Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Monday, April 10, 2017

Week 34: General Conference, and a Blender (and a Recap of Week 33)

Hey everybody! Sorry for the lame weekly last time. Anyway, here's the recap from the rest of that week. Since it's super long, the really interesting paragraphs will have an asterisk next to them like this: *

Tuesday (the 28th) we started off with another mission-wide district leader video call meeting thing, and since Elder Perry is the district leader here in Sarajevo, I was invited too. After that we did some contacting. At ECG that night there again weren't a whole lot of people, but definitely still enough to be quality. Somehow in my group, the discussion steered towards our religion, and someone asked how we were different from other Christians. To answer their question, I basically taught the first lesson, "The Restoration" to the 5 of them. That was pretty awesome. After ECG, Sister Rougeau and I practiced a bit for some musical things we have coming up.

On Wednesday we did a lot of contacting (including the encounter with the Sarajevski Pjesnik) and had some lessons ditch us, but one lesson did pull through at the very end. This guy has been a body builder for something like 15 years, btw, so he's absolutely huge. The lesson was really good, but at the end when we offered him a copy of The Book of Mormon, he said that his house wouldn't be a good place to have one of those. Kinda sad, but I think there's hope for the future. At the end of the night we decided to make clam chowder for dinner, but then discovered that we had neither butter nor salt, and that our 2-day old pack of chicken had already gone way bad. So, we made soup from one of those "add water" packets, and threw in some boiled potatoes.

On Thursday we had more lessons ditch, but somehow found 5 new investigators throughout the day. One was a kinda crazy lady that came up to talk to us. One was a slightly older guy who, once we started talking, had us come over to a little stone wall nearby to sit while we talked for a few minutes. Right after he said we could meet up and he walked off, we started to walk off, but there was another slightly old guy sitting there on the wall a few feet down who then stopped us and asked us what we were "selling". We explained The Book of Mormon a bit and also set up to meet with him sometime. I think it's interesting how the first guy's decision to have us go over to that wall made it so that the second guy noticed us and stopped us.

On Friday we had some pretty funny contacting experiences. One of the ones we had (that's a fairly regular one) went as follows: we stopped a lady to start talking, and she's immediately like, "oh, you're the Jehovah's Witnesses!" and we're like "Nope!" and continued to explain who we actually were. The JWs are a lot more well known around here than we are, btw. Another interesting one was when a guy stopped us, speaking darn-near perfect English, asking if we were the Mormons, and explaining that he didn't know Mormons were in Bosnia. Apparently he was from Bosnia, but had lived in the US for a notable amount of time. He was an Atheist, and had a very perspective on it all that I'd never quite heard before: "Even if there were to be more to you guys, I wouldn't really care. I know you're offering Eternal Life and stuff, but I don't want it. That sounds like it would just get boring!" He was a pretty funny dude, but he didn't seem to understand that the choice is about how happy we want to be for eternity, not if we get eternity or not. The more we follow God and Christ and learn to become like them, the happier we will be in the life after this one. A bit later in the day, we had a "lesson" with a lady whose Bosnian was remarkably hard to understand. I say "lesson" because it was pretty much just her asking us for money, and saying that she wanted to finalize her divorce and find a fine "momak" (lad, fellow, young man) to marry, and how she wanted kids. That was an interesting one.

Later, while on the tram, a guy sitting next to where we were standing asked in entirely-perfect English if we were from Salt Lake. We told him where we were actually from and got talking to him, and apparently he grew up in Bosnia, but has lived a bunch of different places around the world, many of them being in the US, one being Salt Lake City UT. For dinner that night when we went to a restaurant, our waiter spoke pretty good English. We came to the agreement that we would speak to him in Bosnian, and he would speak to us in English, and that way we could both practice the other's language. Apparently he used to work on cruise ships, waiting tables, and he also speaks a few other languages. He was a really smart guy, from everything we could tell, and he had a college degree in something not too easy, but he said he really just loves waiting tables since you get to meet so many people and it's "low stress". You meet a lot of interesting people when you talk to them.

On Saturday, April 1st, we cleaned the church, did some contacting, and had a few lessons ditch us, but one did show up. He asked a lot of questions, a fair number of which were about political stuff that I'd never even heard of. For dinner we went with the Newtons to have dinner at a local member's home, and by consequence had some pretty good food. The member's high-school-age grandson was there too, and he knew his English really well. When we asked him how he learned, he said that it was all from video games and movies. Apparently they don't make video games in Bosnian, so he just plays everything in English (and it's paying off).

That night we discovered at the church that the sisters had set up a scripture-trail scavenger hunt thing like it was going to lead to some gift, but right from the start Elder Perry and I knew that it was April Fools' day (since we had been planning our prank for the sisters), so we weren't surprised when the last scripture was one about fools, with a "happy April Fools' day!" note attached. Good stuff. For anyone wondering, our joke for the sisters was going to be to tell them that we got 4 referrals, and one was a family of 6 that we'd already put on baptismal date. Also, for some reason there were fireworks at the very end of the night. I guess Bosnians really like April Fools' day?

On Sunday, we had no investigators at church. Our most solid investigator had work again I guess, and who knows about all the other people that said they'd come but didn't. We had some lessons scheduled for after church that ditched. Then, we did weekly planning and made palačinke (crepes) for dinner. Sister Rougeau, thanks for the recipe.

On Monday, last P-day, like I said in my very short email that day, we went to Visoko to see the "pyramids" they have there. I think the problem was really that our tour guide cancelled on us the night before, and so we simply didn't know where the cool stuff was. But on our way there, it was pretty fun trying to find the Tuzla Elders as we're both driving around the city. Eventually we convinced them to stop and let us come to them. Then we went on our hike and got offered Rakija and we drank our water. Once we got back to Sarajevo, we did our email really quick, and then planned our lesson for Zone Conference with the sisters. We struggled at first, but then we came up with a brilliant idea, thanks to Sister Martineau spitting out the word "blender". I'll talk about that more later. You'll be amazed.

Now onto this week!

On Tuesday we started off by getting some new cards printed to hand out to people on the street, with the specific point of getting people to come for General Conference. We got 200 printed in total, 100 for us and 100 for the sisters. We went contacting a bit, had a lesson with our recent(ish) convert, and had ECG. My ECG group had extremely low attendance, and it was very hard to keep a conversation going with that few people.

On Wednesday, we had two lessons to start off the day, one with a guy that's apparently pals with the president of Italy (or something like that), and the second one was with our most promising investigator. He's doing pretty well with everything. After that we had district meeting, at the end of which we had Sister Rougeau do a scripture hunt. It was a scripture hunt much like the ones that she's given us, but at the end there was a store-bought cake (Elders' cooking should not often be trusted) rather than a homemade one like Sister Rougeau does. We had to ensure it was as good as her cakes are. For the rest of the day, Elder Perry and I did some more contacting, trying to hand out our cards to invite people to General Conference.

On Thursday we started off the day by dishing out the General Conference cards hardcore. We only had an hour and a half to get out all the rest of our (80 or so) cards, since we'd soon be needing to head out for Zone Conference and wouldn't have another opportunity. Perhaps to your surprise, we did it, even though that was a lot of people to talk to in a fairly short time. Apparently the sisters also got out all their cards, so that's 200 card floating around the city encouraging people to come listen to the voice of a prophet. Not as good as 200 missionaries, but we can only do so much ;)

From there we had a lesson at the church. Apparently Elders Perry and Winfield met with this guy while I was with Elder DeLeeuw on exchanges, but it was the first lesson I'd had with him. We reviewed the Restoration, and even watched the semi-infamous Restoration video that's a bit old. It's so good. That was the first time I've seen it in Croatian, and I really liked getting to watch it again. Anyway, that afternoon we packed up and got on a bus to Banja Luka to go to Zone Conference. It's quite a long bus ride, btw. About 5 hours. But, the bus was pretty empty, so it wasn't too bad at all. When we got there, we had some Gyros for a quick dinner and Elder Perry and I took a taxi over to the Zone Leaders' apartment. That taxi driver was crazy.

Now for Friday, the exciting day. Elder Perry and I stopped by the grocery store on our walk over to the church so we could buy some supplies for a smoothie. When we got to the church, the sisters pulled out the blender they brought, and we all watched Elder Perry put the ingredients in the blender and blend it up.

For his topic of presentation, President Grant talked about repentance, and it was really great. It's always good to have a few new ways to look at the same old topic. In a similar way, the APs and Zone Leadership both talked in their presentations about how we can change up our standard approaches to finding investigators. They related it to the story of the high jump being revolutionized by the guy who started going of the bar backwards. You gotta try something new if you're ever going to find anything better than what you currently do. So, I think the whole zone is excited to start changing up routines. It'll be good.

*Now for the part you've all been waiting for: why the blender and smoothie? Of course word got out among the zone that we were using a blender for our presentation, and people were pretty confused, since most people knew that our topic was "stay on task: receive ordinances". As we started our presentation, we go up there with this empty blender, and start talking about ordinances. We asked for what a few key ordinances are, and for each one we added an ingredient into the blender. Baptism = yogurt, Confirmation = berries, etc. Then we talked about how these ordinances need to be done with the proper authority, relating this to the blender actually being plugged into the wall outlet, and having a connection to that power. So then we have a smoothie, right? We did all of the necessary ordinance with the proper authority, so we'll inherit Eternal Glory, right? No, it's still just some yogurt and fruit and such in a blender. We have to do a bit more to actually activate the blender: we have to act for ourselves, effectively turning the switch. We have to read our scriptures, go to church, repent, regularly partake of the sacrament, help other people, etc., and as we do these things, then our these ordinances and the covenants we made with them will actually be useful to us. They help us become better people, and prepare to be fit to return to God's presence. That's the point. Then you have the smoothing of Eternal Life. At that point we passed out little cups of the smoothie that we'd carefully blended earlier that morning. I thought it was pretty fun getting to do that presentation.

Me and the Blender, plus the other missionaries
At the end of the meeting, we got to hear Sister Rougeau's closing testimony, since she's going home in just over a week. We're all going to miss her a lot. Once the meeting ended, we the Sarajevo missionaries had to bust it out of there to catch the only bus back to Sarajevo for the day. We get to the bus station with about 5 minutes before the bus should leave, and there's a problem with our tickets. After we run around a bit between employees trying to talk bus-station stuff in the language of Bosnian, we get it figured out, get over to the bus, and the driver says they're stock full. But, we had extra cookies and banana bread from Zone Conference, so they let us on. We just sat on the floor and stairs and stuff until enough people cleared out for us to have seats. Elder Perry's seat for a good while was right up next to the bus driver, who was a bit eccentric. He kept calling Elder Perry by the name "Jerry" and making slightly inappropriate jokes. Eventually Elder Perry got to change seats, at which point the driver couldn't really talk to him anymore. But, he would still occasionally say something like, "Jerry, where are you? Are you asleep? I need someone to talk to!" It was quite an interesting bus ride.

On Saturday and Sunday, we watched General Conference as a branch! English in one room, Croatian in another. At first we had some troubles getting the projector set up to show English, but we got it eventually. We as missionaries watched it in Croatian with our local Bosnian friends, both members and not. Also, for those of you wondering about those 200 cards that we handed out, only one person came: one of our English Group participants. I'm glad that she got to come. And as for the other 199 cards, they're still floating around the city making people wonder why we claim to have a living prophet. In total we had 7 non-members come to at least one session of Conference; one of them was our most solid investigator that I've mentioned a few times, and most of the others were ones we've been having lessons with recently. Everyone really liked it, and we're excited to talk with each of them more.

While watching General Conference in Croatian, I had a peculiar discover about learning foreign languages: it's far easier to understand General Conference in a language that you started learning 8 months ago when you DON'T think about English. If you try to translate it into English in your head, you just get confused and miss things and it's a mess. When you just listen to their words for what they are, the meaning behind them comes a lot more easily, even without your native tongue being involved. Unless they use a word you literally have never learned... but that's ok.

*For Saturday, after General Conference was over, we did some studies, and then went tracting. As suggested at Zone Conference, we decided to use some different starting-lines. I don't know if it changed their receptiveness at all, but it definitely made it less boring for us, trying to come up with something new to say. At one point a man came to the door, looking a bit worn from perhaps a rough life, but still friendly. He shook our hands, and listened to a bit of what we had to say. During that initial part, we could of course see inside his apartment a bit, except that it was extremely dark in there. After our initial discussion, he invited us in to talk a bit more. Elder Perry looked at me. I didn't feel any reason to not go in, so I nodded, and we went in. I don't really know how to describe this apartment. As we entered, he turned on a few lights, but it was still remarkably dim. It was definitely messier than any mother would approve of, but It could've also been far worse. Going in, it didn't really seem to bad. So, we sat down and talked a bit, probably just 15 minutes. We talked a bit about him, shared a few scriptures about the Plan of Salvation, explained a bit about the book from which we were reading (The Book of Mormon, naturally) and it's importance. In my perspective, it was a notably powerful conversation, despite its brevity. We exchanged phone numbers and set up a return appointment, I knelt in a closing prayer, and we headed out. As we were leaving, saw a few more things around his apartment, and headed out the door, I finally realized what a dark place that apartment was. But, in more than just the lack-of-lightbulbs way. It also seemed like a spiritually dark place. Somehow while we were there still talking, I didn't feel that it was such a dark place. Thinking about it now, I attribute it to how we brought with us light and truth, also bearing with us the holy name of Christ. If you put a bright lightbulb in a dark room, it's no longer a dark room. Of course, some people might bring up the fact that some dark places like that can be dangerous, and that it was stupid for us to actually go in. But, the Lord protects those on his errand; if it were a dangerous place for us to be, we surely would've been warned by the Spirit not to stay around. But, that wasn't the case, and as such we were able to bring that man the first few pieces of a bright and hopeful message. He seems to have a very open heart, and I'm excited to see what changes the Gospel can help him make in his life.

Now, your homework for this week is to read or listen to the BYU devotional called "Come Unto Christ", by Henry B. Eyring. Listen to it carefully, and seek to apply it to your life. here's the link for you: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/henry-b-eyring_come-unto-christ/

This message that we're out here spreading as missionaries is one of hope and light. If you're not a part of that, I invite you to find out more. Even if you think your life is plenty satisfying as it is, I promise there's more. If you're already a member, but have somehow lost sight of the light of the gospel, I also invite you to search it out again and get back on that path. It might be hard, but it'll be worth it.

We have quite an amazing view from our apartment
Btw, for anyone that cares, I find out on Thursday where I'll be for next transfer. All the rumors/guesses are that I'll stay and Elder Perry will leave.

That's all for this week. Have a great 7 days between now and next time you get my email!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

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