Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Monday, July 17, 2017

Week 48: FHE, Translation, and Pizza

Hello everyone! I hope you all are having a great summer so far and that the weather is nice wherever you are. Over here it's been going between being barely too hot, and just right. So, no complaints here.

Anyway, last Monday evening we missionaries held a branch Family Home Evening (FHE) activity to start facilitating friendships between members and investigators. We played some games, including crazy Uno, and it was great. The turnout was pretty low, since it was the first time, but the people that did come were one member and one investigator, so I think it was effective anyway. We'll be doing it again this week, but we've had more people say that they're coming already.

On Tuesday we went to an inactive member's house to visit him and his wife who isn't a member. They fed us lunch, and we taught them the Restoration for our spiritual message. After that we contacted, had comp study, had a lesson with our recent convert, got ditched for a different lesson, had dinner, and then ECG. Pretty standard day, I guess. The new investigator that we found was a guy from Holland, and he apparently is here on an internship.

Sarajevo is a beautiful place.
On Wednesday we tried getting some appointments set up with a less-active member or an investigator that lives out of town, but those didn't work out, so we ended up with just district meeting and a lot of finding. We used that large block of finding time to go out to a part of our area that is far enough away from our apartment that it never really gets touched. While we were out there, we happened to discover that there's a place where you can go bowling: in Zetra, the old Olympic Hall. Apparently they've re-purposed the place into a recreational center of sorts. We're definitely going to check that out one of these P-days.
Thursday morning we were supposed to meet a guy for him to fix the AC in the church, but we were kinda late getting there. I guess it's a good thing he was almost two hours late...? A bit later we had a quick park lesson, and then for lunch we had some leftover burritos. Our lesson with our Dutch friend fell through, and his number wasn't working, so we ended up going out to visit that less-active member. It was a pretty good visit, and as some spoilers, he ended up coming to church this week! While we were visiting him, he also told us some good news; pretty soon he and his siblings will be selling their mom's old property and splitting the money, so that'll be enough for him to buy an apartment. That'll be really good, since right now he's pretty much in a homeless shelter that has plenty of mentally unsound residents. It'll be good for him to get out of there.

Sisters Turner, Orchard, and Beus teach the advanced class in our English Conversation Group (ECG).
Anyway, that evening for ECG, we switched groups with the sisters so that we were the ones with the advanced group. That was pretty fun, getting to know those other participants a bit better. After ECG, our newest member and I helped Sister Turner translate an article for the church's Bosnia page, and that was pretty funny. Sister Turner or I would translate a sentence from English into Bosnian, knowing of course precisely what it means in English, and then our native friend would say that it doesn't make sense, but he'd agree that we got the translation right. So, he was basically just complaining about what it said in English, haha.

We see lots of interesting buildings while we are out and about in Sarajevo.
Friday we had a lot of contacting, and contacted down the river a bit to a really good pizza place called Montana's. After we ordered and were waiting, we discovered that they had stuffed crust pizza. So, now we know what we'll be ordering for next time! A bit later in the afternoon, we did a "finding activity" with the sisters. A scavenger hunt of sorts. We each had a list of particular people to find and try to talk to, such as "an old man with an ice cream cone", or "a college-aged couple". It kinda seemed like any time we'd contact a normal person who wasn't specifically on the list, then someone would walk by us that was on the list, while we were busy talking. In any case, the sisters won, and so we bought them popcorn from the movie theater (we might not be able to watch movies, but that doesn't mean we can't walk into the theater and get popcorn, haha). After that we spent some time with our newest member and his girlfriend, so that we can get to be friends with her too. At the end, even though we didn't specifically talk about religion the whole time, she saw the copy of The Book of Mormon that Elder Smith was holding, and asked to see it, asking what it was. He of course explained it to her, let her keep the copy, and she said that she'd read it. Progress!

The streets of Sarajevo at night.
For Saturday, we started off with contacting, and then had a lesson in the afternoon with our newest member, talking about the priesthood. We don't have any details yet, but the plan is for him to receive the priesthood really soon. So, we're excited for that. After that lesson we cleaned the church with the sisters and figured out a special musical number for church. That night after language study we went contacting some more. We met a guy that basically said "I don't really get what you want to talk about when we meet up, but I'm down. Recently I've been having some really bad luck with dating, and maybe you all can help me figure it out" so that was pretty funny. Sadly he had to cancel for the lesson because he was feeling really sick, but we'll get him eventually.

On Sunday I played the piano for a musical number sung by the other missionaries.
On Sunday, we had a visiting family of members come to church. They've been living in London, but are just on vacation right now around the Balkans. One of the sons passed the sacrament, some of the daughters helped with primary, and I sat with some of them during Sunday School to translate for them. It was really great to have them there. They seemed to enjoy getting to see how the church is doing well even way out here so far from any temples or stakes. After church, we missionaries had a bit of lunch together at the church while Elder Smith was waiting for the office to be free and while the sisters were waiting for a lesson. The rest of the day was just kinda planning and the regular stuff.

Have I mentioned how much I like the food here? Look at this dough pocket full of sausage!
The grocery stores have lots of fun snacks
Today we've paid bills and gotten haircuts and gone grocery shopping and looked for printer int, and it's not even 12:00 yet. Adventures yet await.

Your homework for this week is a bit of a correction from last week. I'm pretty sure I mixed up two chapters. I said to read 2 Nephi 2, but that description was actually about 2 Nephi 31. So, whichever of those two chapters you didn't read last week, read this week. Sorry about the confusion!

Have an awesome week and enjoy life! Talk to you next week.
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

Monday, July 10, 2017

Week 47: Intros, Watermelon, and a Baptism!

Hello everyone! Before you ask, yes the baptism did happen! Our investigator got baptized on Saturday just as planned despite some technical difficulties. But if you want to hear about that, you'll have to read through the rest of the email ;)

On Monday after my wallet got stolen and we did our emails, we went with that our investigator and the sisters up the hill a little bit to see some fortresses and such. There are some really cool views up there.

On the way down, we somehow decided to run/skip all the way down the huge steep hill. It was pretty fast, but we've been pretty sore this week from that =P From there we met up with the Zone Leaders so our investigator could have is baptismal interview, and then the ZLs slept at our place for the night.

On Tuesday morning Elder Smith and I went for a run, and by the time we came back, Elder King had put on some very American patriotic music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!! Later that day we went to lunch with them at a place called Burger Bar, where they have really good burgers (naturally) rivaling Red Robin. The potato wedges were also pretty killer.

A hearty lunch at the Burger Bar with Elders Smith, Hole, and King.
Shortly after that, Elder Smith and I packed up and got on the 5.5 hour bus ride to Banja Luka so we could get to Zone Conference the next day. We slept at the ZLs' apartment, and so did the APs. So, that was 6 Elders in a 2-person apartment. Some of us were on the floor. Nevertheless, it was good to see all those guys (Elder Perry and Elder King, former companions of mine, were both there).

Elder King and Elder Perry were both at zone conference.
On Wednesday morning we went out and hit a Pekara (bakery) for some breakfast. While there, I happened to look across the street and see a watermelon stand that said "BEST WATERMELON IN THE CITY" (in Bosnian). Then I looked to my right, right next to the Pekara, and saw another watermelon stand owned by a different guy. That one also said "BEST WATERMELON IN THE CITY". Those two guys must be pretty serious rivals, haha. From there we went to the church a bit early and helped set up for Zone Conference a bit. ZC was really good. Since this is President Melonakos' first round of Zone Conferences (oh, we got a new mission president about a week ago, btw), most of it was introductions and testimonies between all of us. It was really good to already get to know President and Sister Melonakos. They'll be great. At the end of the conference, I totally wrecked the intro to the closing hymn and had to 100% start it over. It was pretty funny, though. For the way back to Sarajevo, Elder Smith and I rode with the Newtons, packed in with a whole bunch of other stuff such as leftover pizza that we were taking home from the Zone Conference lunch. #missionaryLife

Zone Conference in Banja Luka
On Thursday, we went to the church to set up the font for the impending baptism, and then we started making programs for the event too. Then the sisters came and we all practiced our musical number for Sunday. We all had lunch there at the church that we'd brought with us. We the Elders had leftover pizza from ZC, and the sisters had panninis plus fruit and vegetables. Thankfully they shared some of their healthy things with us, haha. After district meeting, we had another lesson with our investigator where we watched "Finding Faith in Christ", which is kind of a summary of Christ's life in the old world. I really like it, and since our investigator has never read the New Testament and grew up as a Muslim, a lot of the stories were new to him. That evening we had ECG like usual, and we found out that one of the frequent participants from the advanced group had lost his father very recently. We're already pretty much friends with him, but we're now trying more to make sure that he knows that he's not alone, and that death isn't just the end. After this life we'll still be able to see our friends and family. Anyway, after ECG Elder Smith and Sister Turner practiced their special musical number for the baptism. There have been a lot of musical numbers in the works recently, btw. Apparently I'll be having one in church in 2 weeks too.

Friday morning we went for another run. This time we went more through "Tsentar" and "Bashcharshia" (sorry, I don't have a special keyboard right now). That area is the more touristy spot. So, we ran past a Cathedral, a giant Mosque, some old Turkish buildings, an Orthodox church, and a whole bunch of shops. In case I haven't mentioned it, Sarajevo is a pretty cool place. For almost all of Friday we were just running around printing the programs and getting other stuff ready for the baptism, including practicing some more music with the sisters. Also, we discovered that the quarter watermelon that I'd bought on Monday went bad. Reeeeally bad. Really fast, too. And it took with it the nearby leftover pizza that we had in the fridge.

Now for Saturday. The baptism was scheduled for 3pm, and Sisters Martineau and McColm were each coming from their respective cities with their companions so they could be there, since they got the investigator started on this path anyway. So, we got over to the church right at 10 to start filling up the font. But, the water heater kept turning itself off every 62 seconds. I didn't want the water to be cold for the investigator (or myself), so I had to go push a button on the water heater every 62 seconds to keep it heating. 

This is the font we use for baptisms.
Not too long later, we noticed that the floor around the font was wet. When I say "not too long later" I mean about an hour, or maybe two. Turns out there was a leak, and we started stuffing towels under it to dry it up and maybe stop the leak. They were just getting soaked really fast, though. Elder Smith found the leak on the outside and put his finger on it to stop the water. It was actually really effective, but he was stuck there a while, and I was still going to push that button every 62 seconds to restart the water heater. Party. At some point the sisters and the Newtons showed up with some duct tape to try to help.
Contrary to popular belief, duct tape does not fix everything.
The duct tape didn't work, so the Newtons went to buy something better, while we and the sisters drained the not-so-empty font. We had a lot of buckets and stuff, and Sister Beus ended up getting in the font so she could help hand us buckets of water to dump into the street.

Sister Beus was very helpful.
We also had a pump going, thankfully. Oh, I forgot to mention that the font was basically sitting on top of some electrical panels. Anyway, the whole place got pretty wet and messy with all the buckets going everywhere, but none of it got into the electric panels (we were watching them very closely). The Newtons came back with some superglue type stuff, so we patched it up and had lunch while we waited for it to dry. Then we started filling it back up (this is probably at about 1pm). The Newtons and sisters left to go change and such, and we stayed to continue filling the font. This time we had those buckets and pitchers, and we had every faucet in the place turned on. We were basically running in circles switching out buckets and taking filled ones to the font and dumping them in while other ones were filling up. We also had the main hose as before helping. And the water heater was still turning off every 62 seconds (see the video below). The investigator himself showed up shortly after 2pm, and started helping. Just before 3pm, people of course started showing up, and the font wasn't quite as full as we would've liked, but it was definitely at a level we could work with. So, I went and changed and we had a total of 6 non-members there, plus a whole bunch of missionaries and some local members. The program was great, including that musical number by Elder Smith and Sister Turner, and talks by Sisters McColm and Martineau.

Sister Turner and Elder Smith sang a beautiful song about baptism.
As for the baptism itself, I was the one to do it. Since the water wasn't terribly high, I had to put him down pretty far, and then help him back up a lot. We got it first try, though, so that was great. He was starting to tear up a bit when he came out. It was great. Anyway, after the whole program we had some refreshments and it was great having everyone there for our new member. Once everyone left, we of course had to clean up and stuff, and dry out the font that had been pumping ever since the baptism itself was over. So, that baptism took our entire day, but it was obviously worth it.

Yesterday at church, he (our newest member) got confirmed and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. We also did a musical number with the sisters, and that was fun. Later in the day, we had a lesson with a guy we'd met on Friday. I'd noticed before that his hat had Hebrew written on it, and he was wearing it again for our lesson, and it turns out that he's a Jew. So, that's pretty cool. We kinda just find anyone from a bunch of different religions here. He seemed pretty interested in The Book of Mormon and what it says, and we're excited to keep working with him. For the rest of the day we had another lesson, did some planning and phone calls, etc.

Your homework is to read 2 Nephi 2, which is about how Christ provided us with a perfect example by being baptized and following the commandments of the Father. It's pretty good stuff.

Here are some photos! Have an awesome week!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

Monday, July 3, 2017

Week 46: A Trio, Some Music, and No Wallet


Hello, friends and family. Yet another week has rolled on by, and here we are again. Thankfully some interesting stuff has happened this week, so I still have something to write about!

For starters, last Monday evening we had a 3rd sister missionary arrive! So, now Sister Turner is here with the other two sisters as a trio. They're really doing well already. Later that night, we had dinner at a part member home with the Newtons also there, and of course gave a spiritual thought at the end.

On Tuesday we got to see another member that's been having a hard time coming to church the past while, and it was really good to see him again. As a bit of a spoiler, he ended up coming to church again this week! Anyway, after that we had district meeting at the Newtons', during which I got to talk about President Grant's last weekly letter for our lesson. I'm gonna miss him. Then we all practiced teaching about why Christ as our savior is necessary, since almost everyone here belongs to the Islam faith, which holds the belief that there is no need for Christ or any other savior. You know, sometimes it is good to think about why Christ is necessary and how he actually does help us, since we wear his name on our name tags and it's by the entrance to our church buildings and everything like that. The main point that I seemed to figure out is that Christ didn't enable God to forgive us, but rather enabled us all to really repent and become better people and inherit the Kingdom of Heaven in the end. From district meeting, we did some running around to get to a lesson on time and then get to the church on time for online final interviews with President Grant, plus another lesson and then ECG.

Jesus Christ's Atonement is needed for us to get back to our Heavenly Father
Wednesday started of with us getting a call from a maintenance type guy (that the building manager had apparently asked to fix something) saying that he was coming to fix the something in 15 minutes, so we had to drop what we were doing and run over there to open the doors for him. He never even came. I don't even understand. For lunch we met up with one of our friends/investigators that we met through ECG. He's a Muslim, and we talked over lunch about some of the big similarities between Islam and our religion. I shared some scriptures with him from the Book of Mormon that showed some ways we believe in similar things as them. After lunch we headed out to another lesson with one of the guys we'd taught just the day before, on Tuesday. We tried teaching him the plan of salvation, but he had so many questions that we didn't even get half way through it. It just so happened that one of the questions he asked was why Christ or any savior would be necessary? His thinking was mostly, "why can't we just tell God sincerely that we repent of our sins and have it be over with?" It's a good point, of course, but like we explained to him and had just talked about at district meeting, the purpose of Christ as a savior isn't to enable God to forgive us, but to help us to repent and really change on the way. After that we had another lesson with our main investigator, the one on baptismal date, and we talked about the Word of Wisdom, our law of health (what things to or not to eat/drink/etc). It just so happens that he'd already read a bit about it on LDS.org and has been living it. What a great guy. For dinner that night we went with the sisters of to the home of one of the embassy families that's here in the branch, and we had a solid American meal of barbecue pulled pork sandwiches. Being that I recently discovered that they own an accordion, after dinner we spent some time playing and singing some church songs together, me on accordion and others on ukulele. That was pretty fun.

On Thursday we had some business to take care of in the morning, then a lesson with one of the investigators that Elder Perry and I found shortly after I got here. We've been having lessons with him here and there as often as he has time for (which isn't too often), but stuff is going pretty well with him still. He has a few hang-ups (but pretty much everyone does), but he knows that the Book of Mormon is true, so he's on the right path so far. For lunch we went to Woki, the restaurant that's right next to the church, as is not uncommon. We had the same waitress as always (we're pretty good friends with her by now), but she told us just before we headed out that she would be leaving Sarajevo for a while, and probably wouldn't be able to work there again when she got back. So, we got her phone number and gave her our information about ECG and when we have church and everything, so that she can come to all that stuff once she's back. I don't know why we haven't invited her before... Anyway, we also gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon as a parting gift, and she seemed excited about it. After that we had another lesson with that same guy as the two days before, but this time we got to finish talking about the plan of salvation. At the end of the night we got together with the Newtons, the sisters, and some other friends of the church, since it was someone's birthday. Elder Smith and I ended up talking with her parents for a while, teaching them about the restoration, the Book of Mormon, and how our church is different from other Christians. The dad at one point asked, "how can I get a copy of that book?" so we just handed him a copy of the Book of Mormon right then. That kind of missionary work is my favorite, like with the waitress at Woki. The kind where just end up being someone's friend, and get to share with them the whole reason you're even over here in Bosnia.

Friday we finally got in some contacting time, since we'd been busy the rest of the week with other lessons and business stuff. Not a whole lot of people really listened, but I guess that's fine. We also of course had another lesson with our baptismal candidate, and stuff is still going really well with him. We've been working out some details for his baptism, like the white clothes for him, or who will talk at the baptism. Hopefully before you all get another email from me, there'll be another member of the church in the Sarajevo branch. It'll be great.

Me and Elder Smith with Sisters Turner, Orchard, and Beus at a cafe where we stopped for a cool drink on p-day.
On Saturday morning we had service like usual, where we go up to the horseback riding place and help with therapeutic riding. The sisters came too, and so there was some weird stuff about rides on how to get us all up there and back. On the way up, Elder Smith and I just got picked up super early and did our studies up there while the sisters then got picked up. On the way back, though, we had to get a ride from someone up there that I hadn't ever met. He drove us back down off the mountain and into town, but he dropped us off in an edge of the city that I'd never been to before. So, we asked some people for some directions, and started walking the way they pointed. After a solid half-hour or so, we got to somewhere I recognized, and then another half-hour and we were finally back at the church to start cleaning. Even though we definitely left service before the sisters, they'd mostly already finished their part of cleaning the church. Thankfully they were willing to stick around a bit longer and help us with our cleaning, since we were behind schedule. That evening we of course had another lesson with our friend who's getting ready for baptism, and we finally finished teaching him everything. He's such a great guy. A bit later, we had a lesson in the park with a guy that had apparently known the missionaries about 7 months ago, and he was pretty cool. It's always really interesting to me to think that there's been at least 2 missionaries in this city for all of the last 5 years, and how many people in total all of those missionaries have talked to, and where those people might be or if they'd be willing to learn more. Thankfully we have an "Area Book" that's a huge binder of stuff like that written down, but unfortunately a lot of the phone numbers in their don't work anymore, or if there's an address it's extremely hard to find without something like a GPS.

This building in Sarajevo still shows signs of the war.
Sunday started off with church, of course, and I played piano for that like usual. The interesting part this time was for the closing hymn, Called To Serve, when I totally wrecked the intro. It's fine though, haha. Our main investigator came, of course, as well as one of the sisters' new investigators that they'd found this week. And as I mentioned earlier, that member came who had been having a hard time getting here! It was really great to see him there again. After church we did our weekly planning, and a bunch of phone calls to try and set up lessons, since it was raining. It's pretty interesting to see how few people go outside here whenever it's raining. The streets just go vacant.

Today I lost my wallet. Or rather, someone pick-pocketed me while on the crowded tram. I remember when I put it in my pocket, and it was only maybe 5 minutes later that it was gone. Sigh...

Your homework for this week is to read Alma 40-42, which talks about mercy, justice, Christ's Atonement, and related things. Try to read it with the perspective that Christ performed the Atonement so that we can really become better people.

Have a great week! Watch your pockets. Here are some photos.
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb