September 30, 2013

Air Fresheners Fit for a King - Week 58

Hello! How was everyone's week? Ours wasn't too bad; just some more Frenchy things. I tried two new pastries this week.

We went into Paris last Monday for P-day, but couldn't quite decide what to do. Our visas can get us into all the touristy things in the city for free, but since we forgot our passports, we ended up just walking from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs-Elysées. We'll see what happens today.

Following that, we taught an investigator with a baptismal date named 'B', whose husband is a recent convert. We got a text an hour or two before the lesson saying, "Elders, I'm still expecting you to come at 10:30, and I'd appreciate it if you could teach me the 10 commandments and the Law of Chastity to prepare for my baptism." When we got there, she pulled out her scriptures and told us, "I've already gone through and read the chastity pamphlet this morning, so I'm ready. Could you start with a prayer?" She's doing our job for us! Also, her little kids are fantastic. They run up to us when we come over and yell our names, then run to the living room and tidy everything up for us. 

In terms of apartment work, we ran to IKEA and an appliance store again to buy things for apartments, then left early Thursday morning for Le Havre. We made more progress on the couple's apartment we're opening up there, then drove around the peninsula to the city of Caen to deliver a stove. By the way, Caen is really cool. We passed some old castles and towers in the middle of the city and looked out over the ocean. I wouldn't mind being a missionary there.

Anyway, we found the Sisters' apartment in Caen and brought the stove up to the fifth floor through the stairwell ... only to find out that they didn't have the correct plug and that we would have to bring the stove back to the mission office. Driving back, we had to push on the brakes a bit too suddenly, and the stove tipped over in the van, knocking off the top of it and breaking the handle. It's just not meant to ever be used.

We got back to Paris late at night after our trip, then had to wake up early at 5:30 the next morning to clean the van and put in the extra seats. An African king came to Paris to visit us, and one of the senior couples took him around the city in the van. Literally, he was really a king. With the pressure of cleaning the van for a king, Elder Clarke and I scrubbed and vacuumed for hours. We went all-out and even bought a little tree air freshener. Wow, the class. On the bright side, the van looks fantastic now and we found a lot of hidden treasures in the nooks and crannies.

Speaking of the van, no one has given it a name yet. We're in the van all the time, and I would like to refer to it properly. It's big, fat, and white with black details. I'm now accepting entries and suggestions for the name. Winner gets a personalized email from me. Hey; it's the best I have to offer, alright?

Versailles is known to be a region with extremely rich people closed to the gospel, but we were let in twice while tracting this week, even with the limited time we had to knock on doors. It was great! We'll see what comes from that.

On Saturday night, it was pouring rain and Elder Clarke and I had 30 minutes before we had to go inside. We decided to just get out and ring some intercoms, so we got to work. We had a few people who told us we can come back another night so, satisfied with our work, we headed back to the van. While walking through the dark, a French girl about our age ran passed us to get out of the downpour. Elder Clarke said something like, "Hey, we should contact her." We both reasoned not to since she was a young girl and it was dark and pouring rain and she had earbuds in her ears, but we yelled out to her to stop anyway. We talked to her a bit, and she was interested! I guess they're on to something when they tell us to talk to everyone.

Life is good in Versailles. We drove passed the Versailles Chateau again yesterday, then passed the site for the Paris temple. Pretty cool! We're also having a difficult time scheduling a plumber to come fix our bidet ... always an adventure.

Stay classy!

Elder Wilson

September 23, 2013

Think Before You Throw ... And Before Asking For Our Number - Week 57

What an adventure! As it turns out, the Versailles team (Elder Clarke and I) are actually the office Elders of the mission. We have a van that we use to get around and transport things through the mission, and we're in charge of moving luggage, missionaries, furniture and appliances around the mission. But we'll get to that.

Back in Brussels, Elder Wood and I went out on the town for our last P-Day together. We cleaned the apartment and bought extra candy to get everything ready for the brand-new blue he's training. While we were browsing expensive pens in a department store, Elder Wood and I got surrounded by a group of high school girls. They heard us speaking French and just ~loved~ our accents. They just cut to the chase and asked for our phone numbers. We made the correct choice and didn't give any traceable information, but we went the rest of the day speaking French in extra-thick American accents.

After packing a bit, we went and taught a classy man named 'P'. We knocked on 'P's' door a couple of weeks ago, and it turns out that he lived in Salt Lake for three years and personally entered tens of thousands of names into the LDS genealogy database. He's already read large amounts of the Book of Mormon and conference talks, and he was taught by the missionaries in Salt Lake. We're still trying to figure out what's blocking him. Anyway, he's a very classy man and served us homemade hot chocolate in teacups with an orange cake as we sat in his study discussing his oil paintings painted by local artists.

I got on a train the next morning from Brussels to Paris and met up with my new companion at the central chapel in Paris. We loaded up all my baggage into the van with the luggage of all the other missionaries going home and headed off to the mission office. First, I have to tell everyone that Elder Clarke does amazing things with that van. Driving a huge car full of luggage straight through the heart of Paris is not an easy task. I felt like I was going to die the first time we went through the Charles de Gaulle 12-street roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe, but he somehow pulled it off. Props, Elder Clarke.

We got up early at the crack of dawn on Thursday to get everyone's luggage to the airport before their flights. The Charles de Gaulle airport parking is an adventure in and of itself that can only be thoroughly enjoyed first hand. All the missionaries going home took the RER trains to the airport, and it's surprisingly difficult to meet up with a small group of phoneless people in an international airport. After a minor meltdown with a lost passport right before the security check, we eventually got everyone on their planes to go home.

By the time we made all the necessary trips to the airport, it was late afternoon and hadn't eaten anything yet. When Sister Poznanski got wind of that, she made us some extra food and we got to eat with her and President. That was fun.

On Friday morning, we left the mission home to go set up a new couple's apartment in the French coastal city of Le Havre. Basically we were told, "Here's a list of furniture we want, the keys to the apartment, and a credit card with an extra high limit. Take the van, buy the furniture, drive across the country, and do and buy whatever you need to do in order to finish the apartment. Be back in two days." Mission accepted. This message will now self-destruct (Ha. "Mission." Get it? Sorry, dumb word puns).

And so it was that Elder Clarke and I went to IKEA, bought the furniture, spent 3,000 euros and took a road trip to Le Havre. We met up with a district of Elders out there who came to help us out, but by the end of the first day, all we had done was taken a load of garbage from an old apartment to the dump. Elder Clarke and I stayed in the new apartment for the night and built furniture on our own until the next night (Saturday). We didn't quite finish it all, but we built so much furniture that all of our screwdrivers broke. We took it as a sign that we should stop, so headed back to Versailles to check in.

Our apartment is right across the street from the mission home, and it's just about as French as an apartment can get: small, an elevator that sometimes works, and a bidet in the corner. Yes, we have a bidet. We're the only ones in the mission with one.

We live with the APs and they left right before we did after lunch on Sunday. Unfortunately, they accidentally locked us IN the apartment. We called a senior couple at the office for help. "Yes, that's right .... nope, our key doesn't work .... No, you heard me right, we're locked INSIDE the apartment." One of the other senior couples lives in the adjacent building, and our windows face each other. We yelled to get their attention and decided to throw our keys over into their window so they would be able to come open the door from the outside. It's only a 15ish-foot gap, so we figured it would be easy. Good plan! Elder Clarke warmed up his throwing arm and tossed the keys ... only to hear them make contact with the wall next to the window and fall seven stories to the sidewalk. Thus, we were not only locked inside, but now had no way to get back in once we got out. Fabulous. We eventually got everything figured out, and we retrieved the keys alright.

And that's the latest and greatest. Life it good, and I'm happy to be in France again. We'll be heading into Paris for P-Day today, so I'll have to leave you here. Same time, same place next week? Cool, see you then.

Elder Wilson

The aftermath of Ikea in Le Havre

You can see the keys if you look close ...

September 16, 2013

The Chamber of Secrets - Week 56

It's the day of the transfer email, and I'm being transferred to . . . VERSAILLES! Dream come true. I've been so lucky, because three of my four cities have been three of the most beautiful cities in the mission: Paris, Brussels, and Strasbourg. Back to France I go!

As is custom among the Elders in the mission, we did transfer prophecies on Saturday night, using the standard works to predict where we're being transferred to in the mission. Since all of us except Elder Wood have some African clothes, we decided to go all-out and have a little ceremony. Elder Davis went a little overboard and spread Nutella on his face, so here's to hoping hazelnut spread works as an exfoliant. We were wrong on all prophecies except the one for Elder Wood, since he's training in Brussels, but it was so much fun. Just look at the pictures and you'll understand.

Meanwhile, it's been raining every single day this entire week, which weather is not conducive to contacting people on the street. It was some extra motivation to schedule more lessons to stay out of the rain, but it's a good thing I got a fantastic umbrella from a random man on the street for two euros. Best deal ever.

Yesterday, however, we somehow lost the keys in the apartment (okay, fine ... so I lost the keys to the apartment), so we decided just to leave and let the door lock behind us. As soon as the door snapped shut, I realized that it was still pouring rain and I had left my jacket and umbrella in the apartment with no way to get inside. Poor planning? Yeah. So, Elder Wood and I spent the next hour jogging and switching off using his tiny umbrella.

We had a lesson last night with an African family, and the father told us about how his family is being killed by fighting in Africa with no way to save them. Made me so grateful to have been born in the United States.

District meeting on Tuesday was the finale for the Harry Potter themed transfer, and it was centered on a metaphor with the Chamber of Secrets. The district had to drink some polyjuice potion before sneaking down two stories to the basement of the church building. Luckily, the building has secret tunnels and storage rooms with a couple of couches in a dark, secret room, so it added to the authenticity of the whole adventure. Gryffindor won the house cup, so we had a little party for a minute in the basement with Gryffindor-colored finger lights. Missionary appropriate, of course.

I'm afraid that's all I have for you this week. Have a good one, and I'll keep in touch next week from la région parisienne!

Elder Wilson

Owen, a recent convert.

Classic district picture!

Awkward photo

The incredible stack of crepes for district meeting lunch.

Elder Wood!

(editor's note: Look who came to visit Trevor on his mission! Mitt and Ann! It was so nice of them to visit after attending Trevor's farewell. Just kidding! They did come to Paris, but to visit another missionary, a senior couple that are their good friends. Here they are with President and Sister Poznanski and their daughter Manon.

We also received an email from Bishop Dean M. Davies, the second counselor of the Presiding Bishopric. He served with Alan in our Stake Presidency before getting called in April 2012. He was in Brussels for church meetings and he sent us this: "Look familiar? A great missionary! We enjoyed our assignment to Brussels." Trevor said the other missionaries couldn't believe that their visiting General Authority took out his iPhone and took a selfie with him! They were all jealous.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder M. Russell Ballard were both in Paris this week as well to create the third stake in Paris and help to prepare the site for the Paris Temple, which is going to be in Versailles, a happy coincidence. What a week of church celebrities!) 

September 09, 2013

... But It's So Underground You've Probably Never Heard of It - Week 55

Elder Wood and I were the most hipster companionship of the whole mission last Monday, as we dedicated the entire day to finding the most underground things to do in the city of Brussels. For example, everyone here knows about the famous naked baby statue called Manneken Pis (in Dutch), le Petit Julien (in French) or Little Man Pee (in English) but not everyone knows about the SECOND one tucked away in a corner called Janneken Pis. It's one of those things that you have to know where it is if you want to find it. Also, we spent our time perusing secondhand stores and record shops. I got threatened by a drunk man holding a screwdriver the wrong way up to my chest, but that was about as exciting as it got.

Harry Potter continued at district meeting on Tuesday with the Tri-wizard tournament. The events included turning in the best piece of garbage found on the street (extra points for presentation), name the hymn, question and answer, and a scavenger hunt. The sisters won for Gryffindor, of course. 

We've been spending a good amount of time in the train station recently for some reason, and there's a really interesting phenomena that happens with missionaries. First, put name tags on two young men wearing shirts and ties. Next, place these two young men in any train station, store or metro station, and suddenly everyone assumes they're experts on Belge transportation, produce, and bus lines. If we stand in an open area, a line accumulates in front of us in minutes. "No, sir, we don't work here ... I'm afraid you'll have to go ask the help desk over there . . . . . actually ma'am, this is the first time I've been in this store as well." Sometimes they get slightly angry and threaten to tell our employers that we should really be more knowledgeable. "Well, sir, I'm afraid talking to our employer would involve prayer, which is actually what we're inviting you to do."

We went on exchanges on Saturday, so I worked with Elder Davis for the day. We wandered onto a street with a relatively high concentration of African families from the Congo and decided to contact a man walking towards us. As we were talking to him, others stopped to listen to what we had to say, so Elder Davis and I split up and flew solo to divide and conquer. One guy was so excited that he took the Book of Mormon out of my hand and said, "I apologize, but I'll be taking this. Come over to my house on Tuesday and talk to my family." The Congolese sure love hearing the word of God.

On a continent with no air conditioning, desk fans become a necessity in hot weather. Early in the week, our single fan broke. Seeing how large of a problem a lack of a fan would be to us, Elder Wood and I grabbed a screwdriver and had the fan in pieces across the floor in minutes. Not surprisingly, it still didn't function when we put it back together, and we had to suffer for a few days. On Friday, we went to teach my favorite family, the Sanfts, and they had a shiny new fan in the corner of the room. Elder Wood asked them where they had purchased it, and instead of answering his question, they just gave us their fan. We got back to the apartment with fan in hand and received a hero's welcome from the other two Elders. Last time, the family gave us an entire apple pie. They're just fantastic.

During a dinner appointment this week, we were eating our food and chatting with the American family when one of their young daughters yelled over to me from across the table, "You eat like a french person! Aren't you from America?" I'm not exactly sure what that entails, but I guess at least one french thing rubbed off on me.

Alright, I'd like to finish up today with a story from another mission. Elder Wood got an email today from his friend in Brazil, and I thought it was good enough to share with you all:

"Quick story about fasting, there was a companionship in another zone here who was teaching a young woman but her dad wouldn't let her get baptized, so the missionaries fasted with her to soften the heart of her dad.  Well it was softened, a lot, he had a heart attack the next day and died, she was baptized the following Saturday."

Wilson's wise words of wisdom for the week: Be careful what you pray for.

Elder Wilson

The Sanft Family, the ones that gave us their new fan. They know I will be transferred next week and they wanted a picture of us all together. 

The garbage that Elder Ensign found was a small motorized motorcycle for children. He dressed up as Hagrid and rode in on it.

September 02, 2013

Passed Out, But Saved by a Kiwi - Week 54

So, Elder Wilson, do you mean a Kiwi as in the bird, the fruit, or the people? I guess you'll have to find out.

We had a mega exchange with the zone leaders this week, and I ended up being with Elder Oliverson for three days. We had to do one day for the transfer exchange, one day for legality, and we thought it would be dumb to unexchange for a half day in between, so we just stayed together. It was a great time. 

So anyway, Elder Oliverson and I got up bright and early and headed to Lille, a pretty big city on the border of France and Belgium. Since we've been in Europe for almost year, our French visas are about to expire and we need to get another ... and let me tell ya: legality paperwork in a foreign language is not the easiest thing in the world.

We got to Lille fairly early in the morning with the intention of catching the prefecture at a time when the lines were short. We would have been there at the opening had it not been for a slight mistake on my part. I slightly misheard the name of the metro stop to get off at, and Elder Oliverson and I accidentally went to a really run down part of town. We got off the bus and found ourselves surrounded by dirt fields on either side filled with trailers and tents with people living inside. The streets and sidewalks were covered in garbage and people were pushing carts of their possessions down the street to their trailers. Needless to say, we stuck out a bit as Americans in suits, leather bags, and paperwork under our arms.

We made a beeline for the closest metro stop and eventually made it back to where we were supposed to go. Suddenly an hour later than anticipated, Elder Oliverson and I got to the government building and descended the stairs to find a nice and welcoming line wrapping out the door. One word: fantastic. Basically it's the DMV, European style. We got in the back of the line and were delighted to find we moved at the lightning speed of four paces an hour. On the bright side, we talked to an awesome guy from New Zealand the whole time and learned quite a bit about rugby, cricket, kiwis, and Maori. Thanks for the conversation, Nick. 

The room was cramped and hot enough that a lady at the front completely passed out. Someone caught her and put her on a bench, then got back in line so they wouldn't lose their spot. Classy. Nick sprang into action and went and helped the poor lady passed out alone on the bench. He's a really good guy. Two and a half hours later, we got to the front of the line.

"Hi, we need to stay in France another year."
"Passport, please. . . . . . . okay, looks good. Come back in October."

Two hours for a twenty second conversation. We got out of the place at 2 in the afternoon and since our train to Brussels didn't leave until 6, we had some time to eat lunch and take a quick walk through a park/zoo in the middle of the city. It was funny to see to "Wonders of America" section at the zoo.

The day after, Elder Wood and I went to eat at an African family's house for dinner. We got there when they were about to start cooking, and I made the mistake of asking if I could help them cook. The mother just looked at me and said, "You're a white boy and we're making African food. You'll be of absolutely no use to us." Probably true. I just sat back and listened to African music instead.

Saturday, an investigator called us up and asked us if we could go get drinks with him. He took us to a hip locale in the center of Brussels where all the college kids go. We were so cool drinking our fruit juices.

The last notable event for the week happened yesterday evening. We got out of a lesson with one of our investigators from Ghana, and were walking out of the apartment building when someone yelled at us from behind. It was a 16 year old Ghanaian African girl named Antoinette. "I was baptized recently in Ghana, but since I've moved to Brussels, I haven't been able to find the church. My friend is a missionary, and he told me to look out for the missionaries in Brussels and try to find them. Then, I walked out of my apartment ... and here you are. I need to have the church in my life. I miss it so much."

Well, Antoinette. Looks like you've found the right people. We took her number and promised to help her find the church building next Sunday.

Have a fantastic week, everyone! Go Cougars!

Elder Wilson