Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Week 32: Moving Day, Sunshine, and a Birthday Cake

Hello everybody! This week had some pretty good weather. It was particularly warm a few days this week, and everyone suddenly seems to be outside even more than before. We've been continuing to find some new people, and been teaching a few lessons too. We have one investigator that's seeming like a really good prospect, and this week he even came to church. Good stuff.

To recap last Monday a bit, we cleaned out our old apartment pretty well and got pretty much all of our stuff moved into our new apartment. And this new apartment is really nice, btw.

The living area in our new apartment
We have some pretty neat views from our new apartment
On Tuesday we just had the regular stuff like district meeting, finding, a few good lessons, and getting ditched for a few lessons. One peculiar thing was how empty our ECG was, though. Suddenly this week people just didn't show up like before. We mostly attributed it to the great weather outside. This week it just hit like summer, and the gelato place on the main street rolled out their little stand thing. The girl that works there is always going so fast.

On Wednesday we did a lot of contacting. At one point their was a civil march that we had to try to avoid. We had lunch at a restaurant called Manolo, since they have an open courtyard in the middle and the weather was great. More contacting after that.

On Thursday we started off by having a lesson with an older Muslim guy. We didn't get much time with him, but while we were talking, if we ever said anything he didn't agree with, he'd just stop us and say something like, "no, that's not right" and tell us how he believed. I appreciate how firm he was in his own beliefs, though.

That evening for ECG it was still kinda empty, like on Tuesday. Probably still the great weather. Our discussion topic was families, and I got to hear some pretty cool stories from people's past, relating to their ancestors and such.

Main Street in Sarajevo. You can see the signs for our McDonald's
On Friday we had nothing on the schedule except studies, eating, and finding. So, we went out contacting. During our first bout of contacting, we talked to one lady who was Muslim (in case you didn't know, almost everyone here is a Muslim) and seemed slightly interested, but wouldn't give us her number or schedule a meetup, but we gave her a card and continued on. A bit later, while we were still contacting, we actually got a call from her inviting us to meet her at a café somewhat nearby and talk about stuff. So we went, learned about her and her beliefs, and she learned about us and our beliefs. It was really good, honestly, even though it was in a café and not exactly a lesson. She seems like she's really been searching for truth for a long time. Apparently she used to be Christian, but had a lot of unanswered questions, but as she continued searching and learned more about Islam, she felt that a lot of her questions were answered. She seemed really interested in The Book of Mormon when we brought it up, and so we of course gave her a copy. Apparently she's read the Bible cover-to-cover 16 times, so I suspect she's going to read the entire Book of Mormon very quickly. She's really cool, and we're of course going to try setting up consistent lessons with her and her husband.

Saturday, for those who didn't know, was my birthday! That means I'm 20 now. The day started off with me basically waking up to Elder Leach singing me a remarkably well-done rendition of Happy Birthday (by means of telephone). Shout out to him for being awesome! Some other missionaries also texted to say happy birthday, I inflated a balloon, and I burned my toast a bit. That's ok though, it was still pretty good.

First thing for us out of the apartment was another lesson with that older Muslim guy from Thursday. It was pretty much the same thing. Once we told him about Joseph Smith and the First Vision, he just kinda got up, shook our hands, and left. I guess there was so much there that he disagreed with that he didn't even know what to say. Something like that.

For lunch we went to a restaurant called Klopa, as recommended by the sisters. We went in, and it looks about how I imagine a Sisters' apartment to look: bright colors and polka dots simply everywhere. They were playing some pretty great music though, and the food was great. By particular recommendation of the sisters, we got their American Pancakes, and those were pretty darn good. They had Nutella and Plazma and a bunch of stuff like that. Very delicious pancakes.

Sisters Rougeau and Martineau
After we had language study in the park (zbog dobrog vremena) the sisters notified us that there was a surprise at the church for us. Turns out it was one of those scripture trail things around the church. You get a scripture reference that gives you a hint where to look for the next scripture reference. At the end of the trail was a cake, totally loaded with M&Ms in a shape that said "20", plus a card and a notebook as a gift. Serving in a city with another set of missionaries is great. 

Me, finding the birthday surprise from the sister missionaries!
My Amazing Birthday Cake!
Birthday fun!
Also, we found out that they were trying to get to the church to set up the thing without us seeing them, but we had been out contacting around the area and they were having a fun time with that. They did get a photo of us contacting from afar, though, and that's pretty cool (believe it or not, we do actually do some sort of work out here).

Sunday, yesterday, we had church. Since the Newtons had relatives in town, President Kreibhel and his wife were there, AND we had 4 investigators there, it was pretty full compared to normal. That was pretty great. One of the investigators, like I mentioned at the start of the email, was one of our investigators that's doing the best. He came half an hour early, seemed to get along pretty well with everyone there, and stayed for the entire time. So great. I have high hopes for him. Other than church, we just had the regular Sunday stuff like planning, phone calls, and a bit of finding.

Today we started off with paying bills and getting groceries, but then we went to the big mall around here, Sarajevo City Center, and looked around some of the stores there. I bought a new tie (I suppose for my birthday), and then we had lunch at a place there called Food Market. Oddly enough, I found on the menu a familiar item called Okonomiyaki, which is a traditional Japanese food. Since my dad served his mission in Japan back in the day, I couldn't help but get that for my lunch. It was really quite good, but not quite like Dad makes it ;)

Okonomiyaki was actually on the menu!
Okonomiyaki with ketchup and mayonnaise
Your homework for this week is to watch GENERAL CONFERENCE!! For those of you who don't know, General Conference is the opportunity twice a year to hear from LIVING Prophets and Apostles. Usually I assign you to read the words of ones from at least a thousand years ago, but these ones are current. Isn't that exciting? It should be.

Attached are some photos of the wonderfully M&M-dense cake that the sisters made for my birthday. Shout out to this awesome district (yes Elder and Sister Newton, that includes you).

That's it for this week. Have an awesome General Conference! (and accompanying week!)
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

Monday, March 20, 2017

Week 31: Moving Apartments and Banja Luka

Hello everyone! Another week has gone by and now you have yet another letter from me. Isn't time a funny thing? Anyway, this week the weather was really good, the work was pretty good, and I got to go to Banja Luka again! More on that later.

To start off with, last Monday was pretty interesting. The Banja Luka elders (Elders DeLeeuw and Winfield) came down to start exchanges, so we spent most of the day with them, our senior couple (the Newtons), and our sisters. If I've done my calculations correctly, that's exactly half of all the missionaries in Bosnia!

Bosnian Missionaries, from left to right: Elder DeLeeuw, Elder Winfield, Sister Rougeau, Elder Perry, Me (Elder Echols), and Sister Martineau
My Bosnian name tag with the beautiful Bosnian mountains beyond
Anyway, we all drove up into the mountains a bit to go see some cool stuff. The first thing was an old abandoned hotel, I guess, but it was so deteriorated that you couldn't tell what anything was. But, through the busted walls it had a really great view of Sarajevo and the surrounding valley, The second thing we went to see was the old bobsled track from the winter '84 Olympic games. You can get up on it and walk the length as it squiggles through the trees. It was also covered in very colorful graffiti, which honestly looked pretty cool. We also saw from other cool views from the mountain tops, and even encountered a pile of stray puppies.

The old, abandoned hotel
The bobsled track in Sarajevo from the 1984 Winter Olympics
Me with Sisters Rougeau and Martineau
After all that, we all went back to the Newtons' to have pizza and play Risk. It's good to take a break every now and then. From there when we came back to our apartment with the Banja Luka elders for them to stay the night, Elder Winfield and I played a round of chess. He beat me (not a surprise).

Playing Risk, eating pizza, and emailing our parents while at the Newton's apartment
While at the Newtons I got measured on their wall
On Tuesday, Elder DeLeeuw and I drove over to Banja Luka to start our exchange. On the way there, a cow was in the road in our way, slowly walking across. Once we got to Banja Luka and got set up a bit, we went contacting and got a new investigator right off the bat. For part of ECG that night we combined with Sisters Anjewierden and Higley to play Telestrations with all the participants. Always a good time.

Why did the cow cross the road? (Notice you can see me in the rearview mirror snapping this picture)
On Wednesday, still in Banja Luka, we went contacting more, of course. We briefly stopped to watch the old men play their giant chess, and one ended up coming to talk to us about the other people watching chess. He was really quiet though, so we couldn't hardly ever hear what he was saying, and thus we simply kept bringing up The Book of Mormon and why we were there and stuff. It turned out he wasn't interested.

Elder DeLeeuw watching a game of giant chess
For lunch we got Banjalucki cevapi, and that was the best cevapi I've had yet. Also, the restaurant was playing all native music, generally turbofolk. We then had district meeting, during which I realized that my coat didn't have my tag on it anymore. So, after district meeting we checked around the church with no success, but then returned to the cevapi place. As soon as we opened the door and the employee guy saw us, he just turned to his counter, picked up my tag, and handed it over without us needing to say anything. What a great guy.

This is Banjalucki cevapi. It is similar to a hamburger
On Thursday we drove back in the direction of Sarajevo, stopping halfway at a little town called Travnik to meet up with Elders Winfield and Perry so we could switch back. But first, we had lunch together.

Once we arrived back in Sarajevo, we went to the Newtons' to drop off the car, and found them working with the church's Advokat to find us a new apartment. Later that day, we found out that we're moving apartments by April 1st at the latest. But, we spent the rest of the day contacting, having ECG, and doing language study at McDonald's.

Apparently St. Patrick's day was this last week, right? We missed it because no one around here cares about it I guess.

On Friday we did a lot of contacting again. We did pretty well, with 4 new investigators by the end of the day. We also had a lesson (3rd, I think) with a guy that seems to be really doing well. We taught him the plan of salvation, and at the end we asked if he had any other questions, and he just kinda sat there and looked at it and said "...good plan." We also invited him to be baptized, but he said he wants to learn more about it all before he goes promising anything. Makes sense. He'll get there.

Beautiful Bosnia
That evening we did some tracting in a really tall apartment building. One of the first doors we got to, at he top, had fluent English speakers inside. There was a pretty funny moment when we started speaking to them at the door in Bosnian. Turns out they were college students having a bit of a party for the weekend. They invited us in for some drinks, but we declined. Pretty funny conversation. A few floors later, a guy answered the door saying he was an Atheist that has faith in Satan. He invited us in to try Satanism, but we declined.

Saturday we cleaned the church, and multiple people skipped out on lessons they'd scheduled with us. We even had a lesson scheduled with someone and their family at their house (it's not very common for people to invite/welcome you to their home), and so we walked all the way out there and found their address. Their gate to their yard was locked, but a lady saw us their and came to see what we wanted. We told her who we were looking for, and she had no idea who it was. Also, the phone number we had stopped working a few hours before that. It was a nice stroll, at least. From there we took a different way back that happened to go by 3 or 4 huge graveyards all right next to each other. We could also see an even bigger graveyard on one of the other nearby hills. This city has a LOT of graves, btw. It's just one of the key things about Sarajevo.

Look at this cool cemetery!
More gravestones
This photo shows you the immense size of this cemetery!
Yesterday, Sunday, we had church! Surprise. I gave a talk, and played piano like usual. We had an investigator come, but not any of the ones we've had any lessons with. People are so busy with life nowadays. After church we cleaned our apartment even more, and the landlord came by to sort out some details about us moving out soon. The rest of the night was just the regular stuff.

Today we started off with a huge packing/cleaning spree, with the help of the Newtons and the Sisters. 1000 thanks to them. So, now we're all packed up and going to move some of our stuff over to our new apartment (which is an awesome apartment) in just a little while. The new apartment is in one of the buildings along the main road, and sits almost directly 5 floors about McDonald's. With our new location, it'll only take one elevator ride to get to a prime contacting spot, as opposed to a 10 minute walk.

A hillside filled with homes in Sarajevo
Anyway, I'm totally out of time, so you'll find out more next week! Sorry for no homework, but it'll be good for you to figure out something on your own to study ;)

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

Me and Elder Perry, enjoying the view last p-day

Monday, March 13, 2017

Week 30: Pizza, Cleaning, and Horses

Hey everybody, what a crazy week we had here in Bosnia. I don't feel like we even had any time to go contacting (which is very peculiar).

To start off with, on Monday as we were leaving the internet place where we email, we were trying to decide where to get some dinner, and Elder Perry decided he wanted to take a photo with a classic red phone booth that's sitting in what I call "pub alley": an alley in the walking-only part of town that has a lot of restaurants, most of which are pubs. 

As we were about to take a photo with the phone booth, someone calls out to us asking if we were those people from Salt Lake City. It turns out to be a local Bosnian guy and his American business partner from SLC. The Bosnian guy has lived in Utah too and learned English there. Long story short, they invite us to dinner with them at a restaurant right there that apparently has the best pizza in all of Europe, by their opinion. They bought us dinner, and the pizza was pretty darn good for European pizza, the Bosnian guy was ecstatic to meet Americans that know his language, and it was all a pretty good conversation. At the end we left them with a spiritual thought and headed out. Shortly thereafter, I realized that the change of plans had made us run out of time to get groceries... oops. It was good to talk to the two guys and spread the missionary love.

On Tuesday morning someone ditched us for a lesson, we had district meeting and ECG, and did some cleaning around the apartment. Not a terribly interesting day.

Wednesday, it was raining again. Apparently it was National Women's day or something like that, so pretty much every female over 14 was walking around town with a flower that she'd received as a gift. We had a quick lesson with someone that was pretty good, then packed up to head to Zone Conference. As we got on the tram to get to the bus station, we discovered that it was CRAZY packed, probably due to the holiday, but somehow we fit on anyway. So crowded. Thankfully the ride was pretty short to get to the bus station, and then the bus ride that went to Banja Luka was pretty darn empty. Once we got to Banja Luka, we slept over at the Zone Leaders' apartment and got educated a bit by Elder Winfield on Australian football.
On Thursday morning, it was pretty cool walking through Banja Luka to get to the church there. Banja luka is a pretty big city, but it feels more like suburbs than a big city. I really like it.

As for Zone Conference itself, I played piano for the meeting (thankfully I had anticipated that and brought my music book), and for lunch in the middle we had a dish called "Spaghetti Pie" (lasagna made with spaghetti noodles) which was pretty darn good. We had some pretty good training and role-plays, and got to hear from Elder Adler of The Seventy, and his wife. They're from Germany, and are very much awesome people. A lot of times at missionary meetings like this, we only ever talk about how to help other people become stronger in their faith, but this time there was more of a focus on how we as missionaries can become stronger in our faith, and I think that was really good. As it was pointed out, we can only help other people along the path as far as we have already come.

Zone Conference in Banja Luka, Bosnia
Zone Conference in Banja Luka, Bosnia. This is Elder Leach, who was my MTC companion. And we are getting photobombed by several other missionaries!
Zone Conference in Banja Luka, Bosnia
After zone conference finished, we rode back to Sarajevo with the Newtons. When we stopped for dinner, it was at a huge store called Fis that happened to have a restaurant in it, kinda like Ikea or Costco would. And, the toiles they had there were the Turkish ones: just a hole in the floor, really.

On Friday we did a LOT of cleaning, since there were some parts of the apartment that we don't really even use that have been just a total mess since before we got here. We also did some tracting in the evening, and got kicked out of a building. Also, it's been raining a lot during this last week. Almost every day.
Saturday we had service with the Newtons up at the Pegasos horseback riding place. It was really cold. Also, one of the horses that we were with was named Gypsy, and that horse really likes biting things. He tried to bite Elder Newton's jacket. Apparently last week he bit Sister Martineau on the hand, and gave her a bit of a bruise. I didn't let his face get too close to anything of mine, though, so thankfully I was safe. 

We also briefly ran into one of our (many) ECG participants while we were there, and said hello really quick.
From there the Newtons took us to lunch, and then we headed over to our apartment for them to do their cleaning check. When we were almost there, Elder Newton missed a turn while on a one-way road. Our apartment is in the middle of the maze-like section of houses, though, so we had to take a rather squiggly detour of finding a lot of dead ends (on one-way streets... who built these roads?) until we eventually figured out how to just get out and get back on the main road, from which point we just restarted, this time doing it without missing that turn. #AdventuresInBosnia.

Other than that, we had another lesson cancel, and cleaned the church. Plus, Elder Perry tried to bake some peanut butter cookies, but one pan came out of the oven looking like double-fudge cookies, if you know what I mean. The other pan was super good, though.

The cookies on the left were super yummy!!
On Sunday, we got a call from an investigator that was apparently a golden self-referral back in November, but lived too far away to ever come to church. He said that he was going to be coming to church, and had brought a friend! So, we met up with them before church for a few minutes and had a mini lesson, and they seem really excited to start coming to church regularly now that they found a way, and so we're also going to start having consistent lessons, and we put them on baptismal date! So, that came out of nowhere. Then for church itself we had 2 other investigators show up, for a record number of 4 in one week! Crazy.

During sacrament meeting Sister Rougeau sang a special musical number, and I accompanied. It's hard to explain how this happened, but once playing the intro and whatever and Sister Rougeau started singing, I realized that my music book was on the wrong page. Opa. So, I kept playing with just my left hand while I flipped through a few dozen pages with my right hand. Once I found the page, stuff went very smoothly, and I thought it was pretty great. A few minutes later, our branch president's wife gave a talk, but she doesn't speak Bosnian, so I ended up being her translator. It was kinda rough on my end, but I think it was fine =P Then I also taught Sunday School.

Today so far we've done our contacting and stuff, and we got 2 new investigators really quickly! That was cool. One of them was an older guy that said he had 20 minutes right then, so we walked him around the corner to the church and had a mini lesson right then. Cool stuff. We'll see what other adventures await for the rest of today.

I think an interesting thing that I've noticed this week is that the work that we do doesn't always seem to be very effective, but it shows that we're willing to try, and thus we're sometimes sent an unrelated miracle on the side to help the work along.

Your homework for this week is to read Alma 22. It tells a short story of a king being taught how to turn to God. There's a lot of good stuff there in a short chapter. See what you can dig out of it to learn, and then apply it.

Have an awesome week!

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