July 28, 2014

As it Begins. - Week 101

Well boys, this is the end of the line. 

"Do you remember the taste of strawberries, Sam?"

For the last few months, people have been asking, "Does it feel like it's been two years?" I think it depends on which direction I look. It's definitely been two years since I've been with my family at home, but it also seems like I should still have some time left. Six months ago, I started worrying whether or not I had learned everything I was supposed to learn or done everything I was supposed to do. Now, I feel like I've done what I came here for and it's time to go home.

There's still seven days left, and it's packed full of people to see and things to do. It was really, really tough to see "B" this week. We couldn't get ahold of her until around Friday, and Elder Rodriguez and I basically gave up hope one night. Our thoughts were centered around, "Well, she'll get baptized soon, but not next week." After a few minutes of silence and some calculations, I turned to him and said, "No. This IS happening. We need to get over there and talk to her. She wants to be baptized."

We called her when we got home, and she answered for the first time, where she explained that her son has been in the hospital again for the last four and a half days, and she stayed with him 24/7. We went over the next night and had a little chat about her baptism. We told her that in order for her to be baptized next Sunday, we have things left to teach and an interview to do. We told her that delaying the baptism by a week or two was still an option if she didn't want to cram in a few lessons, but she was pretty adamant: "No. I'm getting baptized next Sunday." 

It shouldn't be a problem if all goes according to plan, and we'll be seeing her nearly every day this week to put things into place. The ward really stepped up, and a bunch of Relief Society sisters are helping as well. Members asked if they could drive us to lessons, and others took her to help her pick out baptismal clothes. They asked everyone to pray for her throughout the week as well.

I feel like this last week is a challenge specially tailored for me. It's time to use everything I've learned in 24 months and prove that I'm capable of doing it. This is going to be one stressful week.

To sum up the past seven days, we knocked on a bunch of doors, got some pho at an Asian restaurant for Elder Price's birthday, and I went on an exchange in Charleroi (affectionately referred to as "Gotham City" thanks to it's appearance.)

We're going to be leaving early Monday morning to take a train to Paris and have our "Paris P-day," where all the dying missionaries get to hang out and do whatever they want in Paris. Elders Price, Oliverson, Barr and I are planning to hang out together for the day, and thus everything ends as it begins. I remember walking into the MTC to meet those three in August 2012 with Barr as my new companion. Since, we've flown to San Fran together, lived through the MTC together, were trained together, Price and I have lived together, Oliverson and I were companions and baptized together, and now we're dying together.

Next Monday, we're going to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower again, grab some lunch with Elder Dussere, maybe stop by the Arc de Triomphe, and see a few people from Versailles. Then, we'll have an interview with President Babin on Monday night, sleep in the mission home, and wake up early Tuesday morning to take the RER train to the airport.

This is the start of all the "lasts"-- last P-day, last time doing emails, last district meeting, last train ride, last missionary pasta (hallelujah), last, last. Here's the last time I sign off.

Goodbye, France. Goodbye, Belgium. You have quirks, but you sure are great.

See you next week,

Elder Wilson

July 21, 2014

Serial Killer and an Attempted Kidnapping - Week 100

We received a letter in the mail this week. It had no return address, so we don't know who it's from. Inside was a serial killer note that said "YOU'RE NEXT" in magazine clippings. Ha. 'Cuz we're dying. We're trying to figure out who sent it so we can return the favor.

Elder Rodriguez and I have been tracting the same little city on the outskirts of Namur for the last transfer, so we're there almost every night. There's also an ice cream man that passes through the same little city every single night, so we see each other a handful of times a week. He's our best friend now, and he always stops to say hello to us or bows at the driver's seat and gives us a friendly honk. I'm just holding out until the day he decides to give us free ice cream.

Speaking of eastern European friends in cars, we've got some other friends from Albania. Remember when we got invited in and offered wine by an Albanian dude a few weeks ago? We've seen him driving around the city a few times, and he always slams on the breaks to roll down the window and gives us a fist bump. He always has friends in the car so he introduces us as the American Mormons.  We saw him again on Saturday as we were walking out of our apartment, but this time, he yelled out to us and motioned for us to get in his car. We figured we had nothing to lose, so we hopped in and enjoyed the air conditioning.

After he introduced us again to his friend and showed us some cool Albanian music, we were curious what was happening and asked, "So, uh ... where are you guys going, anyway?" They responded with, 

"Oh, nowhere really. We just drive around and look at all the girls walking through the city. They look better in the summertime, you know. What about you two? Where were you going?"  

"Well ... we weren't going anywhere either. We were just going to walk around and talk to those girls walking on the street ... but about the gospel." We had them drop us off after a few minutes, and we got on with our day.

We had another zone conference with President Babin, which was fun. They like to use a lot of videos and music, so it's kind of like listening to EFY speakers, but learning cooler stuff. As is custom at all zone conferences, they had the departing missionaries give their "dying testimonies," which included Elder Price and me. We've been seeing missionaries give dying testimonies since the first month in the mission when I was back in Strasbourg with my trainer, and it's kind of important. Throughout our entire missions, we always see people going home and wonder what we're going to say for our own dying testimonies. Now that day has already come and passed for us.

It was Elder Price's birthday on Saturday, and we went to a member's house to eat dinner. We celebrated his birthday and my 3/4 birthday, since I'm 20 and 9 months old. I only ate 3/4 of a cake as a result. We tried going to get Pho at an Asian restaurant the next day, but it was closed for summer vacation. Lame.

Today is a national holiday in Belgium, and a big military parade just marched past in front of the internet café. Pretty cool.

We also did more service for the lady that owns the sickle and taught our African family on Saturday. We taught "S" before that, who is the 77 year old lady whose father was a member of the church. Her 11 year old granddaughter has been there for the lessons recently, so we're teaching them both. I don't know what's cool in America, but all the European elementary school kids wear little rubber band woven bracelets all the time recently. It's turned into a type of trophy for missionaries to be given one of the bracelets by a little kid, and when we taught the granddaughter, she pulled out a loom and started making the little bracelets. Elder Rodriguez and I held our breath to see if she would give one to us, but we had to leave before she finished. We're gonna score next time for sure.

We finished up the week by teaching one of our African families, but the lesson turned into him explaining the intricacies of chemical bombs for a half hour. You see, he is a chemist. We went home last night and crawled into bed after the sun zapped all of our energy and enjoyed the peace and quiet for three minutes until a huge rock concert started right outside our window. We enjoyed falling asleep to French singers singing songs by The Police and Green Day, until a gigantic fireworks show started over the river out our window. It was equivalent to a 4th of July fireworks show, and we climbed out onto the scaffolding outside our window and enjoyed it for a little while.

It's been difficult to keep in steady contact this week with "B" since she's in the process of moving, but we're still trying to make the baptism happen on August 3rd. We called in a favor from the Elders of Charleroi who are helping us teach her tonight, so it's a team effort.

And thus we find ourselves in an internet shop on an overcast day in Namur. Next week is going to be my -LAST- email home ever, so I'll put in some extra effort to do some good things this week. Stay tuned. Adieu.

Elder Wilson

July 14, 2014

Plastic, Waffles, Party Bus, Muscles - Week 99

It's been raining almost nonstop every day this week in Belgium, but I managed to keep my feet moderately dry thanks to a large roll of plastic wrap I found in the kitchen.

(editor's note: look at following pictures. Guess it's time to come home!)

It was transfer week, but since none of us got transferred, we didn't have much contact with the world outside of Namur. We usually have district meeting or conference exchanges or something to keep us informed, but we stayed in our little bubble the whole time. Since it was raining, there weren't many people on the streets, so we spent most of the week knocking on doors. 

As we were out in a neighborhood last week, we saw a 77 year old lady working in her front yard and decided to talk to her. We walked out from behind her bushes and probably almost killed her because we scared her so bad. Once she regained her senses, she told us that we could come back another day and talk to her. 

We went back the second time this week and had an interesting rendez-vous. After she realized that we were Mormons, she told a story about her father, who passed away decades ago. He went to a concentration camp in Germany during World War II for five years and came back home after the war was over. He then joined the LDS church in Namur and was at one point in the branch presidency, but his wife didn't want him teaching their children about the church. She said her father baptized her when she was 9, but she never went to church a single time. Consequently, she also knows absolutely nothing about any of the doctrine, and we started at square one with the Book of Mormon. Her eyes are so bad that she can hardly read, but she said she tried to read the Book of Mormon until she got a headache and couldn't continue.

At the end of the second lesson, she brought out a big plate of homemade waffles, which served as confirmation that she is, in fact, Belgian. They were pretty darn good, so I asked her for the recipe and started writing it down. "First, you take a liter of milk, 10 eggs, two vanilla packets, and a cup of coffee ..." at which point, Elder Rodriguez and I stopped chewing and slowly looked at each other from across the table. No wonder why they were so good. That must be why more Belgians don't join the church: they just can't give up waffles to keep the word of wisdom. Just kidding. I had her repeat the ingredients, and the recipe doesn't actually call for coffee. She made a mistake the first time.

Wednesday night, we decided to go out to a village to knock on doors. We walked over to the bus station in the center of town and had 10 minutes before the bus came. Standing right next to us was a group of blonde 20 year old girls that may or may not have been tipsy. They had a radio and were having a dance party while they waited for the bus. Elder Rodriguez leaned over and said, "I really hope they're taking a different bus." Three buses came and left, and of course they didn't take any of them. Our bus pulled up, we got on, then the group of girls jumped on behind us. The bus pulled away from the station and we just laughed at the dance party going on in front of us on the seats and the music from the little portable speakers. Some other 20ish year old dudes got on at the next stop, at which point the bus driver decided to join in. He plugged in his iPod and blasted some party music over the bus speakers, gaining claps and cries of satisfaction from all the youth on the bus. Party bus! That was fun.

We talked to a huge muscle bound guy at his door while we were tracting a neighborhood last night, and after he gave us some hardcore rejection, I said, "Just one more question. What do you do to work out?" He responded with, "It's all about four times a week at the gym, a good diet, some protein, and praises to the Almighty Lord!" Well, we counted that we usually say somewhere around 30 prayers a day, so we must be getting huge muscles.

Well, to wrap it up, "B" is doing really well. We taught her with the bishop this week, and talked about putting off her baptism until August 3rd to give more time. She thought she would be ready before then, so it turned into a game of the bishop and the missionaries persuading her to wait an extra two weeks to be baptized. To be honest, that's a first for me on my mission. She's sweet.

That's all I've got for you today. Happy Bastille day.

Elder Wilson

First pair

Second pair. These are my "GOOD" shoes

July 07, 2014

Maybe You Should Have Hired Piano Professionals - Week 98

Time for the final transfer decisions! No shockers. Everything is staying exactly the same, actually. That means Elder Rodriguez will be killing me, and Elder Hansen is killing Elder Price. None of us really wanted to leave, so it's good news. 

Tuesday night was the big Belgium/USA game. Walking home that night, we noticed that a big screen was set up right in front of our apartment. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there by the time the game started at 10:00 pm, so we sat on the roof and listened for a half hour. We couldn't see the screen, so every time the Belgian fans got sad, we started cheering and vice versa. We rationalized that it could be proper to pray for the US to win since eliminating Belgium would make the missionary work easier. Apparently we had no faith, because we woke up the next morning with voicemail messages from members: "ELDERS! YOU LOOSE THE GAAAAME! AHHHHH!" 

Swallowing our pride, we went on to do a good amount of service the rest of the week for the Belgians in the community. We helped some members paint a few rooms for a chunk of the day on Thursday, and we did a good job if I do say so myself. That's what six months of taking care of apartments in the mission office will get you. We even got to wear cool spacesuits.

Saturday, we drove over to Charleroi with the in-laws of some members to help move a piano. It took a little while to drive there, then it took all of 5 minutes to get the piano inside a trailer. We drove the half hour back to Namur and were literally 30 feet from the house when the piano tipped and fell on it's back. We stopped and loaded it into the house, at which point we lifted the cover and tapped the keys to see if it still worked. No notes. We all gathered around in a defeated little pow wow, at which point I reached in, un-jammed a piece of wood, and the piano started working just fine. Maybe piano repair isn't such a bad career either.

After the piano move, we went to the Bishop's house to eat with them and talk about missionary work in the ward. It was also the day of the Belgium/Argentina World Cup game, so the Bishop took out a makeup stick and painted our cheeks to show Belgium pride. It was the stipulation if we wanted a ride home. 

Tuesday morning was a "welcome" conference in Brussels with the newly-arrived President and Sister Babin. They're really cool, and I'm sad I won't be around too long to see what they do with the mission. I'll only get to see them a total of three times.

We taught a cool guy from Africa named "R" this week. He's 21 years old, grew up as an orphan, and came to Belgium a few months ago to learn French. He wants to become a computer engineer so he can go back and donate money to the orphanage that raised him. In the meantime, he only is given 7 euros of extra money a week, and he scrimped and saved to have the 4 euros necessary to buy the bus ticket to get to our lesson. He read a few chapters in the Book of Mormon and thought it was worth the sacrifice to learn more about it.

We showed up to church yesterday with no investigators there for either team of missionaries. Kind of a bummer, but it's not exactly the first time it's happened. Then, for the third hour of church, one of our investigator couples came in with their three children. I had forgotten that I invited them to sacrament meeting over the phone six days before. Some people asked if they were already members, to which the father responded, "No, we're not, but we might be soon."

I mentioned last week that we fixed a baptismal date for later in July with "B". Well, it was a bit difficult this week to find a time when we were both available, so we're going to have to push it back a few weeks. If all goes well, we and the other companionship should be seeing baptisms the day before Elder Price and I leave to go home. Cross your fingers!

See you kids soon. Have a good one.

Elder Wilson

Right outside our window

It's like "Where's Waldo?"


A pretty common train occurrence