Wednesday, February 28, 2007

So That's the famous Ponte Vecchio?: August 2, 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
As you may be able to tell from the title of my email, my first sight of the famous Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) of Firenze wasn't the most incredible. We sort of passed it and then my companion told me it was Ponte Vecchio. It has a sum of about 50 gold and jewelry stores lining the sides. A bit audacious, no? This week has been stressful, just like last week. Wednesday we walked the streets of Firenze for a bit, then went to find people in the park. Thursday we met with a less active member, then knocked doors for the rest of the day until evening. It is really hot during the day, from about 10 until 5. We are inside for 2 hours for lunch, but no matter when we schedule it we end up going outside under the sun when it's hot enough to burn your feet inside your black shoes. That's hot! I started praying for rain the moment I arrived here, and we now have a sort of stagnant storm that hovers on the horizon and every so often floods us. With mosquitoes as well - we live by the river. I'm really grateful that I'm not burning at all here - I don't even have to use sunblock, and I can declare that my skin has actually changed colors... - I tanned! Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, I'm not sure... but it means I don't have to feel too oily from sunblock and that I'm not in constant pain. I've actually been able to see the difference since a few months ago - I think it happened because in Battipaglia we were simply outside all the time and I spent the Spring and Summer outside - it gave my skin the incredible time it needed to create melanin in quantities large enough to withstand the heat. Wow!
Friday we were still eating leftovers from Zone Conference - the huge pasta salad was big and plenty. Talking about that, the Mission President's Wife mentioned that she had seen the receipt for the meal... much, much less than what they had expected in the first place. They were actually kind of shocked. I told them that we had splurged and bought Barilla (the highest quality pasta) and good mozzarella; it also helped that that Esselunga (the supermarket close by) had everything on sale (and that we bought it on sale). At least that went well.
Saturday we did our planning session (every week we plan out what we are going to do for each person and activity)... and then had a lot of cancelled appointments.
Sunday we had again more no-shows, so we went out to find people. Happy Birthday Mom! I think I remembered Monday; I had it written down, but the last week my email got eaten and... I guess it will have to be a few days late. We started looking for parks, and got horribly lost. My companion is worse with maps than I am (I am getting better - I simply commit to memory the names of the streets and the direction we need to turn), but it was OK. We found, at our first park, a huge convention for Esperanto - some sort of international latin-based language (equally hard for everyone). We weren't allowed in the park (part of a private complex), but as we were leaving to get our bikes, three people stopped me and commenced speaking in Esperanto... then let me teach them in Italian. It actually was a really good experience - all three of them want to meet with missionaries in the other cities of Italy in which they live.
Monday we had DDM and then went and knocked doors... all day. It's hot. I'm grateful for water, and for a companion that sometimes asks for it. We helped a Brasilian family move a bit.
Yesterday morning we went to Rome for a conference. It was incredible - we talked about a lot of things with other missionaries and I took tons of notes on the topics. The one that really hit me the most was by the Mission President's Wife - she asked the question, "How can we motivate ourselves and others?" It's obviously a difficult question, with a lot of factors... but the answer was simple - use The Book of Mormon. And I have a testimony that it works. I remember a missionary that had problems with diligence. He just didn't do what he said he would, and it was ruining the spirit of our apartment and also ruining the work. One day I sent his companion and mine out on a scambi (exchange) and we read Mosiah 4 together. I had felt impressed to read with him, and from that day on, I saw a huge change. I know that we can help motivate people using The Book of Mormon. In this book, the Lord has given us all the answers to life's questions, including how we can gain a greater desire ourselves or help others to gain that same desire. It really works! We were at the Conference all day - it was a good experience - and President finished off talking about the Temple. He taught us about the Temple and its importance in our lives and in our work - it is the ultimate goal. He asked us to change some of our vocabulary - Temple Work to Temple Worship. I agree - the worship we compute in the Temple is not simply work; it is an expression of an internal love we have for God and our fellow man. We also talked about the importance of talking with everyone - of simply learning to be a friendly, sincere person. We have two years to do it - life afterward will be much more difficult to develop people skills. Why not now?
Then, this morning... We got off to a rough start, missing a pretty expensive train. I had mixed-up tickets and we arrived in time with the wrong tickets. The counter refused to re-issue them, and we weren't able to redo our reservations. So, we bought tickets for the next train and ran to catch it. As we approached, the doors shut, didn't open again, and the train rolled away. Another very expensive train. So now I am about in tears - buying things like train tickets is my responsibility and I've just wasted a huge amount of money. We bought more tickets for a Regional (much slower, much cheaper) train, and got on, barely making it again. I was most definitely down. I had spoken with President about a way to save the mission money on train travel - the Italian train system offers a sort of fidelity card that brings innate advantages (like 20% discounts on a certain number of seats every national train)... and then I go and miss two trains. I was writing letters (it is Preparation Day, and we were eating our time), and I realized that the Lord had not caused us to miss the trains... but He had certainly allowed it. Why? Was it to waste our money? I doubt it. Then why? Maybe to cause us to be humble. That worked. But I felt like there was another reason. In the past, when we missed trains or even travelled, there was always someone to teach. I now simply believe that the people around us in trains are simply the elect of God, sent by Him to be taught by us. I suddenly felt pushed to talk with the man across the aisle from us. It was a bit hard - no room and my companion had the aisle seat. He began talking, and I told him when the man left for a moment that we had to teach him. He agreed, and began talking with him. I prayed so much for my companion - we haven't been together long enough to really trust each other yet. I sometimes doubt him, and he me... Hopefully we can work through that quickly and learn to trust not only the intentions of one another, but also our skill in teaching. The man was from Turkey, and was very open to the Gospel. We gave him a Book of Mormon in English, and he promised that he would read and pray. I don't think membership in the Church in Turkey would be an easy thing to accomplish... But he was very open and wanted to enter international business. It was a very good lesson, and it reminds me, "Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God." Exactly how much? Would missing a Eurostar train be worth it? How about two Eurostars for two people? Obviously it was, or part of it was, and I am grateful that my companion taught well.

We have a lot of things to plan for. We have a meeting tomorrow, and then we are doing rounds of scambi (companionship exchanges) with other missionaries. We need to make sure we are prepared if they have any concerns, and also to learn from them. My time is almost up; I'll try to send some pictures!
I know that Jesus is the Christ, and that this is the Church of God! I know that He answers our prayers when we are sincere. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that we have a prophet today! I love you all!

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