that they bought us a new refrigerator that will be delivered this next week. With the promise of new kitchen appliances, we waltzed into our lesson with an investigator named 'M', who took us to a Middle Eastern restaurant and bought us dinner.

During the course of the meal, he mentioned that his sister is going to be singing in a church gospel concert soon, and he called up his friend in charge of the event to get us free concert tickets. Score. After teaching our last lesson of the day, the investigator's family gave us some bananas to take home. Upon arriving back at the apartment, we found that the senior couple had come over earlier in the day and brought over some new curtains for the apartment. We should celebrate every 6th of July with a flood of free things. (pun intended. ha.)

And that's the latest and greatest from the land up north. I hope you all lit off a few extra fireworks in my honor, because we weren't allowed to.

Stay classy!

Elder Wilson


A picture of Brussels for you

July 01, 2013

Getting Hit By a Bus - Week 45

Well, the bi-annual soldes are once again in full swing, and I took full advantage last week. I got 10 ties for around 15 euros. Success! Sorry mom, I had to. Too cheap to pass up. Maybe they were extra cheap because skinny ties take up less fabric.

Monday night, we went to family home evening with the young single adults and played volleyball ... missionaries vs. everyone else. Even with Elder Smith and I in ties, the sisters in skirts and fewer people on our team, we won. No big deal or anything, but we're just super awesome.

We FINALLY moved into the new apartment on Wednesday, which was a little crazy. As of Tuesday night at 8:30, we still had to pack all of our belongings, clean the old apartment, move everything to the new apartment, get enough food for four people, and build five tables, two bookcases, four beds, eight chairs and two dressers, while at the same time getting Elder Smith to Reims and picking up the three new Elders moving into the apartment. We had less than 24 hours to get it done, but everything eventually worked out. Life just never slows down!

Elder Wood, my new companion, finally got to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon (his trip was a bit less eventful than my trips to Brussels have been) and after making the apartment habitable, we got to work. We found a few cool people this week, including a guy who let us in to pray with him while we were knocking on doors in a 16-story apartment building. We also passed by a less-active family, and they let us in to talk to them. The father said that it's been nine years since the missionaries have been over or since they've had contact with the church, and he was pretty happy to see us. He asked us when the soonest time was that we could come back and requested that we show him where the chapel is so he can come to church on Sunday. Fingers crossed.

Do you remember the story from three weeks ago about the guy named 'D'? He was the one who stopped us on the street and asked us to pray for him. Well, it just so happens that the less-active father who wants us to come back is 'D's father. Crazy! We realized it when comparing addresses. 'D's address looked familiar, and sure enough, he lives there with the less-active parents. It's probably just a sign that he's going to join the church.

We gave a blessing to one of the sisters' investigators this week, and she basically knows everything already. She spent 15 minutes telling us all the ways that God has prepared her for the missionaries and about how the sisters found her. The sisters knocked on this investigator's door and her little children answered. They asked the kids if any parents were home, and the children said that they were too busy. Rejected, the sisters left and started walking down the street for a few minutes to go home, when one of the little children came sprinting back to catch them. "WAIT! My mom needs to talk to you!" The sisters turned around and made their way back to the door, where the soon-to-be investigator was waiting. "Come in, I need to hear your message." One thing led to another, and now three weeks later, she's on the way to baptism.

There's the week for you. I hope yours has been good as well!

Elder Wilson

PS: The title had nothing to do with the email. It was purely to get your attention. I didn't actually get hit by a bus. I hope none of you are disappointed. You had better not be.