Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Monday, September 3, 2018

Week 1: A New Beginning

Hello everyone! This week was a bit different from anything else I've sent so far, but here's the rundown. (If you're only here to get updated contact info for me, that'll be at the end.)

On Monday after we got to the office in Zagreb, we got to see some other missionaries that were passing through for transfers, and we also had our luggage all weighed and logistical things like that. Then we got some Good Food for lunch, looked around at some random Zagreb stores for part of our last P-day, and then we departing missionaries all headed over to the mission home. Once there we all had dinner together, had a closing devotional of sorts, and then played some sports. At that point, some people went to bed, but a few of us (including myself) decided it'd be a better idea to stay up straight through the night to help with both getting up early for the flight, and then the "jetlag" that'd come at a later time. So, we stayed up and played some card games.

President and Sister Melonakos with all the missionaries returning home.
Early in the morning on Tuesday, we "got up" and got ready for the day, and had a nice breakfast all together. Well, except for the sisters, whose alarm had apparently not gone off properly. But they came down soon enough. We all loaded up into some vehicles and drove out to the Zagreb airport with the APs, where we happened upon the parents of Sister Orchard. Anyway, after checking our luggage, we were going through security and my carry-on bag got flagged. Turns out I had accidentally put my pen-in-the-form-of-a-bullet in that bag. Oops. So, they confiscated that after letting me take a picture, haha. 

My bullet pen that got confiscated at the Zagreb, Croatia airport.
That big group of us flew from there to Frankfurt, Germany, at which point we had to go through security again. Then Elder Froc and Sister Blake both split off from the group for their own flights going different directions, as did I. 

On the plane for the first leg of my travel home.
My long flight over the Atlantic came into Chicago. It just so happened that there was also a Serbian family on that flight that I talked to a bit. When we landed and got out, I have to say that it was really weird hearing English everywhere. Right after getting through customs, I was informed that I had already missed my connecting flight. I didn't even have a chance since it was even in a different terminal. Thankfully they got me reassigned to a different flight just 2 hours later. After a little bus ride to the new terminal, I ran into a member of the church that asked where I was going and started talking with him. He let me borrow his phone to call my parents to inform them that I'd be later than planned. Great guy. Then I got some American pizza, and the flight's gate got changed, so I had to go to a different terminal again. Anyway, I eventually ended up on a flight to Cincinnati, and was greeted by a wonderful group, including (but not limited to) my parents, sister, and grandfather. They had brought a big banner, and a Serbian flag. The other friends there had brought me some Chick-fil-A and were helping with photography (another big thanks to them!). From the airport, we headed straight for my stake president's house where I was released from being a full-time missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and then we headed home.

Wednesday started off with a dentist's appointment, and then later on in the day, I spent some time with a good friend! We went to an escape room and had a blast! That evening I had dinner with the family at O'Charley's, and then we went to a place here in Ohio called Jungle Jim's. It's a HUGE grocery store that has almost anything you could be looking for from any country. I was pleased to find Milka chocolate, ćevapi seasoning, and Vegeta, which are all things commonly found in the Adriatic North Mission. We bought some.

At O'Charley's with family
Thursday started off with an eye appointment, which involved getting a new set of glasses for me. They're not very different from my old ones at all. That evening we ordered Papa John's pizza and watched a movie at home. Which movie was my first move back, you might ask? The Greatest Showman. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The dance and music are astounding.

Back at home and enjoying breakfast with my Grandpa Larson
As for Friday, I went early in the morning with my bishop to visit one of the local early morning seminary classes, and I talked to them a bit. They asked plenty of questions, and I told some short stories and shared some things I learned, then we all had breakfast together. Apparently, something I said helped one of the students that was slightly struggling with something, so that was cool. In any case, what a great class. When I got home, I went with my Dad to get some extra breakfast at Chick-fil-A, and then came back home to get ready to go to the temple! We all piled into the car and then drove up to Columbus to go to the temple there. 

At the Columbus, Ohio temple
While there, we happened to find the temple president and his wife, who is the sister of the Sister Monson of the senior couple that I knew from my time in Celje, Slovenia. Connections everywhere. After the temple, we headed over to the part of Columbus known as "the German village" to have dinner at Schmidt's Sausage Haus. Their food there is sooooooo good. Also, we discovered that the bathroom has famous movie quotes playing, each one first in English and then in German. We also took the obvious chance to pop in the neighboring Schmidt's Fudge store where they had imported German chocolate and locally made stuff. When we all got home back near Cincinnati, we did one of our family past-times, playing the game Rock Band 2. I'm not quite as rusty as I was expecting.

Saturday was a little bit less busy. I got to hang out with one of my other friends from high school, and we got lunch at Kyoto, a local Japanese restaurant, before coming back to my house to watch The Wind Rises, which is a Studio Ghibli production I hadn't yet seen. After the movie and playing some video games together, she headed out for home, and we as a family watched "Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them", which was excellent.

Today, Sunday, of course included going to church, but this time it was not in a Serbian-speaking branch, but rather in an English-speaking ward. It was great to see so many people that I know and that have been apparently reading this emails! Thanks to all of you for your support! In any case, I received my plaque that shows where and when I served, and I spoke to everyone about my mission experiences. It really was great to get to see and greet everyone there. Anyway, after church, we had some friends over for dinner and an open-house thing with a bunch of desserts. Tonight has been a lot of re-packing, and in the morning we fly out to Utah for me to get set up at BYU for classes to start on Tuesday. 

Here are some things that seem odd to me about the US: 1) strangers and employees all speak English, 2) the shape of doorknobs and light switches, 3) everyone has a smartphone, 4) household appliances such as laundry machines or refrigerators are all huge, 5) other drivers are typically not blatantly reckless.

Anyway, I regret to inform you all that this will be my last big group email. If you'd like to email me, feel free to contact my parents. If you message me and I see it, I'll reply. However, I can't guarantee that I'll get around to being proactive in sending off emails to too many of you all. Thanks so much for all of your support! Stay in touch. I love you all!


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Week 106: 100%! Another Baptism! and Packing...

Hello everyone! You may or may not have been expecting an email from me today, but if you're reading this, then that means you definitely received one! Haha. So here's the rundown so far.

Last Monday after emailing I tried to do a little bit of packing, but it was more of just sorting my stuff into what I could leave behind and what I needed to take home with me. After that, for one last fun P-day activity, we did an escape room! I really like escape rooms.

As for Tuesday, the day started off with going to the church with Elder Nield and taking care of some more business-y stuff, and then Elder Bird and I drove to Belgrade to start another exchange! We got there, found the Zone Leaders (Elders Bradshaw and McNeil), and did a little switch so that I was then with Elder McNeil. He and I went to a place there where they do service each week. It's a center for people with mental disabilities, and we just spent some time with them, which was great. From there, he and I headed directly back to Novi Sad, and had English Conversation Group like usual. After that, for dinner, we had to show Elder McNeil the wonder that is the restaurant "Waffle Boss", since he didn't ever try it while he was here.

On Wednesday morning while contacting, we happened to end up talking to a lady that turned out to be a Jehovah's Witness. In my experience, the Witnesses are always willing to talk to you, haha. Anyway, that afternoon we had a great District Council with the sisters and the Nields at the Nields' place, and talked a little bit about what should happen next in this branch, since the Nields are also leaving, and the branch will probably be without a senior couple and without a branch president for up to a month. After that, on our walk back to the church, Elder McNeil and I stopped at a place called "Balans" to get some crepes. And when I say crepes, these ones are LOADED with fillings. It's crazy. Anyway, we had language study and whatever, and then our dear friend and 2nd-newest member "John" came for a lesson, and we re-taught the Plan of Salvation, which is God's plan for our eternal happiness. Cool stuff. A little bit later we had Chinese food for dinner, and discussed what might happen the next day with transfer announcements. In this mission (and perhaps other missions, but don't ask me) it's quite a big thing to try and predict where everyone will be serving for the next transfer (it's kinda like what people do with brackets for March Madness). So, I wrote out all of my predictions for the mission.

Thursday morning was transfer announcements! The Nields, the sisters, plus Elder McNeil and I were all at the church for this one, and it was announced over a huge video call with the whole mission. What a digital party, haha. In any case, it turns out that I'm being transferred to the United States, and my companion is yet to be determined, haha. In case you weren't aware, I'm at the end of my mission and I have a flight on Tuesday ;) Anyway, my prediction for the transfer had 49% of the missionaries exactly where they'll be for this next transfer. I'm pretty proud of that percentage. After that whole thing, we went to Bajka again to get some delicious pizza, and that's where Elder Bird and Elder Bradshaw again met up with us to switch back. That evening after English Conversation Group, I did another baptismal interview! This time for the sisters' investigator who I'll call "Sally". She's the one that stopped smoking cold-turkey so that she could be baptized (and before the Nields and I leave, even). She's really awesome. So, she passed the interview! That means 3 baptisms in Novi Sad within 1 month!

Friday started off with more business-y stuff, such as going to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the MUP) to deregister visas for me, Sister Icke, and the Nields, since we're the ones leaving Novi Sad. We also had to take care of some bank stuff and other finance things for the branch. Paperwork! That afternoon the sisters got in the car with the Nields, and Elder Bird and I got on a bus so we could all go out and visit a pair of our members that live out of town a bit. Interestingly enough, one of the bus's tires blew as were on our way out there. So, the driver immediately pulled over, had everyone get off, and called his boss while we told the Nields and the sisters. Shortly thereafter, we found out that another bus had been sent to come pick everyone up and continue on, and it'd arrive in 30 minutes. Thankfully our other missionary friends arrived pretty quickly and drove us the rest of the way, so it wasn't actually too much of a problem. Anyway, the husband in that couple that we were going to visit is a musician at a restaurant "Atos" that's right on the edge of the Danube, so we went there for dinner with them, and got to hear him sing and play guitar. The food there was pretty good, by the way. One interesting thing, though, is that they apparently clean their fish differently here. So, as our native Serbian friends were eating, one of them pulled out the fish's entire spinal cord (which quite looks like a tapeworm or something of the sort) and ate it whole. That gave Sister Nield quite a shock, haha. In any case, after having that great meal with them, we traveled back to Novi Sad itself, had a mini lesson with "John", and then held another session of our Addiction Recovery Group. The same people that came last week came again, and we had a great discussion. Once we got back to the apartment that night, I packed a suitcase.

Saturday! We once again got up early and went to the church with Elder Nield to set up the baptismal font. When the font finally finished filling up, the sisters came to switch us out, and we went with Elder Nield to get some other stuff for the baptism. When we got back to the church, we had some burritos ordered from Tortilla Casa, and finished getting everything else ready for the baptism. We had another pretty good turnout, and the whole thing went really well. Elders McNeil and Bradshaw came down again from Belgrade, and Elder McNeil did the baptism this time. I played a special musical number on piano, and we had a great time socializing with everyone after the program. That evening I finally got a chance to properly start packing, and then for a "last supper" of sorts we went to Waffle Boss.

Sunday morning started off with more packing, since it was my last chance, haha. Elder Nield came to pick us up, and I loaded all of my suitcases into the car for us to drive to the church. We had the confirmation of our friend "Sally", and so she became the newest member of the Novi Sad branch, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. We also had farewell testimonies from me, Sister Icke, and the Nields, since we four are the ones leaving Novi Sad this week. The Sisters had a special musical number, "God Be With You 'til We Meet Again", and that was great. A bit later, during Elders' Quorum, I had the opportunity to ordain "Shawn" to the Aaronic Priesthood. That's kinda a lot of fancy words, but it means that now he can bless the sacrament each week, or even baptize people if the opportunity arises. After church, we all had a big lunch together with our members and friends in the church, and it was a good opportunity to get to say bye to some people. I also had some paperwork stuff to take care of really quick, and then after all my goodbyes, Elder Bird and I headed out to Sremska Mitrovica. We quickly met up with Elders Heaton and Rosenvall (and the Deckers) and did a little switcharound. Elders Bird and Rosenvall went off to Belgrade to switch around some more with other missionaries that are staying, and Elder Heaton and I drove off to Zagreb. Our border crossing into Croatia was in the middle of nowhere. We had our interviews with President, and then stayed the night with the Assistants.

Today we've mostly been weighing luggage and stuff, and that's about it, haha. Anyway, I'm really short on time, so I should go!

For a spiritual thought thing, I'll just say that God loves us! That's why he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. So that we would know about Jesus Christ and how to better follow him, God sends prophets to teach us the gospel, warn us of sin, and help give us guidance. God sent prophets in the past, but he has also sent prophets in these days. Ancient prophets' writings are now scripture like the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and we can study modern prophets' words in General Conference. Whether it be through scriptures, living prophets, or prayer, we all need to have a connection with God. Having a connection with God will make your life better. It will give you greater peace even in hard times.

Well, here are some photos! This is my last email from the mission field, and my flight home is tomorrow, but I'll send another email after that to check up and give you all some contact info! Have a great week!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb