Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Monday, December 26, 2016

Week 19: A Scarf, A Green Book, One Call, and an Awful Onion

Hello friends and family! Merry Christmas to all! I hope you've been having a great holiday season. This week was a pretty good one for me, and I hope it was for you also.

On Monday evening, our branch had a Christmas-themed FHE activity together. There was much singing, some testimonies given of Christ our Lord, as well as food and games. One of the best parts was when we each got a piece of paper taped to our back, and we went around writing nice things about people on their backs. There was so much love in that room right then, even though people hadn't yet looked at what was written on their paper. Right then I definitely felt like these people are my family. We also had a White Elephant gift exchange. Since it's started getting cold recently, I'd been planning on buying a scarf, but hadn't yet gotten around to it. However, the gift that I got out of the exchange at this activity was a red plaid scarf! It was a little Christmas miracle to me that I ended up with it. From that point we had some food that people had brought to share, and then some of us played a game called 4 Women On A Couch. I don't really want to try to explain it here, but I think I can just mention that it's pretty confusing in the best way possible, super funny, and everyone loved it, even if they were just watching.

Tuesday we went contacting on the street. No one really listened to us. That evening we had English Conversation Group scheduled, but not a single soul showed up. Tako je život, ponekad. It was really weird that no one showed up, though.

Wednesday we started off with the McAlpins briefly having us over so I could help with some computer stuff, and they also quickly fed us breakfast so we could still get working on time. Having such a great breakfast (and generally something out of the ordinary in the morning) really started the day off well. When we went out contacting right after that, a lot more people than usual seemed open and willing to listen. I think something like 4 people were willing to listen to us, with 2 open to meet again.

Thursday we headed off to Zagreb, Croatia, for our zone's Christmas Conference. We met up with some other missionaries in Sremska Mitrovica to get carpool stuff situated, and I ended up in the back row of "the silver bullet" (the mission's 8-seat van) with Elder Froc, from my MTC group, and Elder Rice. That was a pretty fun car ride. Once at the mission office, we all had our conference-y stuff, including talking about setting goals and keeping high expectations and such. Very good stuff. From there we all went out into Centar to go caroling. It was really fun to be there singing with other missionaries, being "a light unto the world". We also got to explore downtown Zagreb a bit and see cool Christmas stuff they have set up there. When we got back to the office, there was hot chocolate prepared for us, and we all got to sit and talk a bit. After that stuff, we went to the mission home for the night where we had a Christmas talent show! Everything was great, whether it was silly music, or smaller groups of missionaries singing really well. Then we played some games, and watched a documentary about Krešimir Ćosić.

Friday we started off with Sister Grant talking to us about using music in our missionary efforts as well as our personal lives. She referred to the church's music as "the green scriptures" since the hymnals are always green. As a gift, we each received one of the newly translated Croatian Hymnals! The first official hymnal in any of the languages/countries in our mission area. President Grant also talked to us about some really good stuff, including how to help avoid people ditching us for appointments! That's going to come in handy. To close that meeting, some of shared testimonies, and it was really good. These people are the best.

For the drive home, I got to be the driver! This was my first time driving since becoming a missionary. It was pretty interesting though, since we were stuck waiting to get through the Croatia/Serbia border for 4.5 hours. There were some parts where most people would just turn their cars off while we all waited for the line to move any significant amount. We eventually got through, and it was all ok. Quite an adventure.

On Saturday night we went over to the McAlpins' so that Elder Osborn could Skype his family, since they got special permission to do it a night early. While we were there, the McAlpins also fed us waffles, since Sister McAlpin found out that waffles on Christmas morning are a tradition for my family. The McAlpins are like having grandparents that live just on the other side of town, and it's pretty great. After Elder Osborn and I retired to our apartment for the night, I opened up all the "wait until Christmas to open this!" letters that various people sent with me. Thanks so much if you were one of the people that sent a card or letter!

Christmas Stocking my Mom sent from home
Yesterday was Christmas! We had our branch Christmas program, and it was really good. Small branches like ours generally don't sound entirely on-key for hymns, but it doesn't even matter ;) After the program we all had a big Christmas lunch together. After that Elder Osborn and I did some weekly planning before we headed over to the McAlpins for me to get to Skype my family. In case you hadn't already guessed, it was really good to get to talk to them (I love you guys!), and even briefly see my cat. From there we went to visit a sick investigator and give a blessing of healing, and then we headed home.

Skyping with my sister Kayla, my mom, and my dad on Christmas!
The last week or two, there's been a mysterious stench in our kitchen, and we've been searching for the source of it for quite a while. Last night we finally found it. Hidden away behind a pile of rags, in a little plastic bag, we found an onion. A red onion that seemed like it had been rotting for years, though it was probably "only" a few months. It smelled beyond awful. We got rid of that thing fast. Hopefully our apartment will go back to not smelling weird fairly soon =P

As for your homework, I'd encourage you to figure out a way to serve the people around you, even though the Christmas season is technically over. Figure out even one simple way to serve, and go do it! Be a light to the world.

Have a great week! Enjoy your breaks from school and such, and have a Happy New Year!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

Monday, December 19, 2016

Week 18: A New Companion and Some Crazy Dogs

Hello Everyone!

As you heard about last week, I got a new companion on Tuesday! Again, his name is Elder Osborn. Elder Jex and I drove up to Belgrade on Tuesday morning, I left him there, and brought Elder Osborn back in his place. The rest of the day we did some planning, and had English Conversation Group, like normal.

Elder Jex waving...I'm sure I'll see him whenever we go to Belgrade.
Wednesday we got to work, of course, talking to people on the street for most of the day. We had a lesson fall through. I made a breakfast burrito for my dinner. Nothing else too interesting happened.

Thursday we had a member lesson scheduled at the church, but as we were getting there we encountered him on the street near the church, and he said there were some dogs, and to come see, while looking worried. We get there to the church gate, and there are two large angry dogs in the church's yard, barking at us. We knew they belonged to the blind guy who lives next door, though, so we went and knocked on his window. He opens it after a bit, we inform him of the issue, and he says his not-blind wife isn't home, but that he'll come get the dogs onto their leashes. These are pretty big dogs, btw. We lead our blind neighbor over to the church's gate and show him in. As we're trying to guide him to the dogs that trust him, the dogs are growling at us and looking like they're going to attack us. So, we backed off and let our neighbor do his thing. We tried to direct him  from a distance to where the dogs were in the yard, but it most definitely didn't work. Eventually the dogs crawled back through the hole in the fence from whence they came, and we led our neighbor back to his house. Since then, the hole in the fence seeems to have been blocked off from their side, but we're still wary of vicious dogs as we arrive to the church each time.

Friday was just the regular thing, going contacting on the street. Though, we did talk to two people that said they'd like to meet up with us again! That's a first for me. Later that night we volunteered at American Corner like usual to help local students practice speaking English.

Me and Elder Jex at American Corner
Saturday we helped plan our branch Family Home Evening that'll be tonight, and then finally got a chance to go clean the muddy paw-prints that were all over the church's very large porch (from when the dogs invaded). After that, we had a lesson with our investigator that seems closest to being ready to be baptized. We still have some work there, but she'd be an awesome addition to the Novi Sad branch, and we love helping her build her faith. Shortly after that lesson we had it scheduled to have a lesson with one of the two people from Friday that agreed to meet up with us. He didn't show up.

Yesterday, Sunday we had church like usual. President McAlpin gave the talk in sacrament meeting, and it was pretty touching. He told some stories/parables about how we can be more loving and serve others, as this Christmas season ought to remind us, as well as about how loving of an act it was for our Father in heaven to send his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, in order to save all of us from sin and death. "O How Great the Plan of Our God!"

After church we got Elder Osborn set up in the computer system, and then a bit later had dinner at the McAlpins' like usual. Really good food, like always. But, this time the McAlpins had invited a married Serbian couple that they know through their humanitarian work. It was really great to have them there. I love getting to talk to people of other faiths who are doing such great work too.

Later that night, once we'd returned home, we ended up listening to multiple talks by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. He's such a good speaker. I noticed as we listened to those talks that many of them are about the hopeless, and how Christ has felt their despair, and how we ought to never fear, but rather take up hope and just keep trying. He gives such hope, such courage, and such reassurance when he talks about the loving but impossibly difficult path that the Savior walked for us, so that we never need be alone. I know that God, our Heavenly Father, loves us more than we can imagine, and that's why he sent Christ to be our Savior and Redeemer. He understands every pain, both spiritual and physical, that we ever will experience. If we turn to Him, we allow Him to help us through difficult times. I invite you to learn of Him, and thus find hope and peace even in hard times.

So, your homework is to listen to None Were With Him, by Elder Holland. Share it with your friends and family, too.

Thanks for all of your support! Have a great week.
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

Monday, December 12, 2016

Week 17: Floating Lanterns and Transfer Announcements

Hello friends and family!

This week we didn't have many big things happen (except for transfer announcements), but we had plenty of little interesting things. As for transfers, since those are always exciting... I'm staying in Novi Sad! Elder Jex isn't, though. He's switching places with Elder Osborn, who's currently one of the zone leaders in Belgrade/Београд. Elder Osborn has served here in Novi Sad before, and a lot of the people here are excited for him to return tomorrow. I'm excited too.

On Tuesday for lunch we made MONSTROUS burgers. If I remember correctly, they were each a pound of ground beef. We had them with bacon, on Lepinja (the closest thing to buns over here). Quality meal. Later that night we taught some beginning English, and then had our regular English Conversation Group (ECG) with the more advanced English-learners.

Enjoying Class
Wednesday, we baked a pair of apple pies (in preparation for ECG the next day). We didn't have entirely appropriate pie-tins, but we made do with a small cake pan and also a bundt pan...they turned out pretty well.

Thursday, we got transfer announcements! Once again, I'm staying here but getting Elder Osborn for a new companion. Later in the day we had a lesson with one of the members, and he was a bit hungry. All we had there at the church, though, were tomatoes. And salt. So he ate diced tomatoes... with salt. About 5 tomatoes, btw. Of course we also had ECG that night, and treated them to apple pie. They were all pretty sad when they found out that Elder Jex was leaving.

On Friday I got my first Visa! In this mission, having 5 countries, the missionaries collect quite a number of visas and border stamps in their passports. We're the MUP's best customers (MUP = police station thing where you can get visas).

Later on, we met up with someone to show them a bit about FamilySearch. Since I didn't understand any of what he or Elder Jex were saying, and there are two computers here in the Family History Center at the church, I used the other computer to try and figure out how to do my own research (all I've known how to do before is merge duplicates...). And I figured it out! I learned how to search old records that they have in a big database and use that to fill in blanks in my family tree. I found a few people that had clear records from a census, but who didn't exist in the family tree system. Family History is pretty fun, actually. I'd highly recommend looking into it.

Lastly on Friday, after volunteering at American Corner (help students practice speaking English), we went into Centar where there was a little bit of a fair. They have a bunch of Christmas lights hanging across the squares there. We bought some delicious dough-cylinder things that are apparently called "Kürtőskalács". 

They're Hungarian I guess, so I don't exactly know how to say that name either =P They tasted excellent, though.

Yesterday, Sunday, we had dinner at the McAlpins', who have a window facing the river. As we were there, a group of people at the riverfront started lighting floating lanterns and sending them off. It was really quite a sight. As the first ones got further away and new ones were lit, you could see them like a trail of orange stars following the wind. I really like the Christmas season.

Your homework this week is to read 3 Nephi 12, and keep track of Principles and Promises. We taught Sunday School on this yesterday. With every Principle we can keep, there is a Promise given with it. As it says in Doctrine & Covenants 130:20-21, "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." This means that IF you want blessings, THEN you have to live the associated principle. IF you live a certain principle, THEN you will receive the associated blessing (for my mathematically minded friends, this is obviously a biconditional statement, and thus the two things are logically equivalent). So anyway, go through that chapter, and watch for these associated Principles and Promises. If there are any Promises listed that you want, begin living the associated Principle.

Principles and Promises like this are everywhere throughout holy scripture. Keep an eye out for them. I know as you live according to good principles, you will have more joy in life.

Also, we decorated the apartment for Christmas. Here's a photo of our tree ;)

Window Cling Christmas Tree...easy to pack up and put away later!
Have an awesome week!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

A little note from Ryan's Mom:
Elder Echols and Elder Jex apparently had fun taking silly pictures this week that make you think twice about how gravity works. See pictures below. I'm so glad these two have enjoyed being companions!