Elder Echols

Elder Echols

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Week 54: Slovenia!

Hello everyone! We're terribly short on time and I don't even know why, so this email is going to be a slightly shorter one.

On Monday we had another branch FHE, and only "Jenny" and our most recent member came. It was really good though. They seem like they're becoming pretty good friends.

Tuesday, we went contacting with Haris. When I contacted one guy, he answered in Italian. I started using my long-neglected Spanish knowledge from high school to talk to him. He was really going off in Italian about what a great place Sarajevo is, and then what a beautiful country Spain is. I was having a hard time getting any words in at all so that we could talk about the Gospel, and then the discussion pretty much ended, so we exchanged our names as we were parting. When he heard Haris' name and recognized him as a Bosnian, he got excited and started speaking to him in fluent Bosnian as if Elder Smith and I didn't understand. Turns out that he's actually from Bosnia. I don't know why a Bosnian in Bosnia when spoken to in Bosnian would answer in Italian, but that's what happened. That evening, Elder Leach and his new trainee showed up, and we promptly took them over to ECG and introduced them to their participants.

Me and Elder Smith during our last few days together in Sarajevo.
Wednesday was kinda crazy, but I did end up getting my Slovene visa and then got travel plans figured out to actually go up there the next day. We ran into Sister Orchard and her new trainee during the course of it all, and at the end of the day all 3 companionships had dinner with the Newtons at a Lebanese restaurant, called "Beirut" (which just so happens to be the name of one of my favorite bands).

My Farewell Dinner at a Lebanese Restaurant called "Beirut"
Enjoying ice cream with the Newtons in Sarajevo one last time. I will miss them!!
Pretty early Thursday morning we headed over to the bus station, and there were met by "Jenny" and our most recent member who wanted to say goodbye to us. It was a really long bus ride up to Zagreb, and the whole way there I was sitting behind a Canadian who was reading "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Once we got to Zagreb, there was some confusion about where cars were parked across Zagreb, and we ended up having 7 Elders in the 5 available seats of a stick-shift van that had at least 3 people's luggage in the trunk obscuring the rear view, with Elder Hanks driving as a new AP that had just learned to drive stick that week. It was so awesome. We eventually got stuff figured out, and Elder Smith, Elder Zimmerman, and myself all loaded our luggage into a 5-seater (I still don't know how it fit) and then drove up to Slovenia. We got to Ljubljana, and then I caught a train with Elder Jensen going to Celje, and the train ended up arriving way late, plenty past our curfew.

Squishing all of us and our things into a little car.
We can all fit, right?
Since then it's just been life in Slovenia. I have to be honest and just say that this place seems fake because it's so nice. I feel like I'm in Disneyland or something. Especially when I'm walking through the little European streets and there's music floating through the air from the accordion guy playing on the side of the street like a total professional from Italy, or there's a midieval festival in the town square. I met the rest of the district, which is the Porters plus sisters Crosby and Brown, and introduced myself at church during sacrament meeting. The Elders' Quorum President here is from Peru, so he only speaks Spanish, plus enough Slovene to get by. I think he and I are going to be good friends.
Celje is full of beautiful little cobblestone streets. They are perfect.
Celje is nestled at the bottom of a hill where a beautiful castle is located.
There was a pretty cool thing that happened this weekend. On Saturday we contacted a guy that was from Bosnia, so I talked to him in Bosnian, and he said we could come visit him the next day. He gestured to where his place apparently was and said he'd just be outside. He also couldn't give us his phone number, so we had no idea how we were going to really find him. In any case, we returned on Sunday afternoon like we said, walked around that area a bit and didn't see him. Elder Jensen remembered that there was a lady in one of the nearby apartment buildings that spoke mostly Croatian that'd said that they could come back soon, so we decided to go find her. We go up to the tall apartment building, look at the huge collection of intercom buzzers, push a random one, and immediately get let into the building. That's very rare, in my experience. We go up to the door where the lady apparently lives, ring the doorbell, and the Bosnian guy answers. Apparently it's his apartment too! The chances of that whole thing are ridiculous. Apparently God wants him to hear what we have to say. He said he didn't have time right then, though, so we'll just go stop by a different day.

Part of the Celje castle with a view of the surrounding area
The weather here is a lot hotter than it was in Sarajevo when I left (the weather in Sarajevo was perfect when I left). Learning the Slovene language is going ok so far. I can see how it's obviously a close relative to Bosnian, but they definitely are different languages. I think learning this one will be really fun. For now it's definitely hard for my to speak, but I can understand pretty well, since the words' roots are usually the same as from Bosnian.

Celje Castle

Celje Castle
Anyway, that's all the time I have for now. Don't forget to read your scriptures!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

Monday, August 21, 2017

Week 53: A Birthday, Two Concerts, 50% Done, Transfers, and Other Insanities

Hello family and friends! This last week was absurd. This email definitely is not going to do it justice. Since many of you are probably wondering about transfers, here it is: I'm going to Slovenia! Specifically the city of Celje (Pronounced Sell-yay.) For those of you not terrible familiar with the Adriatic North Mission, that means that I'm soon going to be speaking an entirely different language than I've been speaking so far. It's like getting called to speak Spanish, but then getting transferred to Portugal half way through. We'll talk about it more later, though. Here's the story of the week.

On Monday our schedule got screwed up by a repairman needing to come precisely at 1pm, but we survived. We still managed to do some fun things for our P-day, like get Elder King a custom soccer jersey.

A special jersey for Elder King
At the end of the day we had a big branch party over at the fancy park on the other side of town, and a lot of people showed up, including people from the branch, English Conversation Group, and a few others. We played some volleyball and soccer and such and it was a good time.

Tuesday, we spent most of the day preparing for our concert in various ways, such as making programs or practicing music. We did have district meeting in the middle of it, in which Sisters Beus and Turner (who are going home something like today) shared with us 18 things they'd learned from their 18 months as missionaries. When the concert finally rolled around that night, it was a big hit. We seemed to have an even better crowd than the branch party did the previous night, with some unexpected attendees. One of our ECG participants who happens to be a professional jazz musician said that we were all at a professional level too, and asked why we'd all been hiding our talent. After the concert itself, there was some food and we had a good time introducing people to each other. (See the videos below if you want to see some of the musical numbers from the concert).

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

I Am a Child of God

On Wednesday morning we got transfer announcements. So many plot twists. The main one for me is that I'm going to Slovenia, which is a country where they don't speak any language that I've ever learned before: Slovene. So, it'll be like being fresh out of the MTC, except they didn't teach you anything in the MTC. It'll be great. Also, Elder Smith is likewise going up to Slovenia, but he'll be my Zone Leader in Ljubljana, and he started his mission in Slovenia. In any case, there were a lot of unexpected things on the transfer board. Right around then, the sisters gave me a gift for my half-way mark: a bag of a bunch of "half-way" things, such as half of a chocolate bar, half of a missionary pamphlet, half of a passport photo of Sister Turner, etc.

Half-way gifts from the Sister Missionaries for my hump day.

Then we went to lunch with them and some other members and friends. At this point we're trying to figure out what this all means for us getting visas for Slovenia, since the Slovenian embassy here is only open 9-12, Monday to Thursday. The rest of the day we worked on some various stuff to prepare for the whitewash (you're welcome, Elder Leach), and then at the end of the night we had a farewell dinner with the Newtons for the Sisters. That restaurant, "Miss Sophie's 4 Rooms", has some really darn good lava cakes. While there, we got a fairly urgent call from one of our members, and so we went with the Newtons after dinner to go figure out the situation.

Check out this amazing lava cake!
Thursday was absolutely insane. And my half-way mark, and Elder Smith's birthday! 50% done. Anyway, the start of the day was definitely really good, since we went over to the Newtons' for breakfast to celebrate Elder Smith's birthday. The sisters also came and some gifts were given, and then they headed off, Sisters Beus and Turner to go home, and Sister Orchard to get stuff situated for transfers. From there Elder Smith and I went to go help that member some more with the urgent situation, but we also needed to do visa stuff at the same time, since the Slovene embassy has such restricted hours. So, long story short, we had a whole bunch of taxi rides all over the city to get all this stuff figured out, and then we finally ended up late to our lesson at 4:30 with "Jenny" (our ECG/friend/investigator lady. But that's not her real name). Even though we didn't have any time all day to plan the lesson, it was somehow really a great lesson.

Lots of goodbyes...Sister Turner and Sister Beus have completed their missions and are headed home.
Then ECG needed to start, someone needed to test the broadcast system at the same time, and Elder Smith and I hadn't eaten in 9 hours. Thankfully the Newtons got us McDonalds really fast, we ate really quick, and then Elder Smith went to do the broadcast thing (don't worry, all the walls in the church are glass, so I could still see and hear him) while I taught ECG alone. Right after ECG we had to run off to help that member with the urgent situation, and unfortunately it made us somewhat ignore some people that had gotten us some various little gifts (Elder Smith's birthday, my half-way mark, and the fact that we're both leaving). Don't worry though, we've done our best to apologize, and they were very understanding. Anyway, the rest of the night we were helping that member get stuff situated. We eventually get home and find out that the sisters' travels got really screwed up by their bus going off course and some other crazy stuff. Plus, Elder Smith started feeling sick to his stomach and was already feeling like he had a cold. We went to sleep.

On Friday morning we helped our member friend with that situation some more, and then we had to run off to do visa stuff. By the way, the Slovene embassy has been giving us a big hassle about getting the right documents this whole time, but we somehow got all the right stuff before they closed at 1pm. A few hours later they called us to say they needed one more document that they didn't tell us about before, but that they were closing, and we'd have to give it to them on Monday. At some point during the day, we discovered that a good friend somehow thought we were spreading bad rumors about them, so that was rough. We did meet up with them and get the situation figured out, though. While we were at it, we also taught them a lesson that went really well. We also had a great lesson with our most recent member! He's so great. That night some fireworks went off to mark the end of the Sarajevo Film Festival that's been this week, and then there was a giant concert on the main street that's right outside our apartment window.

A great view of the fireworks from our window.
Saturday we went up to the barn to do service, and that was really good, like usual. Honestly, the rest of the day was kinda crazy too and I don't even remember most of what happened. I do remember, though, that Haris introduced us to an inactive member that he's still friends with from before his mission, and then we got invited to go to a soccer game that was going to be that night. Somehow we got permission to go, and it was pretty cool. People around here are absolutely crazy about their soccer. The two main fan-sections literally didn't stop yelling their organized chants for the entire game. Anyway, when we got home from that, I wrote my talk for Sunday.

Haris, Elder Smith, and myself at the soccer game.
On Sunday we went to the park to meet up with a member from Banja Luka, and then had church! We actually had a really good number of members there this week. And I gave a talk! For Sunday School, Sister Ezard had come down to give a lesson on self-reliance. Haris invited a few of his friends, and two of them came! In case you haven't heard of the church's self-reliance program, it's really great. If you're looking for a job, a better job, to better manage your finances, etc, you should check it out.

Today we turned in that last document to the Slovene Embassy, and they took my passport so I can get my visa soon. We don't know exactly how soon, but the hopes are that it'll be by Wednesday. Who knows. In any case, we'll probably have overlap with the two Elders that are coming here to replace us.

You know what? Your homework for this week is to go look at that self-reliance stuff and see if there's anything that you think you could be interested in. I know that this stuff can really help people improve their lives.

Well, that's it for this week! Hopefully next week I'll be emailing you from Slovenia! Have a great time until then! Here are some photos from Jajce and Zone Conference a while back.
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb

Sisters Beus, Orchard, Turner, and myself at Jayce.
Elder Smith, myself, and Sisters Orchard, Turner, and Beus at Zone Conference.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Week 52: Mostar, Conference, Yellow Jackets, and Burdocks

Greetings from Sarajevo! In case you all didn't know (and I don't really know why you would), the Sarajevo Film Festival is currently happening here. That means that there's an unusual amount of people here that are from outside of Bosnia. It's pretty cool. Also, the weather has finally cooled off the last two or three days. Huzzah.

The elders that were wearing shorts had to cover up to enter the dervish.
The sisters had to cover their heads to enter the dervish.
So, recap from last Monday, we loaded up the whole zone into 3 small cars and went on a road trip. We went to a dervish (Islamic monestary) first. While there, I first got stung by a yellow jacket or something, and then later discovered there were some Mexican tourists, and spoke some extremely rusty Spanish with them for a bit. Then we went to the giant bridge in Mostar ("most" means bridge in Bosnian, btw).

In Mostar with the popular bridge in the background.
While there, we tried to find and visit an inactive member. We did manage to find her apartment building, but then there were about 12 doors per floor and 5 or so floors. We asked someone on the first floor if they knew who she was by name, and they pointed two doors down. A second neighbor confirmed. She wasn't there, though, so we just left a copy of the new Croatian translation of the Book of Mormon, and our info. We don't have a working phone number for her, so hopefully she calls. Further on the road to Zone Conference, we stopped at Jajce, where there's a big waterfall, an underground church, and a big fort on top of the hill. Pretty cool.

The waterfalls at Jajce.
A boat ride into a small cave.
Then we eventually made it to Banja Luka and set up the church a bit for conference the next day. That night, all the (6) elders from the zone again slept in one apartment.

On Tuesday, we had an extremely enjoyable conference, all about Jesus Christ and his Atonement and what he can do for us, and such things. It was very good. We also got to hear the departing testimonies of some missionaries that are going home very soon, at the end of this transfer, including Sisters Beus and Turner who are here in Sarajevo. We'll miss them. So, do you remember from over a month ago when my wallet got stolen? Well we had to cancel my cards, you know. I finally got a replacement MSF card at Zone Conference. Now I can buy my own food! Haha. We also got a few copies of The Book of Mormon in Arabic to give to some investigators. In the car on the way back, I used the page numbers and verse markings to learn the Arabic numerals. I have no idea how to pronounce them though, haha.

Beautiful Bosnian Mountains.
On Wednesday, we got some burek for lunch, had district meeting, had and passed apartment inspection, made some flyers, etc. At the end of the day we went with the sisters over to dinner at the embassy family's house. They're so great. We played some more music with them. On the way back from their place, we passed a place with a bunch of young-adult guys playing Monopoly really intensely...probably using real money.

Thursday, we went out of town a bit to go visit a long-time investigator. When we found his house with the GPS, we called him to say we were there, and he told us he was down at the market, because he didn't expect us to be able to find his house. So we went down there to meet him. He's hoping to move into Sarajevo soon, and that'd mean he could some to church a lot more regularly, so we're hoping for it too. When we got back to town, we quickly set up a surprise for the sisters, since it was Sister Beus and Sister Turner's 18-month mark. It was a scripture scavenger hunt, and at the end was of course a big chocolate cake hidden in the tithing drawer. When they found it in such an unexpected spot, they just started cracking up, and couldn't even really say anything. They really liked it. Then of course we had ECG, and one of our participants brought some plant things that are apparently called burdocks. They're little balls that are basically just the scratchy part of velcro. So, you throw them at people and it sticks to their clothes. Anyway, after ECG the sisters shared some of their cake with us.

Sister Beaus (left) and Sister Turner (right) are heading home next week. Mission accomplished!
On Saturday we made some calls and printed some flyers, and then in the evening we ended up running into a couple from Austria who are members of the church. He had served here about 3 years ago, and knew a fair number of the members that are still around. They were really cool.

The Bosnian Zone: all the young missionaries currently serving in Bosnia
On Saturday we went up to the barn to do service again, but this time there was a lot more to do. It was great. During a little break in the middle, we and the sisters were just sitting at a picnic table waiting, and there were some yellow jackets bothering us. No one got stung, but we accidentally made a few of them mad, so I ended up killing two so they wouldn't sting us. After service, the Newtons took us all to lunch over at SCC, a big mall. Sister Turner ordered enchiladas, and they ended up being covered in Ajvar, not enchilada sauce. Ajvar is a local specialty. It's a sauce made mostly out of red bell peppers, but also eggplant and some stuff like that. So, not really good for enchiladas, haha. That evening we went to visit our member friend that's in that center across town, and he's still doing a lot better than before.

Yesterday morning started off in a pretty interesting way. We got to the church to find one of our members and her husband standing outside the church with a neighbor of the church, looking at the side door that was wide open. Apparently it was like that when they got there. That's the door that no one ever uses. So, their suspicion was that someone had broken in during the night, so they promptly called the cops and had us all wait outside until the cops showed up to go in. Turns out nothing was missing or even messed up, so we're pretty sure that the door just malfunctioned (that one is an automatic sliding door that we just never unlock). Anyway, Sisters Turner and Beus gave their farewell talks, and it was really good. That evening while we were in the church, a random member from New York walked in. Apparently he's been traveling the world visiting his international friends, and decided to just stop in to the church here and see what it's like. Apparently he'd served in Texas, Spanish speaking, and then lived in China for a while. This guy has been all over the place.

Also, in case any of you are wondering, we find out on Thursday what is happening with transfers. And no, I don't really have any guesses as to what country I'll be in.

Now, for your homework, I want you to find a talk about Christ and his Atonement and what that means for us. My favorite one is called "His Grace is Sufficient" by Brad Wilcox (it's a BYU Devotional that you've probably read before if you actually do your homework that I give, haha). The video is below for you to watch.

"His Grace is Sufficient" by Brad Wilcox - video

Another good one is "None Were With Him" by Elder Holland. But those are just suggestions; you pick. Try to learn something new.

Enjoy the pictures from the Dervish and Mostar. Have a great week!

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

Week 51: Return of The Wallet, plus Herzegovina

Hello friends and family! I hope you all are doing well. It’s pretty darn hot over here in Sarajevo, but it could be worse. We’re surviving. Hopefully you are too! Haha.

Last Monday, after emailing, we went adventuring around baščaršija, which is the Turkish “old town” where they have a whole lot of tourist shops and such. I ended up buying a mug, and a very small pen made out of a large-ish bullet. The souvenirs around here are pretty interesting. They also had tanks and planes made out of only bullets. Anyway, a bit later Elder Smith and I quickly met up with an investigator for the 15 minutes or so that he had free. At the end of the evening we had another branch FHE activity where we played games and played some music all together. The turnout was a little bit low, but it was still really fun.

On Tuesday we ended up having lunch with our newest member and his girlfriend. While we were waiting for our food, we asked them to check some of the translations that we’ve been doing. And apparently the restaurant is one that they frequent, since they new to the owner, a man from Kuwait. He was super cool. Man, that was a hot day, though. Walking back from that, we were just getting baked, and weren’t feeling too good by the time we got back to the apartment for comp study. That night we of course had ECG, and it was a pretty small turn out. It seems like everyone is going to the coast for mini-vacations right now. People just vanish for a week or two or more, and then come back a bit more tan. Anyway, after ECG, we practiced the “mission song” with the sisters. We’re pretty sure that everyone is going to be singing it at Zone Conference.

Wednesday morning, we got a peculiar phone call. It was from American Corner (a place around here where we can occasionally use computers for free on P-day), saying that there was a guy up the hill, near the hospital, that had my wallet. Like, the wallet of mine that got stolen at the very start of July. Anyway, they gave me the guy’s name and phone number, so we went to pick it up from him while he was there at work. What I gather happened was that the thief ran through my wallet a month ago when he first stole it, took my cash, and then just threw it to the side of the road, at the mercy of the sun and rain. A month later, some random guy finds it, investigates, and finds a membership card to American Corner. They have our phone number, so they call us, and I go get my wallet. Weird, right? Anyway, when I got my wallet back, it was a bit more worn than it already was when it was stolen, but it’s still definitely useable. It was really interesting seeing how weather-worn the papers inside were. So, now I don’t have to buy a new wallet! Hooray. On the way back from getting my wallet, we got stopped by a guy speaking pretty good English. Apparently he’s a cop, and he gave us his phone number in case we ever need any help. What a great guy. During the rest of the day we did some other stuff like printing off some signs to put in the church’s front windows so that potential visitors will know when we have church and such. That evening we had a lesson with our newest member, and then a quick dinner with him and his girlfriend at Woki, the restaurant right next to the church. I don’t remember if I ever mentioned it, but there used to be this waitress that was ALWAYS there, and then she quit so she could take a vacation for a few weeks. The last time we saw her there, we gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon. Guess what? SHE’S BACK. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to just turn around and get the job again after being gone for such a short time. I guess they couldn’t turn her down, with all that experience. We’ll be following up with her soon about her reading.

On Thursday we talked to a library about potentially donating some books about the church, or Krešimir Ćosić (the first member of the church over here in the Balkans). So, we’ll probably be doing that soon, if we can. Shortly after that, we were in the church and ran into Elder Newton just as we were about to go have lunch, as was he. So, we went adventuring around a bit looking for a doner place that had the kind of doner he wanted. Some places were closed, and some places just didn’t have the right type. We eventually got one, though. That evening, before ECG, we had another lesson with our investigator/ECG/friend lady (do you all know who I’m talking about by now?), and our newest member was again on that lesson to help us. We discovered some of her concerns, and I feel like we have a better idea of what direction to go with her now. For ECG, we just had our two groups combined, and played a game of Taboo (or Catchphrase) for the last half. That was a pretty good time.

On Friday, we started the paperwork to try and get a spot in the center of town to have a little display table or something of the sort. Some way to have people come to us, or to play music. Maybe chalk drawings of the plan of salvation, or something. A bit later on, we also talked with the sisters to plan out a concert of sorts, so that’ll be coming up soon.

Saturday morning was service up at the horseback riding center, like usual. The only thing that was different, though, was that no riders came for us to serve. So, we ended up cleaning. That means scooping horse poop in the sun, haha. It was pretty interesting. Anyway, after service we went with the sisters and Newtons to lunch at Burger Bar, then went to clean the church. When I finished picking what songs we’d sing on Sunday, I started practicing some music for that concert thing, specifically the song “Savior, Redeemer” from the movie 17 Miracles. While doing so, we got a call from Sister Melonakos asking if I could play the accompaniment for that very song at Zone Conference. And then we got a text from the Zone Leaders asking if I could play accompaniment at Zone Conference. And then Elder Smith mentioned that Sister Melonakos also mentioned that I might have to accompany everyone to sing the mission song. I wonder if anyone else in the zone plays piano… Anyway, we also went to visit a member, and that was pretty good.

On Sunday we of course had church, but this week was fast Sunday. Our investigator ECG friend lady came (I really need to figure out something shorter to call her), and really seemed to like it. There was also a visiting member from the US, and she was pretty cool to meet. Apparently she’ll be here next week too. After church there wasn’t much of anything too interesting until around 10pm when all of the elders from the whole zone were in our apartment. Of course, that’s only 6 in total, but it’s still a lot for what our apartment has in terms of beds. Also, all 5 of the sisters from the zone were in the sisters’ apartment. So, all 11 of us were in one city. Maybe you’re wondering why. That’s because this morning we all loaded up into some cars and headed out for a zone p-day on the way to zone conference.

The view of the bridge in Mostar from the restaurant.
So yeah, today’s been a solid amount of driving. We went over to Mostar, a really cool city in Herzegovina that has a really cool old bridge and such. The bridge is about 75 feet over the river, I think (Wikipedia would know better than me; feel free to investigate). Also, relatively close to Mostar is a dervish cut into the side of a cliff, right next to the river that goes into a cave. We went to see those things, and they were pretty cool. Later on in our ride today towards Banja Luka for zone conference, we briefly hit Jajce and got to see an old underground church, plus a cool fort thing.

That's basically all the time I have right now. Please figure out something spiritual to read for your homework from me ;) Pictures will have to come next week, I think. Stay awesome!
Elder Ryan Echols
Adriatic North Mission
Svačićev Trg 3/1
HR-10000 Zagreb