Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Week 57: Rain, Frankfurters, Ljubljana, and more Rain



Hello everyone!

This week it has been raining even more than last week. Thankfully it's not too heavy of a rain usually, but it just doesn't stop. My umbrella has been pretty useful recently.

In any case, Tuesday was kinda uneventful. Just some lessons that didn't show up, and a pretty good ECG. After that, while it was raining, we went contacting, but there was definitely no one out. So, we figured out something useful to do for the benefit of our area book. That is, we wrote down some house numbers at certain intersections. So, we were walking around in the rain, white shirts and ties, with umbrellas, writing down house numbers in a little notepad. I felt like we were Google Maps, but before cars or the internet got invented.
 
Wednesday, we had a district meeting with the Monsons there for the first time. I had a short bit of time to use on programming to help with stuff that keeps the mission office's statistics running, so that was great. Later on, while we were tracting, there ended up being a guy sitting in his car right outside his apartment building, with practically no pants. Apparently he'd gone to get something from his car, but forgot his keys and phone, so he was kinda stuck there. We let him use our phone to let his wife know to come home from work as fast as she could.

On Thursday we had lunch and the Frankfurter stand right on the corner, since we found out that it was closing down forever at the end of the day. Just went out of business. So, we had the last 2 sausages that the place sold. They were actually pretty darn good. A bit later as we were walking by again, we saw that the guy was cleaning out the dippin-dots (ice cream) stand attached to the frankfurter stand, and stopped to talk to him again. He ended up giving the leftovers for free. I guess that amount that we got normally would've cost 7 Euros each, even though the cups were about the size of a normal American portion. For a little bit of reference, that much money in Sarajevo would get you a full nice meal with fries and a drink. Good thing it was free. Anyway, ECG that night was combined with the sisters'group since we each only had 1 participant come. I think it's really interesting how much the attendance fluctuates for ECG. When we were contacting at the end of the night, we found a cool young guy that agreed to meet up with us, and he even asked if he could bring friends! (no one ever asks that, so it was cool.)


The next morning, Friday, we were contacting, and Elder Jensen contacted another young guy that was walking behind us a bit, and he ended up being super cool and agreed to meet up with us. When we asked if he knew of anyone else that might be interested, he said he could see if he could bring some friends when we meet up. Later on in the day, we went to visit the family of the Elders' Quorum President, the guy from Peru. Man, what a great family. Since they live in a different little town pretty close, we had to get there by train, including a transfer. While we were at their place talking with them, there was some switching back and forth between Spanish and Slovene. There was one part when it was in Spanish and I was whisper-translating for Elder Jensen, but then it quickly got switched to a very Spanish-y Slovene that Elder Jensen could definitely understand, but I didn't notice the switch and just kept translating into English for a second until Elder Jensen told me that it was in Slovene. Oops, haha. At the end we had to run out the door and be quickly driven to the train station to catch our train back. On our way out the door, we got handed a napkin full of cookies, and it was great.

Saturday was when we had that lesson with the first cool young dude that asked if he could bring friends. Turns out he was just a little bit too cool, and even though he did show up and brought a friend, they definitely weren't taking anything seriously, and it was a waste of time. They might have even come just to mess with us. In any case, life moves on, and we continue searching for those prepared to hear the word of God.


Sunday was pretty crazy. We got up at 3:30am so we could get ready and catch a train to go to Ljubljana for district conference (it's like Stake Conference, but there's no actual stake, just a district). I really hate early mornings, and I couldn't sleep on the train, so that was kinda rough, but the conference was really good. We started of with Priesthood session for the men, then the general session, lunch, and the "adult" session (but in a place this small, that's the same thing as another general session). A lot of really good things were talked about, and we had someone visiting from the Europe Area presidency (I think that's who it was... I don't feel very informed on these things), and it was pretty great. After that, since our whole missionary zone of 12 was there, we went into Center (downtown) to do some group contacting. We sang as a group, and had some of us go split off and talk to people. That was pretty great. There was one point when there was a guy basically preaching against us, and that was interesting. Nothing crazy, though. After that we all had dinner together at the Monsons' aparment there in Ljubljana (they're still somewhat transitioning between there and Celje), and it was some great food and great company.


On our way over to the Ljubljana Elders'apartment with them as we were walking through the city, there were dozens of people with Slovenia flags (and various things like that) gathering at cafés and bars and giant outdoor projector screens to watch sports. Turns out last night was Slovenia vs Serbia in the finals of the European basketball thing, and people were getting hyped. Based on the cheering we could hear from the Ljubljana Elders'apartment, I think Slovenia won.

If you all are keeping up with these emails, you might remember that we had two investigators with dates planned for their baptisms. As an update on that, it's looking like neither will go through on the days originally planned. We haven't been able to meet up with them, since one hasn't been answering their phone and the other doesn't have a phone. The one without a phone also has memory problems, so that doesn't help much. We'll figure it out eventually, haha.


One thing that's been on my mind since we were singing yesterday has been "grace vs works". That guy that was preaching against us was mostly saying that our religion preaches too much about works, and not enough about the Grace of God. Saying that we're trying to earn our way to heaven, and discounting Christ's role in it all. But we know, like he does, that no one but Christ has ever earned their way to heaven. We're just imperfect people that fall short, no matter what. That's why we need grace. A point that we disagreed is where we go from there. I know that I've assigned you this homework before, but like I recommended to that man, you should go listen to His Grace Is Sufficient, by Brad Wilcox. He talks about the proper relation between Grace and our works. Also, go ahead and read this talk by By President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, The Gift of Grace.


Enjoy the pictures...just some shots of what Slovenia looks like. Have a great week!

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Week 56: Chinese Food, Stroller Moms, and Baptismal Dates




Hello friends and family! I forget if it was before or after I sent my email last week, but the weather has cooled off quite a bit. Suddenly people are wearing jackets and coats and gloves. I wouldn't say it's cold yet, but it's definitely not hot anymore, haha. Also, I forget which day it was, but there was one day this week when there was a parade of sorts with people dressed up in folk-type outfits, and playing folk music. #slovenia

A parade of folk music in Slovenia. So fun!
People dressed up in Folk costumes.
Last Monday while we were out doing some missionary work in a part of town called Lava, we went back to visit two houses who'd previously said that we could come back, and they both let us stay and talk! One was an older guy that gave us some cookies, and grapes from his garden. Turns out he's not really interested in hearing anything we have to say about religion, but he's definitely a nice person and it was a good visit anyway. As we left his house, we had a few grapes left to eat that we took with us, but we got to that second house that let us in before we finished the grapes, so I just awkwardly had this bunch of grapes the whole time at the second house (I couldn't eat them since they had seeds and I had no place to spit out the seeds). Anyway, this house was an older couple, and when we first got there the wife was making some peppers to freeze so she could use them later during the year. Slovenes really like their gardens, btw. Turns out that they'd met missionaries before, but never gotten a Book of Mormon or anything, so we gave them a copy and gave a very quick summary of the Restoration, how we got the Book of Mormon and why it's important. At the end of the night, we had dinner as a district (so with the Porters and the Sisters) at a chinese restaurant called "Dva Zmaja", which means "Two Dragons". It was pretty good. I've missed chinese food.

Tuesday we had lunch at the Porters' again (I guess that's been a regular thing for Tuesdays here?) and it was great. Especially the peach cobbler for dessert. Not much interesting stuff happened for the rest of the day, but ECG was a bit different. Only one person came, and it was someone that had never come before. It was fun, though.

On Wednesday we had district meeting, and I taught the lesson about working with members. My emphasis was mostly to serve them and help them strengthen their faith, since that will give them a greater desire to share the gospel with their friends. That afternoon and evening we did some tracting, and ended up running into a member. So, we gave a really quick message and let them get back to their studying. After that we had a lesson with "Mary" (that's not her real name), who has apparently been an investigator for a while, and we put her on baptismal date for the 23rd, so that was pretty cool. She seems to be doing really well. On our way home from that, there was a fashion show thing in the center of town, and all the ladies had strollers. It was notably peculiar. After dinner we had leftover peach cobbler for dessert.

Thursday was zone conference, and that was really good. The Maribor district of 4 drove through here, Celje, on their way there, and so we did some rearranging with seats so that our district of 6 could also get there without needing to use the train. Did I mention that they have trains here? It's cool. Anyway, zone conference was really good. The general theme was "finding", chapter 9 of Preach My Gospel, and one thing that was touched on notably was service and working with members, like I'd taught for district meeting. For lunch we had Chinese food, and I really appreciated it. And as always, it was really good to get to see other missionaries.

I got to see Elder Smith at zone conference, and his companion, Elder Sharp.
Me taking a selfie of Elder Hanks and Elder Mercer taking a selfie!
Friday morning we had a lesson with a guy that's been investigating the church for a year or so now, and he was really cool. He seemed to have a lot of really good questions. That afternoon we had another great lesson with "Mary" and we had a member on the lesson too. A few hours after that, during language study, my stomach started hurting really bad, and I don't know why, but the rest of the evening was gone.

On Saturday morning I felt better, so that was good. That morning when we went running we ended up running at a little track at a nearby school. I didn't see where it came from, but at one point there was a little kitten with a ribbon around its neck, just sitting on the track. Fairly unexpected. That afternoon we prepared some music stuff for the Primary Program, and then in the evening we had another lesson with that family that's a Bosnian husband and a Slovene wife. The language again was the same mix, of course, but it was fun. We re-taught the restoration, and I think they started to understand it a bit better. Why the restoration is important and what it should mean for them personally.

Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and got a personal answer to his prayer.
Yesterday at church we had the Primary Program! We the missionaries helped with it, and it was great. And even better, "Mary" came to church! She had to leave after sacrament meeting, but right then a different investigator of ours showed up, who I'll call "Ed". He stayed for the priesthood lesson, and even after church to spend some time with the members as everyone said goodbye to the Porters, the senior missionary couple here that's leaving today. After all that, we had a really good lesson with "Ed" and got him on baptismal date too! His is September 30th, so if they both go through on time, we might not even take down the portable font between baptisms ;) haha. Anyway, a bit later on in the afternoon we had another lesson with the same member who hasn't been to church for a long time. This week we had the lesson in the church, which is a big step for him. I think it was because of the rain. I think there's other progress that we're making with him really slowly. Since it was raining, for the rest of the night we mostly did Area Book work, calling people, and then played some Slovene Scrabble during dinner. As you might imagine, it was a pretty rough game, haha.

Today so far it's still raining. We went over to the Porters' to say goodbye and see if we could help them with anything, and played some music for them as a last sendoff. They've clearly done a lot for the Celje branch in the time they've been serving here.

Your homework assignment for this week is to study prayer. Why it's important, how we can better use it, etc. Some really good resources for that are "True To The Faith", and the Bible Dictionary. See if you can find something that you can apply to your own prayers to make them just a bit better.


Here are a few photos! One is the folk parade, one is a very absurd-sounding verse in the Slovene translation of the Book of Mormon, and the other two are from Zone Conference, of course. Have a great week!
--
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb
Croatia


Monday, September 4, 2017

Week 55: Macedonians and their Anchovies




Hello everyone! I hope you all have had yet another great week. Over here in Celje, Slovenia, the weather has been really hot, but it's really cooled off the last few days. Hopefully it stays cooler from now on. In any case, I was kinda lazy about my journal-writing this week, so I don't entirely remember when things happened. That means that this email will be slightly less organized than normal. Oh well.

I forget if I mentioned it last week, but on last P-day we went to the Celje castle. It's a pretty big one that's way up on the hill, and they're definitely going for the midieval feel with tourism. It's a pretty cool one.

Celje castle
Celje Castle and the surrounding view
The rest of the day was pretty crazy, so sorry if you sent me an email and I didn't get around to replying to it. At one point on Monday, it was really raining hard and so we were inside making phonecalls and going through the area book, and I called this one Bosnian guy that said to come over right then. So we did! He lives just down the street, actually. We got to know him and his wife, who is a Slovenian, and met their kid, and set up to have a lesson soon. That evening we went over to the Porters' place (they're the senior missionary couple here in Celje) and Sister Porter gave us haircuts! That means I didn't have to try and figure out that haircut vocabulary in Slovene. Yet, haha. Shout out to Sister Porter.

On Tuesday we also had lunch at the Porters' place, also with the Sisters. Got to know everyone a little bit better. Sister Porter made pizza from scratch, and it was great. At the end, I found a little old accordion in the Porters' apartment, and they decided to let me borrow it! So, hopefully I'll get to use it soon for something useful. That night we of course had ECG, and the ECG people here are pretty cool. From there we went over to that Bosnian guy's house and taught them a lesson. It was quite a mix of speaking Bosnian and Slovene. The language mess was pretty fun.


For the rest of the week, we did just a lot of contacting and tracting, plus district meeting on Friday. Here are some funny experiences from that.

One time when contacting, we tried talking to this slightly older pair of ladies, but they just said in mumbling Spanish that they didn't understand and kept walking. I of course told them (in Spanish) that I did speak Spanish. They kept walking. Oh well. At one point we contacted an old guy on a bench that really only spoke German. I don't speak German, so I told him "Ich spreche kein Deutch". We tried to give him a card with our website so he could get it in German, but he misunderstood, autographed the card, and gave it back.
 

Along the river at one point we got stopped by a pair of Catholic missionaries. Two ladies that looked like they were going hiking. One was apparently from Italy, and the other from Croatia. The Croatian one knew Italian, and of course they each also knew their native language. So, the conversation was mostly just me speaking Croatian/Bosnian with the Croatian. Lady. The conversation didn't really go anywhere, but they were nice enough.

We also ended up tracting in this one building where it seemed like not a single soul spoke Slovene. It was mostly Bosnian, but a little bit of Serbian too, I think. In any case, we tracted into this one guy that let us in. His friend was over too, doing some cooking, and after a few minutes a third guy came in. Turns out they were all Macedonians. Either they were all speaking Serbian, or I can't tell the difference between Serbian and Macedonian. Also, they definitely had a lot of Slovene words and phrases mixed in there. As stated by Elder Jensen, they were speaking "Slur-bian". It was pretty fun. The guy that was cooking brought over what he had made. It was a huge plate of "girica" as they called it, and Elder Jensen said they were anchovies. A giant plate of whole fishes. I've never had anchovies, so I didn't know what they were. In any case, they offered us some, and I took one. Pulled the head off, and ate the rest (except for the tail) in 2 bites. Actually not too bad. Anyway, we just got to know them really quick, gave the main guy a copy of the Book of Mormon in Croatian, and then set up a return appointment for the next day. When we came back, only the main guy was there, since the others have their own places in the building. We taught him the restoration, and it was pretty good. I also brought out a Serbian copy of the Book of Mormon, which is remarkably similar to Macedonian, and he gladly took that one and gave the Croatian one back. I think it was because of the Cyrillic ;)

Balkan food is very tasty!
Yesterday was fast Sunday, so people got up and gave their testimonies, and we also got a new Branch President. Since the Porters (the current senior couple here in Celje) will be leaving in a week or so, the senior couple that's in Ljubljana right now, the Monsons, will be getting moved up here. So, Elder Monson is now the branch president here. Because of that we had some visitors from the district presidency and such, and then there was also a "munch and mingle" after church. Right after that we had a little lesson with two members that are going to get married in October. One of them is the most recent member here, and the other one is from Croatia. What cool people. From there we had a lesson with an inactive member and tried to work out with him why he doesn't come to church and figure out where to go from here. It was a really good visit too. After that we went tracting some, and the first door we came to was this cool lady who set up a return appointment with us for this next week. What a good Sunday.

Celje Castle's beautiful view
Your homework today is to read in Preach My Gospel, the section called "Go About Doing Good" that starts on page 168. And then, of course, apply it. Go serve some people. If it helps, pray every morning for an opportunity to serve, and that you'll notice it.

Have a great week!
--
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb
Croatia

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Week 54: Slovenia!




Hello everyone! We're terribly short on time and I don't even know why, so this email is going to be a slightly shorter one.

On Monday we had another branch FHE, and only "Jenny" and our most recent member came. It was really good though. They seem like they're becoming pretty good friends.

Tuesday, we went contacting with Haris. When I contacted one guy, he answered in Italian. I started using my long-neglected Spanish knowledge from high school to talk to him. He was really going off in Italian about what a great place Sarajevo is, and then what a beautiful country Spain is. I was having a hard time getting any words in at all so that we could talk about the Gospel, and then the discussion pretty much ended, so we exchanged our names as we were parting. When he heard Haris' name and recognized him as a Bosnian, he got excited and started speaking to him in fluent Bosnian as if Elder Smith and I didn't understand. Turns out that he's actually from Bosnia. I don't know why a Bosnian in Bosnia when spoken to in Bosnian would answer in Italian, but that's what happened. That evening, Elder Leach and his new trainee showed up, and we promptly took them over to ECG and introduced them to their participants.

Me and Elder Smith during our last few days together in Sarajevo.
Wednesday was kinda crazy, but I did end up getting my Slovene visa and then got travel plans figured out to actually go up there the next day. We ran into Sister Orchard and her new trainee during the course of it all, and at the end of the day all 3 companionships had dinner with the Newtons at a Lebanese restaurant, called "Beirut" (which just so happens to be the name of one of my favorite bands).

My Farewell Dinner at a Lebanese Restaurant called "Beirut"
Enjoying ice cream with the Newtons in Sarajevo one last time. I will miss them!!
Pretty early Thursday morning we headed over to the bus station, and there were met by "Jenny" and our most recent member who wanted to say goodbye to us. It was a really long bus ride up to Zagreb, and the whole way there I was sitting behind a Canadian who was reading "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Once we got to Zagreb, there was some confusion about where cars were parked across Zagreb, and we ended up having 7 Elders in the 5 available seats of a stick-shift van that had at least 3 people's luggage in the trunk obscuring the rear view, with Elder Hanks driving as a new AP that had just learned to drive stick that week. It was so awesome. We eventually got stuff figured out, and Elder Smith, Elder Zimmerman, and myself all loaded our luggage into a 5-seater (I still don't know how it fit) and then drove up to Slovenia. We got to Ljubljana, and then I caught a train with Elder Jensen going to Celje, and the train ended up arriving way late, plenty past our curfew.

Squishing all of us and our things into a little car.
We can all fit, right?
Since then it's just been life in Slovenia. I have to be honest and just say that this place seems fake because it's so nice. I feel like I'm in Disneyland or something. Especially when I'm walking through the little European streets and there's music floating through the air from the accordion guy playing on the side of the street like a total professional from Italy, or there's a midieval festival in the town square. I met the rest of the district, which is the Porters plus sisters Crosby and Brown, and introduced myself at church during sacrament meeting. The Elders' Quorum President here is from Peru, so he only speaks Spanish, plus enough Slovene to get by. I think he and I are going to be good friends.
Celje is full of beautiful little cobblestone streets. They are perfect.
Celje is nestled at the bottom of a hill where a beautiful castle is located.
There was a pretty cool thing that happened this weekend. On Saturday we contacted a guy that was from Bosnia, so I talked to him in Bosnian, and he said we could come visit him the next day. He gestured to where his place apparently was and said he'd just be outside. He also couldn't give us his phone number, so we had no idea how we were going to really find him. In any case, we returned on Sunday afternoon like we said, walked around that area a bit and didn't see him. Elder Jensen remembered that there was a lady in one of the nearby apartment buildings that spoke mostly Croatian that'd said that they could come back soon, so we decided to go find her. We go up to the tall apartment building, look at the huge collection of intercom buzzers, push a random one, and immediately get let into the building. That's very rare, in my experience. We go up to the door where the lady apparently lives, ring the doorbell, and the Bosnian guy answers. Apparently it's his apartment too! The chances of that whole thing are ridiculous. Apparently God wants him to hear what we have to say. He said he didn't have time right then, though, so we'll just go stop by a different day.

Part of the Celje castle with a view of the surrounding area
The weather here is a lot hotter than it was in Sarajevo when I left (the weather in Sarajevo was perfect when I left). Learning the Slovene language is going ok so far. I can see how it's obviously a close relative to Bosnian, but they definitely are different languages. I think learning this one will be really fun. For now it's definitely hard for my to speak, but I can understand pretty well, since the words' roots are usually the same as from Bosnian.

Celje Castle

Celje Castle
Anyway, that's all the time I have for now. Don't forget to read your scriptures!
--
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb
Croatia