Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Monday, June 26, 2017

Week 45: Bajram, and Yes, the Mormons are in Bosnia

Hello everyone! Happy Monday! This week the weather has been getting pretty darn hot and humid. Full-blown summer is rolling in. Hopefully the weather isn't too bad wherever you happen to be on this planet.

Last Monday, while I was showing Elder Smith around town, we stopped by the fancy rug store in the old part of town. I've never been all the way in before. Man, that place is crazy. Rugs from Persia and Iran and other places like that. They even had some pictures made out of rugs to hang up on your walls like paintings. Cool stuff.

The fancy rug store in old town Sarajevo.
A picture made of a framed rug to be used as a wall hanging.
Later in the night after emailing, we ran into a guy and his wife that I've ran into on the streets before a number of times. The husband is pretty funny, and he looks like a quirky professor that's now retired in Hawaii: crazy gray hair and beard, plus a floral-pattern button-up shirt. They're both super friendly, and apparently sing in the choir at some other church very regularly. Though, the guy admitted that he's pretty solidly atheist by now; they just go to that church and pretend to believe so that they can sing and have friends. What an interesting spot to be in. We of course tried to share with him about how we can find out for ourselves if God exists, through The Book of Mormon and prayer, but he wasn't really open to listen. He just wanted to talk about old movies, like Gone With the Wind. On our way home shortly thereafter, we ran into a pair of American guys that were quite astounded to see the Mormons in Bosnia. Paraphrased, the way they greeted us was, "Holy cow, Batman, the Mormons are in Bosnia!" We proceeded to talk to them a bit about their own beliefs (or again, the lack thereof), and one of them ended up saying, "You know, I don't believe in God and I'm not religious, but I believe in people who are! You guys are doing some great stuff, and I'm really proud of you as human beings."

On Tuesday we started off by helping the new sisters that just came in for the transfer, Sisters Orchard and Beus, to go get their white cards so they won't get kicked out of the country. The only thing was that they couldn't get their white cards. So, we ended up just helping them get situated with the city and everything, since both of them just barely came into the city. Sister Beus just came from Slovenia, which has an entirely different language from anything over here, and Sister Orchard just came from Serbia.

Sister Orchard and Sister Beus
A little bit later, Elder Smith and I had a lesson with that investigator that the last sisters put on date to be baptized July 8th. When those sisters got transferred out, they handed him over to us for us to teach him. He's such a stud. He's already really solid. Has good questions, and keeps his commitments. He gets how important this stuff is. We also had Haris the RM on that lesson, and he was a huge help, like usual. After the lesson, we were just on the street for a second figuring out some schedule stuff with Haris when some random lady walks by, and Haris drops our conversation, says hello to her, and promptly asks her if she'd like to learn about God and such. She totally ignored him, but it was funny how he just dropped our conversation for that. What a great guy.

On Wednesday we paid a guy to take forever to fix the church's front door... and then it was more broken. We'll get that figured out this week, I think. A bit later during the day, we were contacting and found this guy that seemed to be really interested in what we had to say, so we sat with him on a nearby bench to talk. Long story short, he studied in Saudi Arabia and knew Arabic and had a third of the Kur'an memorized, and he was trying to convert us to Islam and save our souls. I appreciate the effort, but I'm still not a Muslim. After that we had a lesson with the brother and sister that we met at ECG recently. She still has a lot of good questions about the Book of Mormon.

On Thursday, we started off with some contacting, and I decided to change my approach a bit and use some Islamic vocabulary. For example, when they're talking about people like Moses, Abraham, or Christ who had taught God's people, they say the word meaning "messenger", as opposed to "prophet" like we usually do. 

It seemed to make people more willing to talk to us, at least by a small margin. While out, we happened to run into a former investigator (from about 2 years ago) who I'd met once before, whose son comes to ECG every week. Apparently she'll be coming to church in a week! So that's cool. Elder Smith also gave her friend there a copy of The Book of Mormon. Shortly after that we met up with Haris to go contacting with him. He's super fearless, and contacts pretty differently from us. It seems to work a bit better to get them to initially stop and listen. There was one point where he got me talking to a pair of teenagers, and then their friend showed up, and then 2 more, and then about 5 more. So, I  was preaching to a whole mob of teenagers for a few minutes. Near the end of our contacting with Haris, we stopped at a little store to buy some water, and some lady stopped us and asked in broken English if we were from Salt Lake City. As we talked to her we found out that she and her husband are from around here, but they lived in SLC for about 15 years. She payed for our water. I love people like that. We invited them to church, too. A few minutes later, just around the corner as we were walking past a little outdoor café, a couple sitting there stopped us and asked in perfect English if we were from Salt Lake City. As we talked to them we found out that he's from around here, she's from the US, but he lived in SLC for about 15 years where he met her and they got married. Turns out the old couple we'd met just around the corner was the guy's parents. We invited them to church too! From there we had another awesome lesson with that investigator that's on baptismal date. He's doing so well. He sees how all of the commandments are relevant to him and easily agrees to follow them. From there we had a district meeting where Haris taught us some about Islam and what sort of approaches we can take to talking to them so that our message even makes sense to them, and they're not so afraid of us or think we're just weird and blow us off. A lot of it is just vocabulary stuff. Another one is telling them that God restored his truth to the Earth, rather than saying that he restored his church. The whole "restored church" thing doesn't make much sense in an Islam context, from what I understand. It's always important to understand where someone is coming from, and make it relevant to them, in a context they can understand.

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, which began the restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth once more.

Friday we had our last online meeting for District Leaders with President Grant before he's going home. I'm gonna miss him. For the rest of the day we helped the sisters finally get legal (they took a trip to the Montenegro border on Thursday to fix some problems), did some calls, and went contacting in the humidity. It's getting pretty darn hot out here.

On Saturday we of course started out with going up to the barn to do service. After that we had lunch with the sisters, the Newtons, and that investigator that's planning on getting baptized. It was great having him get to know some of these other people, such as Elder Newton, the current branch president. From there we had a lesson with that investigator where Brother Wood was there with us. He helped a lot, and it was again good to have the investigator meet another person from the branch. Later on we cleaned the church, got ditched for a lesson, and then had a really good lesson with a lady that had come to church with one of our other investigators last week. Since she's coming from a Muslim background, we focused on teaching in a way that would be relevant and make sense to her, and I think it went really well.

Sunday was the start of Bajram, which is the 3-day holiday at the end of Ramadan. So, that meant that the streets have been either very empty, or very busy, depending on the time of day. It's pretty interesting. Not a lot of people could come to church on Sunday, but it was still good, of course. After church we did our weekly planning and then went contacting for a while. We met some pretty cool people, like a high school kid who spoke really awesome English that mentioned he liked string theory. There was also a guy that was half Tanzanian, half Bosnian, and had grown up in the UK. He also said something along the lines of, "Holy moley, Mormons in Bosnia?! How'd you guys get in here?!" just like that other guy. It seems like people that are from around here that are somehow notably familiar with Mormons are typically extremely surprised that we're here doing our thing.

As for today, we've done plenty of the regular stuff like grocery shopping, paying bills, and cleaning up the apartment, and had a mini-lesson with an old referral/investigator from before I got here. Long story. Also, we discovered that a lot of businesses are closed for Bajram, including both places where we can email. So, this email is brought to you by the one computer in the church.

Your homework for this week is to read 2 Nephi 29, which is a chapter that talks about how God will never stop speaking to his people. He cares for all people all over the earth, and thus he continues to speak through prophets. Or should I say "messengers"? Anyway, this chapter has some good verses that we like to share on the street with Muslims, since it seems to click with them well.

Here is a picture of a giant orthodox church here in Sarajevo. Have an awesome week!

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Week 44: Zone Conference, a New Companion, and Branch Conference

Hello everyone! News for transfers is out. I'll be staying in Sarajevo again, but this time with Elder Smith. In case you haven't been counting, today marks 5 months of me being in Sarajevo. and now it looks like I'll be doing 2 more. Good thing I like this city!

I hope you all have been having a good summer so far. We're almost half way through the year already! The weather here has been pretty warm, but not as hot as it was a few weeks ago. The only downside is that it's been raining. But that's not too bad.

I got to meet up with my MTC companion, Elder Leach, while at the mission home for zone conference! Elder Leach is currently serving in Slovenia.
On Tuesday we and the Tuzla elders started off by doing some normal missionary work, since we were already up in Zagreb and had time for it. We split up a bit to go into different parts of the city for a while, and I went with Elder Hardy. Even though the core of Croatian is the same as the core of Bosnian, all the side-words like "hello", "excuse me", and "have a nice day" are totally different, so I thought it was really fun to try switching over to the local dialect immediately. Once we'd finished with all that and re-grouped, we went to lunch together and then over to Zone Conference to get started. 

I enjoyed seeing lots of my missionary friends during zone conference.
Our conference was together with the Slovene-serving missionaries, so it was pretty cool to get to know some of them that I'd never even met before. Of course we had some really good presentations, but then after dinner we all just had some free time to relax and play games. We got almost everyone playing volleyball at one point, and that was super fun.

Playing volleyball during zone conference
Playing Uno and eating ice cream during down time at zone conference.
On Wednesday, Zone Conference continued with more great presentations. Since President Grant and Sister Grant are going home in a few weeks, this was their last zone conference. It was really good to hear what they had to say. They really do love all of us, their missionaries. 

Listening intently to the special messages presented at zone conference.
Near the end of his presentation, President Grant also handed out copies of the transfer board, telling everyone where they're going to be for this next transfer that starts tomorrow. After that, I went and got my new companion, Elder Smith, from a little meeting point where I also saw Elder Crapo! Love that dude. Then we had our road trip back to Sarajevo.

Me and Elder Crapo during our short meet up!
On Thursday, We got Elder Smith his white card so that he wouldn't get kicked out of the country, and it took forever, and we got some groceries for him, had a lesson that ended with them asking us for money, and then the sisters got their investigator on baptismal date for July 8th! Super exciting.

On Friday we had a lesson with one of our main investigators, and he's still progressing, just a bit slower. A bit later that night we had district meeting, and then went with everyone for the Sisters' farewell dinner. Both Sister Martineau and Sister McColm are leaving, and we're getting 2 new sisters. That means I'm the only one of us 4 that's staying in Sarajevo.

Farewell dinner for Sisters Martineau and McColm
On Saturday we did service up at the barn, had a short lesson, and then did some solid contacting. We didn't get any new investigators, but we got 4 phone numbers, and ran into a couple from Indianapolis that knows about the Mormons a bit. We gave them the homework assignment to talk to the missionaries when they get back to the US.

Sunday we had branch conference, and that was really awesome. President Grant and Sister Grant came down, plus a bunch of other people like some members from Tuzla and the missionaries. President Pruess was released from being branch president, and now it's Elder Newton of our senior couple here. 

Elder Newton, now President Newton, is the new Branch President in Sarajevo.

Missionaries at the Sarajevo Branch Conference: Me, Elder Smith, Elder Hole, Sister Martineau, Sister McColm, and Elder Hardy.
Also, there were a total of 10 investigators there! Of course, some of them are more like "friends of the church and their kids", but it was still great to have them there! And besides, we did have an unusual number of other investigators. For the last song in sacrament meeting, we sang "God be with you till we meet again" and that got a lot of people crying, of course. 

Me and President Grant. All the missionaries love the Grants! They will be missed.
We all had lunch together afterwards there in the church, and it was great to get everyone socializing. These people are great. After church, we did a bunch of planning, and found out that the sisters decided to give that investigator, who's on date for baptism July 8th, over to us, since we've already met the guy, and he lives in our area, and it'll avoid any more gender-rule annoyances anyway. So now we have an investigator on baptismal date! We didn't put him there though, haha.

Good luck to Sisters McColm and Martineau who are leaving Sarajevo.
Your homework this week is to read 3 Nephi 11-12, and ask yourself what the main message is that Christ teaches the people as soon as he arrives. What is most important for us to know from him?
Stuff is going well. Thanks everyone for your support! Have an awesome week!

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Week 43: Lessons, ECG friends, and Plitvica

Hey Everyone! Here's a short one.

So, last week I forgot to mention last time that on Monday we visited that recent convert and his investigator friend, and gave them a copy of the new translation of the Book of Mormon after we read a chapter together. We also then got a text from one of our main investigators that we hadn't been able to see in over a week, and he asked if we could meet up right about then. So we had a lesson! It was great. He really is a friend by now. We talked about the 10 commandments, talking about what each one means in life nowadays. When we got to "though shall not kill" we didn't really have anything to explain, and it was pretty funny. Of course at the end of the lesson, we invited him to branch conference. Usually when you invite anybody to anything, they say something like "If I can find time". Some "if" sentence. But, this time he just said a simple "yes, I will" and it was great that he wasn't even questioning whether he'd come or not. We also invited him to bring his family. I feel like we're really friends with him now. He's doing really well. Later that day Elder King and I got haircuts, and like last time, as soon as we walked in the haircut place, all my vocab and grammar went out the window. I don't know why that always happens with haircuts.

The beautiful Croatian countryside.
Anyway, Tuesday was plenty of normal stuff, including ECG. There's a young brother/sister pair that started coming recently, and they're really awesome.

On Wednesday we had district meeting and talked about hope. What an interesting thing. We learned that hope comes from faith, and hope makes us sure in our path. You should study it. A bit later in the day, the sisters had a lesson with an investigator that apparently Elder Perry and I had tracted into once, but the sisters met him on the street again recently, and he decided to listen to them (your welcome, sisters). And the lesson was really good, apparently. Things seem to be picking up here a bit in Sarajevo.

On Thursday we got Elder King's visa stuff finished, briefly ran into the sisters as they were switching back from exchanges, and then taxied home. We also heard through the Newtons that Elder King's brother got his mission call. That night for ECG that same participant that took a pamphlet and a Book of Mormon came of course, as well as her brother like usual, and it's really great to have them. We're already getting to be good friends with them, and talking a little bit about religion stuff. Elder King even got out a pamphlet and a copy of the Book of Mormon to the sister. I always love it when that kind of thing happens. ECG is a really good way to meet new investigators. We also invited everyone to come to church.

Me, Elder King, Brother and Sister Newton, Sister McColm, and Sister Martineau at Plitvica Lakes.
 Friday started off with Elder King doing his "mother's day" call (he got permission to move it) so he could see his brother open his mission call. Cool stuff. A bit later that morning we also had a lesson with out main investigator, the one that texted us on Monday to have a lesson, and had Haris in on it. It was some really good stuff. It's super useful to have not only a member on a lesson, but a member that is a native of this country and knows the culture here. Right after that, Haris went into with a lesson with the sisters and their main investigator that had that awesome lesson earlier in the week. Apparently it was also a pretty incredible lesson. Stuff is really starting to light up here, and Haris is only helping it. He has some really great tools up his sleeve.

Sister Newton has me do all the mathematical calculations for the construction projects.
On Saturday we started off with service. I really like doing that stuff. This time we were helping build a "sensory trail" to help with the therapy for children with disabilities.

Here we are preparing pool noodles to hang for part of the sensory trail at Riders of Hope.
Elder King and I helping with the sensory trail at Riders of Hope. This one has rain gutters that a ball will roll down.
The rest of the day, we just did a lot of contacting. But it was some pretty good contacting, since we tried asking some different starter questions from usual. Near the end we ran into that girl from ECG (but not her brother) and reminded her about church, and also apparently she'd been reading the Book of Mormon and had a lot of questions. Good stuff.

On Sunday in church I spoke, as well as Haris, and it was really great to hear from him and hear some of his experiences. We also had a few investigators there, and it was really great. The brother and sister from ECG didn't come, but they texted us later saying they were free to meet up, and we immediately went to meet up with them. She had a lot of great questions, he had a lot of good comments, and her Book of Mormon looked like a coloring book. It was some really good stuff. I also really appreciate that we're already just friends with them. That night we did some cleaning and packing up to head out for zone conference in Croatia.

Our road trip to Plitvica Lakes. We had Cool Ranch Doritos!
Today, Monday, we went on a bit of a road trip with the Newtons and the sisters, including a stop at Plitvica lakes in Croatia. That's some really cool stuff. Pretty scenery. Also, the Newtons had brought American snacks! The best. I'm really excited for conference.

Plitvica Lakes is a National Park. You can see why. It's very beautiful there.
Your homework for this week is to read Mosiah 3. It's part of King Benjamin's address. My favorite part is when he asks us to abound in good works so that the Lord can "seal us his". When we obey the commandments, he can better protect us.

Here are a few pictures from Plitvica. Have a great week!

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