Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Monday, May 29, 2017

Week 41: Travnik, David, and Ramadan

Hello there everybody! Sorry for not sending out an email last week. We had the Zone Leaders in town to start exchanges, and we did a lot of stuff other than spend time on email.

As for some specifics of what we did last Monday, we first had a lesson with our investigator that had previously decided to be baptized. I don't remember if I mentioned it in my group email, but he backed out of it about a week before it was supposed to happen. This lesson was the first time we were able to meet with him since then. We got him back "on the boat", but we'll just be taking it slow from here on out.

The bobsled track is up in the mountains above Sarajevo.
We took the Zone Leaders to see the bobsled track from the 1984 Sarajevo Olympic Games
Anyway, when the ZLs got in town, we went up on the mountain with them and the sisters, coming plenty close to getting lost, and went to see some cool stuff. We saw the old Olympic bobsled track again, as well as some cool views and a WWII memorial site called Vraca Memorial Park. The site was also used as a stronghold of sorts in the Yugoslav wars, so it was a bit beat up. Also, it's the place where Bosnia was dedicated by an Apostle for the preaching of the gospel. Pretty cool stuff.

Vraca Memorial Park was originally a Hungarian Fortress built in 1898, which was then turned into a very nice World War II Memorial. Unfortunately, it was damaged heavily in the Yugoslavian War from 1991-1995.
As a WWII Memoraial, Vraca has many walls with the names of all the people from Sarajevo who were killed during the war. There are almost 12,000 names.

This doorway looked like it needed some help to stay up!

Another scene from the damaged Vraca Memorial.
On Tuesday, we started exchanges. I stayed in Sarajevo with Elder Bowles. We did some regular stuff like role-playing and contacting, and then it started raining and messed stuff up a bit. No one wants to listen when it's raining. That night we had ECG, of course, and we went to dinner after at a place called Burger Bar. In case you didn't guess, they have really good American burgers.

Elder Bowles at the Burger Bar.
On Wednesday we had to finish up exchanges, so we got the car from the Newtons and drove out to Travnik, which is about half way between here and Banja Luka (where Elder King was for the exchange). But when we get there, we found out that they were still about 45 minutes out, so we looked around the town a bit. There was a cool fortress up on top of the hill that we went to see, and there were a bunch of kids there on a field trip.

The Fortress in Travnik, called Stari grad, which was originally built in the 14th or 15th Century. It is a popular tourist spot.
The fortress is really large and built completely of stone.

The town of Travnik surrounds the fortress and is built upon some very scenic hills.
Some of the features of the fortress are built around natural bodies of water.
Once Elders King and Winfield got there, we had lunch and then split back up for our own cities. When we got back to Sarajevo, we got ditched by a lesson or two, and did some contacting.

On Thursday morning we had a mission-wide video call for District Leaders (and their companions, like me), and then a lesson right after. We were slightly late for the lesson, but the guy was actually pretty chill with it. A bit later we went to visit a member and his friend that's interested in the church. They've both been having some rough times, but it was a really good visit. When we got back for ECG, we decided to switch groups with the Sisters, but then nobody showed up to the group we were going to lead, so we just joined them in the other room and helped to converse with the participants.

On Friday morning I got a call from President Grant, and during the course of the call he suddenly said, "Oh, you know what, David Archuleta just walked into my office; here, I'll hand him the phone." And then I talked to David Archuleta for a few minutes. What a great guy. And apparently he's good enough friends with my mission president to just be passing through Croatia (...?) and walk into the mission home unannounced. Sounds good to me. Anyway, we started off the day with a lesson with our most progressing investigator, and we talked about the priesthood authority that was given to the Apostles by Christ, but then lost shortly after their deaths, but which was restored to the Earth by Peter, James, and John when they gave that authority to Joseph Smith. Pretty cool stuff, honestly. Anyway, we also talked about baptism with him, and he said he was in a pretty tight situation with some stuff, but if he wasn't in that situation, he's 99% sure he'd get baptized. So, now we just need to help him resolve the situation... We'll get there. But the point is that he's doing well and knows that it's all true. After that lesson we had district meeting, and then we went to visit that same member and his friend. We're trying to help them establish the habit of reading The Book of Mormon every day, since it'll help them a lot.

Peter, James, and John conferred Priesthood authority to Joseph Smith.
On Saturday morning we cleaned the church, like always, and then headed over to a first lesson at the guy's house. We'd contacted him a few weeks ago and kept contact, but this was the first he was able to meet with us. It went pretty well, and we invited him to church (like we do at almost every lesson) for the next day. Spoilers: he came! That was great. But as for the rest of Saturday, we did some contacting, and some work on the computer.

For Sunday, at church, I played piano like usual. But, what was different this week was that Sister McColm had picked for our opening hymn one of the hardest hymns for me to play: "Press Forward, Saints". So, I struggled through that, but didn't die. Like I said before, that investigator came to church! It's always nice when an investigator does come to church. For the rest of the day we did some contacting and planning. When we were contacting, we talked to a guy the was "from here" but spoke only perfect English to us, with a mostly Australian accent. He said that he's always been a Muslim in general, but when Europe generally started turning against the idea of Islam, he had to really figure out if he was in or out. I think everyone out to do that in their own religion, regardless of whether or not the world dislikes your religion.

Also, the streets have been a lot less busy recently, and we think it's because of Ramadan. Btw, Ramadan just started, which is Islam's month of fasting. They fast while the sun is up, and eat once the sun goes down, if I'm understanding this all correctly. So, we've been making jokes about people not wanting to listen to us because they're "hungry" from the fasting.

Your homework for this week is to look up a session of General Conference from more than 20 years ago. So, that's 1997 or earlier. Pick a talk that stands out to you. Keep an eye out for what things they say are still applicable today (probably most of it), and what things they said then would've helped people better prepare for everything that's happened since then.

That's it for today. I hope you enjoy the photos! Talk to you next week!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Week 40: New Investigators and the First Native Bosnian Missionary

Hello once again, friends and family. This week was one filled with a lot of contacting, and the weather's been getting pretty hot recently (nothing absurd, though).

Last Monday we had a lesson at a little cafe with a dad-age Muslim. Despite being at a cafe, it was a pretty good lesson. We usually try to avoid restaurants and cafes for lessons, even though that's where all these people insist on meeting, because they're usually loud and distracting and the waiter interrupts at least once, but this one wasn't very busy at the time, so it worked out fine. During the rest of the day we did the typical P-day stuff like email, and go to a museum. Later in the day we had another lesson, but this guy was a former-christian. He knew his Bible pretty darn well, and apparently used to be involved with a church, but isn't anymore. He ended up steering the conversation through the topics of truth, chakras, rainbows, octaves, and the Bosnian Pyramids. That was a fun one. Then it started raining pretty hard and we got ditched for a different lesson.

On Tuesday we briefly stopped by the work place of a potential investigator, and gave her a copy of The Book of Mormon. She said she wasn't really interested in talking about religion, but I think it's always worth giving them a copy of The Book of Mormon. We got ditched for a lesson, then went to visit a member that's been a bit sick. On the way back from that visit, the city's electric trams stopped working, so it took us a bit longer to get back than normal. We did make it back in time for ECG, though.

On Wednesday throughout the day we actually saw 3 of the ECG regulars around town. One of them actually walked right into the church while we were doing studies, so we got to "practice" teaching the plan of salvation to him. Through the course of the day we knocked on 107 doors. Our district meeting with the sisters ended up being at McDonald's. Elder King and I got to meet the Newtons' kids and have lunch with them, and that was pretty great. Also, while contacting we started talking to people on benches more. I don't know why we hadn't ever done it before though, since they're pretty much sitting ducks. They're a lot less likely to run away from us because they "don't have time". Anyway, there was one lady we talked to on a bench where Elder King showed her a picture of his family, and the whole thing went really well.

Thursday was another big contacting day. We contacted over 100 people, and actually got a solid 5 new investigators. One of the last people we talked to was a poorer guy that lives out of town, but comes into the city to try and provide for his family. Really hard working guy. We set up to meet with him "in two days, at this very spot" and he said sure. We got his phone number, but couldn't check if it worked. To be continued.

On Friday we had a lesson with our main investigator (he's been around for a while now) and we talked about faith, read Alma 32 together, and talked about the Word of Wisdom. That one is pretty hard for people around here, since everyone drinks coffee at the corner cafes, and almost everyone smokes too. A bit later in the day, we were waiting in front of BBI in the main square to meet up for a lesson, and this older guy comes over and starts talking with us. We sit down with him, and we start talking about religion, why The Book of Mormon is important alongside the Bible, etc. It was going pretty darn well for a good while, until he gradually started trying to "Bible Bash" (have a scripture-quoting battle) and convince us we were wrong. I also gradually realized that his beliefs lined up with the Jehovah's Witness beliefs pretty darn well. Turns out he definitely was a JW. At the end we of course offered him a copy of The Book of Mormon, or our card, and he said no. I guess he wasn't interested. After that we did some more contacting, went up some hills, got ditched for return appointments, and tried to follow some questionable directions to some house somewhere and couldn't find it. Just an average missionary day. Though, somewhat near the end, we went back to that spot where we said we'd meet the guy "in two days", and he showed up! So, we had a lesson with him in the park. He's really humble, and already believes in God and Christ even though he hasn't had the opportunity to read the Bible yet. He'd already done some reading in The Book of Mormon that we'd given him. At the end, we invited him to be baptized, and said yes, so that was pretty darn cool. Honestly, I felt like I was in South America for that lesson, but then again I haven't ever been to South America, so I wouldn't actually know.

On Saturday we got ditched for some lessons, cleaned the church, and then had a really short lesson with a very loud and easily-distracted young man. Since it was raining, I did a lot of phone calls while Elder King worked on preparing his talk for church.

Yesterday, Sunday, it was raining. That means that no one came to church except to the really consistent members. It was definitely good, though. Church is always good. I got to translate on the spot at one point, and that was really fun. I discovered that I definitely don't know the way Bosnians say "left-overs" for food, so I ended up just saying "the remaining foods." Translating is a really interesting thing. After church we got some information from our branch president about the members that I haven't met yet, and a bit later went out to visit a member (who I had already met) that happens to be the mother of the first missionary to serve from Bosnia. He's getting home in just over a week, and she's immensely excited, and honestly so are we. We hear that he's absolutely awesome. For the rest of the day we did planning and some calls.

This week's homework is to read Alma 42. It talks a lot about the plan of salvation and stuff. See if you can learn anything new that you can apply to yourself.

That's all for now, folks. Have a great week!

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Week 39: Atheists, Visas, and Skype

Hello again! Happy Mothers' Day! I hope you all have been enjoying seeing pictures on Facebook of missionaries Skyping their families. Anyway, here's the rundown of the week.

So, last week after email we ended up running into a particular RM from this mission, Elder Morgan, as well as his parents. Evidently they're touring around the mission seeing where he lived for 2 years. Really nice people. After talking with them a bit, we did some more P-day sightseeing, including the Latin Bridge again and the Gradska Vijećnica. We also went up the hill to a cool fort/castle thing, getting lost on the way, and took some pictures from the cool view when we did get there.

The view from up on the hill above Sarajevo
Sarajevo has some beautiful views
On Monday we had a lesson with an atheist former that we'd just called up from the area book. He brought a young friend of his that was studying religious sociology, or something. Tip for lessons: don't have an atheist sitting in on one if you want it to be effective. But after that we had a pretty good lesson with one of our main investigators. He's really close to being ready to be baptized, but right now there's a catch with some stuff about his job. We'll keep working with him.

After that we did some contacting to advertise for our special activity that was going to be on Thursday. While doing that, a discussion with one guy went the direction of ECG very briefly, but then he said that he was more interested in learning about our religion than learning English. That's highly abnormal. We got his number to set up a lesson later. Also, we ran into a girl from America who was just there for a few weeks doing something for work. It's really weird to us when we run into people that speak English natively and without a Slavic accent.

While we were in the church preparing some miscellaneous stuff, a lady just walked in and asked if this was the Mormon church, and then if she could have a copy of The Book of Mormon. We have no idea how she heard about us, but we set up to meet with her. That night for ECG we had somewhat low attendance, but it went quite alright. After it finished, we went with a few of the regulars to get some food at the mall across the street.

On Wednesday we had district meeting, then did a lot of prep for our Thursday activity (is the suspense building yet?) such as printing off 50 copies in Croatian of the introduction to The Book of Mormon and gluing them in the covers of some copies of The Book of Mormon, since the Croatian translation doesn't have the intro. The sisters also colored a poster for us to stick out front to advertise. That evening, Elder King and I went with the Newtons up to the Jahanje (horse-back riding) barn to do service. The weather was great, and so was the view from the mountain.

The Sister Missionaries made this awesome poster to advertise our special event. 
The view from the horse riding area where we do service.

Another view of the horse riding area
Thursday, we did a little bit of stuff for Elder King's visa, and then did more work getting ready for the activity we were having that night. The schedule that day was kinda crazy, especially with the sisters needing to travel to finish up their exchanges, but everything worked out. So, the activity we did was called "Upoznajte Mormone" which means "Meet the Mormons"! We invited the branch and everyone from our English Conversation Group and a bunch of people from the street. We the missionaries gave a presentation of sorts on who we are, why we're here, some basic beliefs of ours, etc, and gave everyone a copy of The Book of Mormon (with an introduction glued in). After the presentation thing, we had dessert and time to just talk and answer questions if people had any. A fair number of people showed up, but it could've been better (of course). Anyway, now there are more people that know anything about what we believe in and have a copy of The Book of Mormon.

Sister Martineau on the hill overlooking Sarajevo
On Friday morning we went to do a whole bunch of visa work for Elder King, and the sisters were there too since Sister McColm needs her visa too. We had to get some stuff notarized and have their blood tested and whatever else, but it wasn't really too bad. After that when we got lunch, I somehow got the lady at the Burgdžinica to break my 100 Mark bill, when it only cost 3 Marks. #missionaryMiracles.

Shortly after that we had a lesson with that guy from a few days before who'd said he was more interested in our religion than English. The only problem, though, was that we had to meet him at a cafić. Those are places where people chill and drink coffee and smoke for hours at a time, and they're generally really noisy. So, not too great for a lesson. It was alright, though.

Later that day we went to visit a part-member couple as a surprise. If you tell them you're coming over, she'll prepare an entire meal, and it's hard to teach anything while you're eating. Even though we came unannounced, she still somehow had some home-made strawberry cake thing to give us, plus home-made currant juice (everything at their place is home-made).

On Saturday we started off by cleaning the church. There was a giant cockroach that Elder King found, then sprayed with bug poison. We watched it die. After cleaning, we got ditched for a lesson, then had lunch at Woki. We did some regular contacting, and found a sassy new investigator. He was the kind of person that, when asked something like, "Can I help you with that?", he'd respond with something like "I don't know, CAN you?" and it was pretty darn funny. After contacting we did weekly planning.

On Sunday, yesterday, we had church like we always do, and it was great. After church we did a whole bunch of phone calls and got 7 potential investigators to agree to meet up with us. So, that was remarkable. Then we went over to the Woods' place to Skype for Mother's Day! That was pretty great. The Woods also fed us an dinner, American style. Double awesome.

Your homework is to read 2 Nephi 21 and 22. They're some of the chapters that are quoted from Isaiah, so you could also read them as Isaiah 11 and 12, if you so desire. Isn't it interesting that prophets quote each other? It's almost like they're a reliable source or something...

That's all for this week, folks! Have a great week!

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Week 38: Copies of the Book of Mormon, and Cafe Rio

Well everybody, welcome back to the Elder Echols Chronicles. I hope you all have had a good week recently, and that the weather is good wherever you are. Right now in Sarajevo, it's raining. But I guess that's ok.

So, last Monday after emailing, we went to get Sister McColm her first portion of ćevapi, and she really liked it (success!). From there we went around the tourist-y part of the city and saw some cool stuff, such as the Gradska Vijećnica. The Vijećnica is an old, triangular, striped building, and it looks really cool. It has some cool history, and the architecture is sick.

Me in front of the Vijećnica
Beautiful Architecture
On Tuesday we had a really good lesson with one of the people we talked to on Monday morning. He was really open, told us his story, and we taught the restoration. After that we read 3 Nephi 11 together, and he said that he felt a sense of relief or ease from reading it. It's interesting how powerful it is to simply read The Book of Mormon for the first time with an open heart. If you haven't read it yet, you should. After that we did some contacting and the usual stuff, and then went to visit our recent convert and his friend that he'd taken to church. It was just a short visit, but really good. That night for ECG, only 2 people came. People were mostly still in holiday mode, I guess.

On Wednesday we had district meeting, a lesson with an investigator about The Book of Mormon, and then we had to take care of some stuff with our land-lady. But, we got her to take a copy of The Book of Mormon! That night we got ditched on some more lessons, and did some tracting. During our tracting, we got firmly advised to read the Kur'an. Honestly, it was already in my plans.

Thursday was May 4th, as in, "May the 4th be with you". Happy Birthday, Elder Ralph! Anyway, we had a lesson with our investigator that we'd recently put on baptismal date, and talked about getting him to stop smoking. We put a plan together, and talked about the Gospel. After that we had some other lessons ditch, had video call interviews with President Grant, did some more tracting, had some more lessons ditch, and then had ECG. Thankfully the main crowd was back, since the holiday was pretty much over by then.

On Friday we headed out with the Newtons for Banja Luka to go to zone conference. In total it's something like a 4 hour drive, but on the way there we went a bit out of our way to visit the self-referral that we'd gotten. What a cool guy. Apparently he'd somehow received a Croatian copy of The Book of Mormon about 10 years ago and read it all the way through. That was something like 6 years before there were missionaries in Bosnia, though. A bit further in our trip to get to Banja Luka, we stopped for lunch at a place called Jajce. They had these cool little hut things sitting on mountain streams that are water-powered grain mills. Also, the restaurant we had lunch at was right on a lake, and it was a great view.

Me in front of the lake where the restaurant was.
Old Grain Mills at Jajce
Once we got to Banja Luka, Elder King and I helped the STLs and ZLs prepare some food for zone conference.

Saturday was zone conference! Like always, it was great to see other missionaries again. The presentations were good, and the food at lunch was awesome, haha. It was "Café Rio" food, except that there's no Café Rio around here. So, it was BBQ pulled pork burritos, pretty much. Also, Elder Evans brought some Australian spring rolls, I guess they were. Some people started joking around that they were made from Kangaroo meat, so people started just calling them Kangaroo Rolls. Plus there were some of Sister Newton's highly reputable cinnamon rolls. Also, we were reminded that neither "Books of Mormon" nor "Book of Mormons" are the proper way to put "The Book of Mormon" in plural. It has to be COPIES of The Book of Mormon ;) Thankfully that's not a problem in Bosnian.

Zone Conference in Banja Luka...we are eating Sister Newton's yummy cinnamon rolls
Zone Conference in Banja Luka
On the 5-hour bus ride back to Sarajevo, Sister Martineau started feeling car-sick. Thankfully she was fine. On that bus ride, we all also planned out something cool for this Thursday's ECG. No spoilers though, haha. When Elder King and I started heading home from the bus station in Sarajevo, we discovered a young lady from South Korea trying to get directions from a taxi driver. We talked to her to help a bit, and it turns out her destination was very close to our apartment, so we just showed her to the tram and also where to get off. Apparently her name was Taijung, but as I assume is the case with all Korean names, her name had some particular tones to go with it. I tried saying the tones, and I think I got it right after a few tries (shout out to anyone learning a language with tones). Apparently she was just doing some travels between semesters of school in the UK, or something like that. She was thankful for the help, we gave her a card, she bowed to us, and it was really great to be able to help someone.

Can you guess what was on Sunday? Church! Haha. Since it was fast Sunday, we got to hear some really good testimonies. Then Sister McColm taught Sunday school (in Bosnian. she's been here for almost 3 weeks), and Elder King taught for combined Priesthood/Relief Society. After church we planned a bit more with the Sisters for Thursday's special ECG and how to get ready for it. After that Elder King and I did weekly planning, and called some potential investigators to set up lessons.

Your homework for this week is to read Mosiah 4, which is part of King Benjamin's address. It talks a lot about repentance and forgiveness. See what you can learn from it!

That's it for now. Here are a few photos. Some from Jajce, some from the Vijećnica.

Gorgeous Scenery at Jajce
Me and Elder King next to the Grain Mills at Jajce
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb