Elder Echols

Elder Echols

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
Croatia

Monday, August 20, 2018

Week 105: Pizzas, Ribs, and another Baptism!



Hey everybody! I'm still here! Don't worry, the heat hasn't killed us off. Not yet ;)

So, this week was pretty relaxed. On Tuesday we started off with some calls and some work in the area book (I gotta make sure I write down all my knowledge of Novi Sad before I leave, haha), and then had lunch at the apartment. That afternoon, while we were at the church for language study, Elder Bird ended up remodeling the way the church's gate shuts, since the latch has been having some problems recently; now there's duct tape on it, haha. We of course had English, and then got some pizza for dinner after. Not too many other interesting happenings that day.

Look at this cute little hedgehog!!
On Wednesday the sisters had one more lesson with "Shawn", and at the end they wanted to talk about the priesthood, and they invited us to help with that, so we got to participate, which was great. "Shawn" is an awesome guy. We had a pretty big lunch (pizza) at that cool restaurant called Bajka, and I have to admit that it got me to fall asleep during language study that afternoon (and you know that I don't like missing time to study languages, so you know that it also must've been some fantastic pizza, haha). After contacting around town some, we came back to the church for another lesson thing with "John" to review his new responsibilities with the priesthood, and also review the normal lessons. So, this time we again went over the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and who Joseph Smith is, and it was a great lesson. Shortly after that lesson, as we were leaving with the sisters and some of their investigators, we happened to see a hedgehog in the middle of the road. Thankfully it was still alive and hadn't been hit by a car yet, but we didn't know how long that'd last, so someone picked him up and moved him over to a nearby park. Hedgehogs are apparently reasonably common here. Who knew? For dinner that night we went to Waffle Boss (sooo good) and I got a fried crepe stuffed with pizza stuff... I only realized after I ate it that I'd kinda had pizza pretty much 3 meals in a row. Oops. Oh well, haha.

Lots of church friends!
On Thursday we tried to do more calls, and though we didn't get anything set up immediately, we got a fair amount of stuff like "call me back in a month when I'm home from vacation", so that was still good. The rest of the day wasn't terribly interesting except for English group. We usually have a short reading each time, and this time the reading was a little story about a one-armed kid at a judo tournament. It just so happened that one of our friends, that only comes to English occasionally but who is apparently also really good at judo, showed up unexpectedly. I think he could smell the judo in the air, haha.

Friday included another District Council (formerly known as District Meeting), and then getting some details taken care of for the next day's baptism! That afternoon we also had our first session of our 12 step Addiction Recovery group that we're starting for anybody who wants to come. One of the people that came and who had great comments was one of the sisters' investigators who recently (this week) quit smoking cold-turkey. We might have another baptism this next weekend... In any case, since it was the day marking 2 years since I first entered the Missionary Training Center, we ended up going to a relatively fancy restaurant that none of us had ever been to. It was a total shot in the dark, but it turned out pretty darn well. Apparently that place regularly has live music, and we came on one of the right nights! And I got a meal of barbecue ribs (that were great) for approximately $6.50 including sides. I really like that place, haha.

I will miss the good food here when I return home
So, Saturday was fun. First thing in the morning, Elder Bird and I went to the church with Elder Nield to set up our portable baptismal font again, and then fill it up (what else would we do with it once it's set up? haha). At some point the sisters came to switch us out so we could go get some other stuff done. After everything was prepared and it was getting close to the time of the baptism, visitors started showing up, including (but not limited to) Sister Smith, who served here for a while and had worked with "Shawn". Oh, and if I forgot to say, the baptism was for "Shawn". So, a bunch of friends showed up, and we had some good talks and a musical number from the sisters, and I had the opportunity to baptize "Shawn"! After it all, we managed to get one of our younger members who's really good at ping pong to play against Elder Heaton, who is also really good at ping pong, who had come for the baptism. Unfortunately, it turns out that Elder Heaton is understandably rusty and was defeated, but it was still really cool to watch two pros going at it, and I guess that means that team Novi Sad won! Haha. In any case, the baptism was great.

This is our little portable baptismal font. I can't share pictures of the baptism due to privacy rules.
A heated ping pong tournament
Yesterday, Sunday, we of course had church! And you know what that means? It means the "Shawn" was confirmed as a member of the Church, and that he received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. It turns out that he wanted me to do that one too =) Then a bit later I gave a talk on why the scriptures are important and why we need to actually read them, and I though it went well. Since neither of our Sunday School teachers showed up, I also ended up teaching the Plan of Salvation for that lesson, haha. We had a good lesson for Elders' Quorum too, and then had some business-type stuff after church like usual. But, after church we happened to witness our newest member "Shawn" decide on his own to pay his tithing. It looks like stuff is sticking! The sisters have done very well teaching him. That evening at the Nields' place we had our last supper of sorts, since next Sunday will be a bit busy. Sister Nield prepared breakfast burritos for us, and that was excellent.

A gathering of missionaries for some good food.
These are some cool missionaries!
Your homework for this week is to read Alma 37. That's when Alma speaks to his son Helaman about the holy records (scriptures), and why they're important. He compares the Word of God with a compass, which I really like.



Anyway, I plan on sending another group email next week too, though travel stuff may be crazy. So if you don't get anything from me next Monday, don't be offended or worried, haha. You'll get something from me soon thereafter =) So, here are a few photos from our recent adventures. Have a great week!
--
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb
Croatia


Monday, August 13, 2018

Week 104: More Visa Work, Stuffed Peppers, and an Ordination


 
Hey everyone! It's been another good week. The weather has been pretty warm over here, but not tooooo bad.

Last Monday, we actually did some pretty interesting stuff besides emailing. For example, we got burritos for lunch, and I got a haircut. Later on we also went with the sisters and rented a 4-seat bicycle cart thing at the riverwalk. I did the steering, and Elder Bird did the majority of the pedaling. Needless to say, it was a pretty exciting ride, and we did some "off-roading"of sorts, haha.

On Tuesday when we went contacting it was reeeeally hot compared to normal. Don't know where that came from. That evening just before English we found out that Sister Marinković hadn't been feeling very well, so the sisters didn't come and we had to fend for ourselves, haha. When we got home, I made tacos for dinner for the first time in forever. I couldn't find a proper cheese grater, though, so I ended up using a potato peeler to shred a whole block of cheese by hand. That kinda took a while, but the tacos tasted good in the end.

Wednesday started off with another visit to the local visa office. Yaaay. After that whole thing, we had district council (which is district meeting, but with a new name) at the Nields' place, and we talked about the importance of the message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. After that Elder Nield had a meeting with a member over at the church that I had to be a part of, so we did that, and then we tried to have our Book of Mormon class, but no one showed up, not even the sisters (since Sister Marinković still wasn't feeling well). What a shame. Thankfully we got Waffle Boss for dinner, so that helped make up for it, haha.

As for Thursday, Elder Nield and I had another meeting with a member at the church, so that was our morning. From there we took Elder Nield to get Gyros Master, and he discovered that he really likes it, haha. That evening we had English, and it turned out that Sister Marinkovic was feeling better, so we had the full group back together.


Friday started off with another trip to the visa office, but hopefully this was the last one, since now Elder Bird has his visa! Finally. Later on, when we were doing our Facebook work, we had some pretty good discussions with some people. In the meantime, the Relief Society sisters were all downstairs making food together, and they happened to invite us (and Elder Nield) to help eat the results. They'd made stuffed peppers, a fairly traditional dish from around here, and it was pretty darn good.

Saturday of course started off with us all cleaning the church together, like usual, and then we had a little meeting to plan out some stuff, such as the fact we're going to try to start a class thing to go through the church's 12 step Addiction Recovery program with anyone that wants to come. We had lunch at Gyros Master, and then some studies before the sisters had a lesson with "Shawn". When they were done with that, I had the opportunity to do the "baptismal interview" to double check and make sure he's ready. That's the first one I've ever done, and it was pretty cool. In any case, "Shawn" is going to be baptized this Saturday! Just after that interview, when we did our daily Facebook work, I ended up teaching almost the entire first lesson to a guy over chat. It's really interesting when stuff like that happens, since they very often live off in distant parts of Serbia where we don't have missionaries or members, and where missionaries rarely (if ever) go. After that, the sisters had their German class, and we attended. That was great as always.


Yesterday, Sunday, of course started off with going to church. During sacrament meeting the sisters had a special musical number, and so I accompanied them for that. We also had the District President there with us from Belgrade, and he spoke. For Sunday School, I taught a lesson on the Word of Wisdom to help get people to realize the potential need to come to the Addiction Recovery course we'll be having. We had a lot of good participation for that lesson. Then during our class for Elders' Quorum, "John" received the priesthood! That is, he now has the authority to do stuff like baptize or bless the sacrament (bread and water in memory of Jesus Christ). Right after that, we had a great lesson about the priesthood, that authority, from another visiting leader that came from Belgrade with the district president. We also had a great dinner at the Nields (though the cook, Sister Nield, might disagree, haha) that evening, and it was a good Sunday.

Anyway, your homework for this week is to read Doctrine & Covenants 20. It talks a little bit about Joseph Smith and how the Book of Mormon is proof that God speaks even today, but also about how baptisms should be done, and the priesthood authority that is required for ordinances like baptism to be valid. It's a fairly important section.


Anyway, here are a few photos! Sorry if they're not terribly interesting this time. One is of my soles, the other is of the church's yard. Have a great week!

--
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb
Croatia