Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Monday, October 16, 2017

Week 61: An Artist, Two Serbs, and a Lot of Mountains

Dear friends and family,

This week the weather was really good! Like, reeeally good. Perfect, even. There were some days where the mornings started of foggy, but all the rest was sunny, but not too hot. Fall is great.

Fall is beautiful.
Last Monday after email we got Kebab, and then had a lesson with "Mary". Even though all three of us had fasted for her to get an answer about baptism, she said she hadn't gotten one. Anyway, we taught her about temples and ordinances, and it ended up coming back around to the priesthood and baptism, of course. The rest of the day was just the normal stuff. Tuesday wasn't very interesting. We did have ECG, and only one student came. So, we played Pictionary with him to work on vocabulary.

On Wednesday we ended up talking to a guy that lived right next to the Croatian border. You know, I've talked to some Slovenes that use a number of Croatian words, and I've spoken to some Croatians that use a number of Slovene words, but I've never before spoken to someone like this guy who spoke an even 50% of each. It was really interesting. I ended up giving him a copy of The Book of Mormon and a pamphlet about the Restoration. He said he'd at least read the pamphlet. Let's hope he does. Shortly after that we had district meeting in the park, and the sisters brought Oreos; it was a good district meeting. That evening we had a lesson with "Jane" and had a member in on the lesson. We didn't get to do a lot of talking, but she opened up to us about some tragic things that've happened in her past and how no one has answers, but she's still searching anyway. We did get to quickly summarize the Plan of Happiness for her, especially of the fact of the resurrection, and that all things will be made right in the end. We just need to get her to read the Book of Mormon so that she'll see that it has the answers she's looking for.

On Thursday morning we met a former investigator and his friend. And, when I say former investigator, this guy new the missionaries something like 20 years ago when he was a lot younger, about their age. Since then he's had plenty of contact with the church and been to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, but it's been a while since he's had much real contact with the missionaries. They were really cool guys, and both spoke near-perfect American English. And it also turns out that the guy founded a local church around here, and his friend is a pastor there. The meeting was mostly to get to know them some, but they were really awesome and I think we could have some good discussions with them in the future. We'll see what happens. The rest of the day was just normal stuff.

Friday we started off with a lesson with a long-time investigator that we've met with a few times before, and we mostly just answered his questions. He has some really good questions. A bit later we met up with the sisters and a painter guy that they know for him to show us his studio. I think one of his family members is a member of the church. He's a pretty good artist. Also, it turns out he has a didgerydoo (does anyone know how to spell that? It's a long tube thing from Australia used for making sound) and can play it pretty well, including doing the circle-breathing.

The art studio we got to visit with the sisters.
That afternoon we had a lesson scheduled with "Mary", but we couldn't find anyone else to come on the lesson, so we just walked with her around town a bit. While we were doing that some other Christian guys handed us some little pamphlets. It was pretty funny. At the end of the day we went tracting, and found a little street with some VERY fancy houses. One of the last ones was a lady with her kids that actually listened for a second to hear what the Book of Mormon is and such, but she didn't have a specific time that we could come back, so we left her a copy of The Book of Mormon and a Restoration pamphlet, so she hopefully does some reading and calls us.

On Saturday we tried to go renew my visa, but the place was closed, so we did a bunch of normal stuff. Later on we had weekly planning, and then did some contacting more in the evening. We ran into to younger guys that were apparently Serbians. I had a fun time trying to switch back to speaking Serbian for them. Even though the one guy was kinda feisty asking questions about why our church would be anything special, they were willing to listen to my answers, and like always it just came down to whether or not the Book of Mormon is true, so I gave them the Serbian copy that I had in my bag and he said he'd see if it was devilish nonsense or actually something good. They were some pretty funny guys.

Yesterday was Sunday, so we of course had church, and it was great. A member came that hadn't come in a long time, and everyone was really glad to see her. We heard some good talks, I taught a lesson for priesthood and suddenly lost any Slovene-speaking abilities that I previously had, and after church we all had a branch lunch together. Elder Jensen and I did some contacting and such, and then there was a broadcast for the Europe Area from Frankfurt, and Elder Ballard of the 12 Apostles was there. He talked about miracles, and it was really great. I think stuff is going to change across Europe as a whole, pretty soon.

Today we had a big runaround of confusion as pertaining to my Slovenia visa, but the situation was resolved within an hour. We did some contacting and stuff, bought groceries, did a very small amount of emailing, and then hit the road! We went with the sisters and Elder Monson, of the senior couple here, to go to a place called Velika Planina. It's a place really high in the mountains with some great views. It also reminded me a whole lot of Lord of The Rings, in some spots. Rolling hills in the mountains with a mix of plains and trees and rocks scattered throughout, and I felt like an army of elves was going to come over the hill, or something. It's a really cool place.

Me, Sister Brown, Elder Monson, Sister Crosby, and Elder Jensen at Velika Planina.
Velika Planina is in the Kamnik Alps.
Your homework for this week is to read Mosiah 13, where a prophet, Abinadi, talks about Christ and why he's important for us. Keeping the commandments is good, but it's only because of Christ that we can be saved.

Velika Planina is a high elevation settlement of traditional herders dwellings.
Here are a few photos from the week. Go on some adventures this week! Enjoy it!

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Week 60: Chocolate Cookies in a Pot

Hello, friends and family! Greetings from Celje. The weather has been really good recently. It's of course getting cooler here and turning into fall, so that's nice, and it also hasn't been nearly as rainy this week.

So, last Monday we ended up having another lesson with that high-school kid from a while back. The first time around, he brought a friend and they didn't seem serious about anything. I don't remember how we ended up with another lesson scheduled, but it happened, and this time he brought a different friend. It was mostly the same nonsense, especially at the start, but eventually we got them to see a bit of the positive impact that this could have on their lives, and they got a bit more serious for a while. At the end they definitely started joking around again, but it was fine. We'll see where that goes. If we can get them to take stuff seriously, they seem to have some good potential. At the end of the day we wandered around town some, and found a Chinese Store. We went in to look around, and they had a bunch of random cool stuff like super-mini decks of cards, some swords, purses, etc. It was a very interesting place. When we got home for the night, Elder Jensen made a boatload of chocolate cookies. We didn't have enough other containers to put them in, so we ended up storing them in a large cooking pot for the whole week.

Cookies in a Pot.
Tuesday morning we pretty quickly found a lady who was willing to meet up with us to learn more, so that was cool. The slightly less cool part was that she doesn't have a phone. Fast-forward a few days to when we were supposed to have a lesson, and she didn't show up and now we can't re-schedule. Lame. But, life goes on. Back on Tuesday, we of course had ECG in the evening, and this time we had a spiritual thought after. We played the video "A Piano's Purpose", and really quick talked about how sometimes we feel broken or forgotten, but everything can and will be made right through Christ. Really quick after that, we talked to "Jane" some about her religious background. Apparently she grew up Catholic, was looking into Hari Krishna for a while, and now is generally into meditation.

A quaint little street in Slovenia.
On Wednesday we started of with district meeting, which is always good, and then got döner kebab for lunch, which is even better. Shortly thereafter, we got a last-minute lesson set up with the guy that used to work at the Frankfurter stand near our apartment that recently shut down. It was a fairly interesting conversation, but he really really likes talking, so we didn't actually get to teach him anything about the church or Book of Mormon like planned. Immediately after that we had a lesson with "Mary", the one who had been on baptismal date, but then entirely vanished for 2 or 3 weeks because she was extremely sick. Apparently she missed over 2 weeks of high school. In any case, now she's back! But in that lesson she told us that she really isn't sure about baptism right now. She said maybe in a year or so. We're of course trying to figure out why she wouldn't want the blessings of baptism right now. On the way home that night, we talked to a lady that was holding a cat, and she agreed for us to come to her place the next day to teach her. Apparently she lives right around the corner from there. So on Thursday, we had a total of 5 lessons scheduled with women, so we had Elder Monson on call for part of the morning to help us out with that. Some of the lessons were set up fairly last minute, but the only one that actually showed up to their lesson was "Mary". We re-taught her the restoration, and it was great.

Friday morning we got a text from "Jane" (that mom that came to general conference last week who always brings her kid to ECG) asking if we could have a lesson in about an hour. So, we started calling a bunch of members to find one that could come to the lesson with us. During that process we even accidentally called the Croatian mother of one of the members. Everyone was busy, except for the last person on the branch roster, and he's typically busy with work, so it seemed fairly miraculous. Anyway, we all arrive at the church for the lesson, and it turns out that our member friend and "Jane" already know each other a bit. Another interesting thing about the situation is that the member speaks English and only a bit of Slovene, and "Jane" speaks Slovene and only a bit of English, but they both understand the other language pretty well. So, the lesson was mostly in Slovene, but whenever the member would have some input, he'd speak in English, and everyone could still understand. It was great! At the end of the lesson, "Jane" told us some about the meditation stuff that she's been looking into recently. She really seems to be searching for answers and how to find peace. So this is perfect! She's seeming very promising. Later that day we had another lesson with "Mary," though her bus to come into town was late, of course making her late too. So, the lesson had to be shorter than planned, since there was a branch activity starting soon. We taught her about fasting, and asked her to fast on Sunday to get an answer about baptism. Right after that we had the branch activity, which was great. It was just a bunch of games, but a lot of people showed up and it was wonderful. Elder Jensen and I brought the rest of the cookies that he had baked, and some other people brought treats too.

Saturday afternoon we had a lesson with someone that had talked with the missionaries a bit last transfer, but never really learned about the church or how our message can actually really help people. He opened up to us a lot, and we explained a bit of how faith in Christ can help with every-day challenges, and we set up to come back again another day. He's had a rough time in the past, and I really like the idea of him potentially soon turning his life around and finding hope. That's what the gospel does for people.

On Sunday we of course had church, before which we had branch council. It's great to see members working together to do their best to help other members of the branch. Also, for church itself, "Mary" came and it was great to see her, and there was also a guy there who apparently is a member that hadn't come to church for at least 3 years. There was also generally a good number of people there. After church Elder Jensen and I took some time to organize the little cabinet where we the missionaries keep all of our pamphlets and cards and such, and then a bit later went over to the Monsons for a meal with them and the sisters. As Sister Crosby was sure to remind us, yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving Eve, and today is Canadian Thanksgiving! So if there are any Canadians out there, happy Thanksgiving! Later that evening Elder Jensen and I met up with a member that hasn't been to church in a long time because of some hard feelings. At this point we've visited with him a few times, so we're getting to be friends more, but he's having a hard time seeing why he'd come back to church. The answer of course is because we all need the church!

Sister Crosby wishing her family at home a Happy Thanksgiving (Canadian)
Your homework for this week is to read some more of General Conference! I know you probably watched it last week, but now the talks are up on LDS.org for you to read. So, go back and read some more! Try to apply something to your life.

Here are some photos of cool buildings around Celje, and an actual watch-maker. Also, last week there were some special yogurts that were flavored like American things, such as apple pie or blueberry muffins, so there's a picture of one of those, too. Have a great week!

Watchmaker Shop
Yummy Yogurt

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

Week 59: Firewood, Burgers, and Conference

Hello again, family and friends! I hope you all enjoyed General Conference this weekend! And if you didn't maybe you should go and watch it right now ;) Watching General Conference will definitely help you have a better life than will reading this email. In any case, the weather has been a lot better this week, in case you were wondering. Very good weather.

After email last Monday, not much happened except that we got Kebab, which is the only fast-food place that we've eaten at here in Celje. It's pretty darn good. For our missionary work that night, we did a lot of phone calls out of the area book, seeing if long-past investigators wanted to learn more about why The Book of Mormon is important for their greater happiness. Also, that night I discovered that you can play a guitar like a Ukelele if you just don't play the two lowest strings (there's a guitar in our apartment that is missing the two lowest strings). I also tried playing the accordion upside-down; it was kinda rough.

On Tuesday we had Elder Jensen put together an outline for a discussion for English Conversation Group, since all missionaries make one. We also went contacting, during which time we ran across a covered woman, clearly of the Islam faith. Elder Jensen left it to me to talk to her, and turns out she's not from Slovenia, so my speaking Croatian/Bosnian/WhateverItIs helped. That discussion reminded me a lot of being in Sarajevo, where almost everyone is of the Islam faith. In the end she took a copy of the Book of Mormon in Serbian, and said she'd read it. I always carry a Serbian one with me ;)

Wednesday we had interviews with President Melonakos, and that was great. It was also of course great getting to talk to Sister Melonakos and everyone else while we were waiting. They're such awesome people. A bit later we had a lesson with that investigator that needs to get married to her boyfriend before she can be baptized. We're still trying to figure out how to work that out. Then we went out to the edge of out area to visit an older member that has a hard time walking, and so never comes to church. He's a really cool guy, and speaks slow enough that you can understand every word that comes out of his mouth. He also really really loves reading The Book of Mormon, which is awesome to hear. Even though he can't come to church, at least he's keeping up his reading. He had a well-used (well-loved) copy in Slovene, and a reeeeeally well-used/loved copy in Croatian that looks like it's been around for a long time. That night we heard from the sisters that one of their investigators didn't show up to a lesson, and then we ran across him in town about 20 minutes later. So, we called the sisters and told them where he was so they could come and help him show up to the lesson. Got him.

Me and Elder Sharp on exchanges in Ljubljana.
On Thursday morning the Ljubljana Elders drove here to Celje to start that exchange that didn't work out quite right last time. So, Elder Sharp and I drove back to Ljubljana, got a low-quality lunch at a grocery store, and promptly had a lesson with a semi-recently baptized member. It was kinda awkward though, since it was supposed to be with him and his girlfriend and we were going to set up a date for her to be baptized, but she wasn't there since they were apparently then in the process of breaking up, so we hear. But, we taught him about Repentance and how to use the Book of Mormon's index to help his studies. A bit later we had a lesson with a guy that's apparently a DJ from south America, but he speaks pretty perfect English. He had a lot of good questions and comments about the Book of Mormon, the history involved with that, and that he knows very firmly that it's true. We also talked about the logical consequences of that, such as Joseph Smith then being a prophet of God, and that the church he established is God's church and that the authority (Priesthood) necessary to perform ordinances (like baptism) that are essential to being saved is only found in this church (if you have questions about that, please ask your closest Mormon friend about it. That can include me). From there we went to the church to have ECG, after which we had a spiritual thought about commandments. A discussion started up off of that, and we ended up teaching all of them why we don't drink coffee, tea, or alcohol, nor smoke or do drugs. That stuff is part of what's called the Word of Wisdom, which is a commandment from God to keep us healthy. Again, if you have questions about that, please ask your closest Mormon friend about it. When we got back to the apartment from there, we realized that we left my suitcase in the trunk of the car, parked way back at the church. Thankfully the Ljubljana sisters were in a position to help, and so they drove the car over. They also gave us each an apple, and it was great.

The beautiful mountains of Slovenia.
Friday we headed out early in normal clothes and got on a train with the sisters to go out to the home of a family of church members. We got off at an obscure train station where the father met us, and then drove us up into the Slovene mountains/hills to their home. What a great view. We helped them move a giant pile of firewood up a hill and stacked nicely in their shed so they have it all ready for winter. In the meantime, the daughter came home from school, the mother was cooking food, and we heard from the father the story of how the family joined the church, as well as how he met his wife. What a great family. They also had an old friendly dog, and a friendly grey cat. At the end they fed us lunch/dinner (it was a reeeally big pile of wood, so it took plenty of time) and then the father drove us back into Ljubljana. What a splendid time. When Elder Sharp and I got back into town, we rushed over to the apartment, changed into missionary clothes, then rushed over to the church to show up on time for a lesson that didn't show up. So, we did a roleplay and went home to finish the day with language study.

Helping move a lot of firewood.
Lots of firewood is needed for the upcoming winter.
On Saturday we did some studies, then got in the car and drove back to Celje to finish the exchange. When we arrived, we went with Elders Jensen and Smith plus Sisters Brown and Crosby to Celje's best restaurant, Stari Pisker. The sisters split a burger, and we 4 Elders ordered 6 burgers, meaning that we each had a burger and a half. Man, those were some good burgers. Right after that we all went to the church for district meeting, featuring our honored guests of the Zone leaders Elders Smith and Sharp. While we were having that meeting, there was apparently a wedding happening outside, just down the road, since we could hear an accordion and a baritone playing music together, plus a lot of cheering, and then a lot of honking as everyone got in their cars for their honking-car promenade 3 times around the city. Anyway, after district meeting, Elder Jensen went home and had weekly planning, and that was about it.

Check out the size of those burgers!
Good food and good company.
Yesterday, Sunday, we headed over to the church first thing, and starting at 8am the men watched the priesthood session of General Conference, and the women watched the women's session in a different room. Since this church only has one TV, we men were all squeezed into the office, watching it on a computer, but it was really great. It was also really interesting how the language thing went this time. There's someone here in Slovenia that recieved and translated the transcript early, and he set up his own way to put subtitles on his computer screen, so he played the conference sessions with the subtitles in Slovene on his own computer, and broadcast that out to the other branches in Slovenia. Anyway, for the other sessions we were all together in the main room. We watched the first session, had a 10-minute break to have some snacks, then watched the second session. There was a fair number of people there, including some people who aren't members of the church, and it was great. Right at the end of that first full session, our young friend from ECG, "Phil", and his mom, "Jane", showed up and watched the second session. Apparently Elders Smith and Jensen talked with her a bit at the end of ECG on Thursday while I was on exchanges, and got her phone number to send her details about General Conference, and they came! They're really awesome. After the second full session, they even came with everyone over to the Monsons' place for a big lunch/dinner together before the 3rd full session. That was really good food, and some really good company. Also, "Jane" took a copy of The Book of Mormon to start reading, and she said they'd probably come to church next week too. Elder Jensen went over a bit early to the church before the third session and ended up teaching a member part of one of our lessons for practice. That last session had less people come, but it was of course still really good. So, at the end of the day we'd watched something like 7 or 8 hours of General Conference. We still need to see the last session, too, haha.

Beautiful Slovenia.
If you hadn't guessed, your homework for this week is to watch General Conference! Maybe you already have, and that's great, but if you haven't, you should! If you watch General Conference listening for something that you can apply to your life right now, you'll always find something. God speaks to us through Prophets and Apostles, and confirms the truth of their words in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. So, go look at the list of general conference talks, and pick one that seems to call out to you. Apply it in your life. Repeat.

Here are some photos of the Slovene mountains/hills, me and Elder Sharp in Ljubljana, and then lunch at Stari Pisker. Have a great week!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb