Sunday, September 26, 2010
And so begins the big week! This one is going to be hectic. In fact, I have only 30 min to write this letter. We're off to the airport to pick-up the elders and sisters arriving from Cyprus. We'll then do a massive drive around Athens dropping them all off at their apartments. I'll be playing navigator because nobody else seems to know the city well enough.
Today we woke up at 6 a.m. and help a Filipino lady paint her house. Got it done, so that feels good; and then we went to the store and stocked up on food for the week. 8 missionaries will be staying with us for the next 4 days because the new missionaries arrive tomorrow! Everyone is pretty excited. I've got a plan ready on how I'm going to help him learn the language and love the culture. New Missionaries really are just like kids because they follow your every move and absorb what you do and say like a sponge. When I get done with him, he's going to be... Greek! I noticed something today that I love so much about the Greeks: We went to a bakery for breakfast and I watched as the women worked behind the counter. It's interesting to watch their hands. All the movements are really precise and seem to flow. That's true for all Greeks. I guess that sounds pretty weird to you guys. Weird Eric. hahaha
I've seen a change happen in Manolis. He's started coming back to church as of a couple of weeks ago, and now there's a joy is his voice that wasn't there before. We've agreed that we're going to party at the taverna before I leave for good (I should have about 3 more days in Athens before I leave for California). I don't mean to make you guys trunky, but, do you know what today is? August 30th! This is the day I would have been flying home on. That would have been one big mistake. I'm so glad that I'll be staying until October. Then I'll be ready to come home.
Alright, I hope you're all well
Yeia Sas everyone!
Well, I'm finally back in Thess! and back to the internet cafe... a small price to pay. We've had the chance to see Takis and Beatrice again. We had told him that we were coming. He's changing! I can see it! I see it in every person that progresses in the gospel. There's a real change that happens. It must go along with the personal radiation concept that you sent me dad. He was given some new books by the missionaries that were here last: A Marvalous Work and a Wonder, and Our Search for Happiness. He loves them, will not put them down. I'm kind of worried because of that actually because he's stopped reading the Book of Mormon. During our discussion, he asked the question: What/Who is the Holy Ghost? He turned to his wife and she said that she wasn't exactly sure. "Nobody really knows, it's a confusing topic for many" We opened up the Book of Mormon to Moroni 10 and read about the promise, about how we can know truth by power of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the means by which man can receive a testimony of God and his Son. In Romans 8:16 the bible says that the "Spirit beareth witness with our Spirits." Takis came to church the next day. We had some good meetings. I got up during testimony meeting and bore my testimony about the Holy Ghost and who he is. It was pretty powerful. I wondered about how much he had absorbed.
We also had the chance to go and see Zoitsa, of course. She's doing well, but her work has been hit hard. She's facing heavy persecution for being associated with the church. Old regular clients have dropped contact with her completely because they saw the missionaries coming over to her house. It's too bad really. She told me though: "I hold my beliefs strongly, I will never change" Zoitsa's hardcore.haha
Her daughter joined us about half way through. We asked her about how she felt about the church and our message. She said that she really likes it. She has a lot of faith, which is a cause of why she's such a good person. We asked her if she'd like to be taught more. She said yes! She said that she was at a store where there was a tv playing. Someone was flipping through the channels and then stopped and our temple in Salt Lake was on the screen, some kind of travel show. She knew what it was when she saw it and it made a big impression on her. She's really cool. Her name is Petrina, about 27 years old, with a personality that matches her mothers.
We're off for lunch at a restaurant in the sky! In the Thess TV tower. Should be fun! I'll have to send pictures next time.
Have a great week everyone!
Yeia Sas Everybody!
We've started to teach a nephew of a member family. His name is Xristos. He's about 20 years old and is a soldier in the Greek army. He's learned a lot from his family and can see how happy they are because of their beliefs, so he wants to be baptised as well! He's a great guy. He really has a solid desire to do the right things. We'll be going out to see him today.
I'm currently translating the Joseph Smith movie into Greek, so we hope to show that this coming week. I think it will help a lot of people really understand the restoration and Joseph Smith better.
My companion is Elder Kopischke, from Germany, and yes, he's the one I wanted. He's a great guy with a strong desire to work hard. We've been working on his language skills and he's improving quickly. I'm going to take him and the other elders out to a greek taverna today to get a taste of the greek BBQ. Looking forward to that!
Sorry I didn't write last Monday. We went down to Athens for zone conference for the past couple of days and didn't really have a chance to breath. It was nice to see the other missionaries again though. The train ride is wearing me out. I've taken it maybe 11 times. We arrived home last night at 2:30 a.m. because there were some technical difficuties with the train and we had to stop for a long time. So I'm super tired right now. We also went to Kavala this last Sunday. It's also known as Neapoli, the place where Paul landed when he first came to Europe.
On a positive note, we had an awesome lesson with Xristos this last week! Have I told you his story yet? He's the son of a greek member family here in Thessaloniki. He's 20 years old and is a soldier in the greek army. He's been searching for the true church. He's impressed with the kind of people the church members are and also with his families testimonies. He's come to church a couple of times. Anyway, we've taught him a couple of lessons. In the first one we asked him if he would prepare himself to be baptized on a certain date. He didn't really answer us straight. A couple of days later, he gave us call and asked " are you still holding that baptismal service on October 3rd?" I said yes. and he said " well, I'd like to be baptized as well. I've read some of the Book of Mormon, I've prayed about it, and I've fasted for three meals. I received an answer and I know it's true." WOOOHOOO! We're so excited for him. We just hope he can make it though, and of course we'll help him every step of the way.
Well you guys, the clock's ticking. I can't believe it. I thought about it for a moment yesterday: in 3 weeks I'll be in California. What? Is that possible? Can missionaries go to California? hahaha
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Elder Eric Paul-standing on the site where the Apostle Paul taught.
I just thought I'd update you on the latest news. First of all, I'm no longer in Thessaloniki, I'm sitting in the Mission Office in Athens. Second of all, I've been called to be the new AP!(assistant to the president) Cool huh? Zoitsa was pretty sad, but I'll be going up to Thessaloniki in about three weeks with President for zone conference, so it's not goodbye for good. President told me when he gave me permission to call you guys that he'd call the next day to see what would happen. He did and told me that it'd be fine if I went home on my two year mark: I fly home on Monday, October 11th.
AP work is just really time consuming. I feel like I've hit the ground going 100 miles an hour. There's so much to do. As the Greeks would say "Poli Treximo" A lot of running. I'll be leaving in about 2 hours to jump on a plane to Cyprus for zone conference and also for exchanges. We'll get back Sunday night. Then, that next Wednesday we'll be taking the train up to Thessaloniki for that zone conference. We'll drive back that Sunday and then that next week we have the Athens zone conference. In our spare time we have to do other mission work; record the numbers, translation, transfers. This last Monday we went to a concert at the church, a musical fireside presented by world renowned piano artist David Glen Hatch. He and his students all played variations on hymns. It was absolutely amazing! They're some of the best in the world. There was a man there who I started talking to who really enjoyed the concert and wanted to learn more about the church. Brother Hatch mentioned the prophet in the fireside and the guy flipped. His name is Mari Glen, or Marios. He's from Albania and came with a member friend to the concert. We just met with him today in the center (now a 2 hour journey from where I live by train) He's really a great guy and has a burning desire to learn. He had so many questions which seemed to line up perfectly with the missionary lessons. He has a lot of potential. So, even with all this office work and traveling, we have a solid investigator! Cool huh?
Alright you guys, I need to go and pack. Have a good rest of the week and I'll write you on Monday!
Yeia Sas everyone!!!
Whew. Wow, what a busy week! We just got back from Cyprus last night at about midnight. It was great!!! I got to stay in my old apartment for a couple of nights with some elders that are really good friends. We sorted out a bunch of problems and got a better feel for what Cyprus needs right now. A general authority, Elder Kerr recently visited Cyprus and told them that if the church was to be established in Cyprus, then it needs to become a Cypriot church. It's mainly all foreigners right now. So that's a big project that we're undertaking right now.
We had an amazing zone conference. By the way, Dad, I do have a companion. His name is Elder Grow from Hollister, California. He's a really smart kid, very organized and has amazing language skills. He'll be going home in about 3 weeks, so he's training me now and then I'll become the senior AP when he leaves. Anyway, we gave our presentation on the apostle Paul. Paul had incredible success throughout Greece and Cyprus, among a people worshiping false gods. We went through his attributes and showed why he was so successful among the Greeks. First of all, he was obedient to exactness. Before he was converted, he was a Pharisee, so after his baptism, he knew how to live the new law with rigorous discipline. He had amazing teaching skills, he maintained incredible diligence in trials, and, most importantly, he loved God and the people. All the above hang on this one principle. Love is one of three motivations: Fear, Duty, and Love; and it's also the most powerful. As Paul says in Corinthians 13: without love, everything that we do is nothing. Without love, we are nothing. It's easy to apply that in our lives. Anything that we do should be fueled by our own love for that thing, otherwise, it's not going to profit us in the long-run. So, if the missionaries aren't fueled by a love for the people, then they're going to burn out, and quickly. Overall, it was a really good presentation, really inspirational I thought.
So, on Wednesday we're off to Thessaloniki by train. Zoitsa's going to be happy about that. I plan on seeing Takis as well, to see if he's progressed at all. Then it's back to Athens for the Athenian Zone Conference.
Well, happy 4th of July everybody.
I didn't really celebrate. The senior couple made a discourse on the American Revolution for his testimony. That was interesting... but that's about it. Tomorrow an American clogging team is coming to Athens and Elder Grow and I will be hosting them throughout the day. They're supposed to be really good. We haven't met them yet, but supposedly they went up onto Mars Hill today.
Have a great week and the next time we speak, I'll have stories of Thessaloniki to tell!
Well, I'm back in Athens afters a long road trip back from Thessaloniki. Zone Conference was wonderful! It had the same impact that the Cypriot conference had. It was really nice to see Thessaloniki again. Zoitsa, of course, was very happy to see me. She had us over for dinner along with the Dracocardos's, the new senior couple from England (he's Greek, from Rhodes). They really hit it off wonderfully. Zoitsa's dinners are always very impressing because of the presentation. We had Greek salad, bread with tyrokafteri (spicy cheese spread from Thess), Soutsoukaki, which are like oval shaped meat balls, greek sausage, rice with carrots and veggies, and a Mediterranean stew, similar to Ratatoille. It was so good... oh yeah and then cake and watermelon for dessert. We had a great time, and Elder Dracocardos (which means "Dragon Heart" in Greek) shared his conversion experience, as did Zoitsa with them. We had planned teaching her about the temple, but we didn't have a lot of time. We were able to find some new investigators while we were there as well. The second day we were there, we did a white board on the Paralia and I talked with a man from Nigeria, named Wisdom, and a man from Algeria, Fwed. hahaha, yeah you pronounce it like it looks. Wisdom seemed to stand out to me when he was walking by. I stopped and was able to tell him about the restoration. He recognized that God had led him to us. He asked if he could have a Book of Mormon and if he could come to church! So we exchanged phone numbers. He's a really great guy. And then I stopped Fwed as he was walking with a friend from Italy. I talked to Fwed and found out that he was a Muslim from Algeria. He's studying in Thess to become a scientist of some sort, and yet he believes in God. Which is really interesting. I told him about the Book of Mormon and how God has called a prophet today as he has always called prophets. He said that it made a lot of sense and that he'd like to learn more. I had given my last English Book of Mormon to Wisdom, so we exchanged phone numbers and set up a time to meet. Unfortunately, it fell through, so the other Elders are going to meet up with him. Another great guy.
I had the chance to go see Takis and Beatrice as well. I came walking down his lane and he shouted for joy when he saw me and went around looking for his wife to tell her about the surprise that just walked in. He had to go into town for a while, so we worked in the garden with Beatrice. She started asking questions about how we know things to be true, about priesthood blessings (because we gave him one a while ago), and about the Holy Ghost. It was a great conversation. Then, when we had finished working, we sat down with Takis and discussed baptism. He just started asking a bunch of questions about baptism. He told us about something he had been thinking about lately. He said, "If Christ, who was perfect, got baptized, how much more need do we have to be baptized." He thinks it's interesting as well that Christ chose to start his ministry at his baptism, saying that he must have received something at baptism to help him with his mortal mission and ministry. It was a pretty profound thought from my perspective. We then read a chapter from the Book of Mormon: Mosiah 18, where it talks about how the people had the desire to be witnesses of God and be cleansed from their sins, and so were baptized. I especially like verse 30: And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever. Takis really enjoys our gospel discussions and has desired a relief from pain and fear that can come only through repentance for a long time. We asked him if he wanted to be baptized. He didn't say anything for a while and then said that he wants his baptism to be authentic. He wants to have a spiritual confirmation and to be ready for the responsibility. He knows it's true, and he will get baptized some day. It'll just take some time. He asked us if we could give him something to read about prayer, so I gave him the Book of Enos in the Book of Mormon to read. When we left he gave me filakia (kisses) and a hug and said thank you with tears in his eyes. A mission is an invaluable experience.
Have a great week everyone!!!
The farmer Takis
Hello from Greece! Today, Elder Grow and I went to the center to buy some souvenirs for him and his family. This is his last week in Greece. He's pretty sad about that. He lives in Hollister, so we're going to be doing a lot of stuff together when I get back.
I don't know if I have too much to tell you guys about this week. I taught the Greek Sunday school class yesterday on Rehoboam and Jehoshafat. Can you imagine trying to teach the Old Testimant in Greek? yeah. It went well though, I thought. I was super nervous because I had to teach a bunch of Greeks. It's one thing to teach one of them, it's another to teach a whole room full of them. But like I said, I think it went fine. Other than that nothing else that's interesting really happened.
We know a family that go to the center branch, named the Dufaie family; they're Persian; and the husband has terminal cancer. They found out about 3 months ago. Back then they weren't in a very good emotional state, but his physical state has deteriorated extremely. Now they seem to be doing much, much better. We passed by their home yesterday for a chat and everyone was laughing. They have four daughters, all of which are married. One lives in America and the other in Brazil. They hope to come here before he passes. They've invited us over for dinner this next week. I'll get a picture and send it to you guys so you can see. Even through this extreme hardship they're experiencing, they have never waiverd in their faith. In fact, they've grown closer to God because of it, and have discovered a sweet hope and a promise of eternal families. That's what made the difference in their emotions from the time I left to now. They know that death is not the end. It was really great to see them that way, and I couldn't help but think to myself that that's how it's supposed to be.
I have to tell you guys, I looked at my pictures from home on the computer for the first time in a long time. It feels like I've been gone for a very long time. Elder Grow is really sad to go home.
I'm not trunky anymore. I've always found that those that are the trunkyist on the mission are those that miss Greece more than anyone else. Funny huh? It's because they realize that they didn't reach their potential; they didn't live their mission by the day, and they yearn for another chance. So, I'm just going to work and come home when the time is right.
Alright you guys, I hope you have a great week!
με αγάπη, Eric
Starting today I'm the oldest missionary in the Greece Athens Mission, including senior couples and the President and his wife. The group just before me left this morning. Elder Grow was one of them. He'll be landing in San Jose in about 14 hours. Blah. That's the downside of living in California I guess, you're so far from Greece! They're lucky to have made it out. There was a transportation strike yesterday, including the airport. I guess there's going to be a port strike coming up soon, meaning that all the gas stations will closed down, and it's supposed to be a long one as well.
I got a call from Thessaloniki a couple of days ago. Apparently, Takis came to church! All spiffed out in a suit and everything! He really enjoyed it, and Zoitsa was excellent at making him feel like he's part of the Thess branch family. The missionaries gave him the new Gospel Principles Book (which we just got in Greek!). When they returned to the farm the next week, he had read the whole thing! He said that he really enjoyed it and agreed with everything that he said. The missionaries asked him if he had prayed about the things we taught. He said no, because he felt good when he heard it, he agreed with everything we said, so praying would be offensive to God if it already feels good about it. They told him that wasn't true and that we need to pray for everything we need and want in our lives. He was surprised by that. He didn't realize that that's how prayer works. If we want to know the truth of something, we need to test and see if it's good or bad. That principle is true for any situation. So if we want to know if God's there, then we pray and wait for the results. He's doing really well. I'm really proud of the progress that he's made.
Well, today is a big day. In about 20 minutes we have a zone council that we have to be at and then, directly after wards, we fly to Cyprus! There's a new missionary training program that the church as instituted around the world. It's going to take 4 days, so we'll be back on Sunday night. Pretty intense!
We've got to run!
Love you guys! -Eric
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Υειά Σας από την Θεσσαλονίκη!!!!!!
I'd be really impressed if you could understand what I just wrote. Ι bet you were all wondering why I didn't send an e-mail yesterday... it's because I was on a train heading for Thessaloniki!!! Yup, I'm back in my old area as the district leader. I haven't seen Zoeytsa yet, but I've called her and she's way excited. My new companion is Elder Rodriguez from Italy. He's really cool. He was a graffiti artist before his mission! haha I just found out that we're only going to have two weeks together up here before I head back down to Athens to pick up my kid! Yeah, I'm training this transfer!!! The church is having troubles getting American missionaries into Greece. They have trouble getting their visas. The same thing happened to the last group that came. This morning, however, we got a call saying that they would arrive on May 11th. Both Elder Rodriguez and I are training, so we'll take a train down to Athens, pick up the arriving missionaries at the airport, take them out for their first gyro with President, and then take them up to the top of Mars Hill to read from Acts 17. I got a little bit of an adreneline rush when I heard that they were coming. It's a lot of responsibility to train a new missionary. They're completely dependent on you and you are completely responsible for all Greek conversations. It'll be sweet though!!! I wonder what his name is. Sister Charles posted a picture of their group on her blog. You can see it at greeceathensmission.blogspot.com.
This last week we had a baptism in the north of Athens. It was probably the most powerful baptismal service I've ever been to. Me and three others sang "Be Still My Soul" in English a cappella, which brought the majority to tears. The man who was baptized is named Jim. I had the opportunity to teach him his first lesson when I just arrived in Athens. He's a Greek-American who just lost his daughter due to narcotics and remembered the Mormons from his boyscout group in Las Vegas when he lived there. He found President Charles, was taught by the missionaries and was baptized. He's a really great guy.
Times up--Love Eric
Note from Eric's mission president:
Dear Parents and Relatives,
I just wanted to allay your fears about the safety of our beloved missionaries, as I can imagine the riots and demonstrations as seen in the media must result in some anxiety.
Please rest assured that all the missionaries are not only safe, but we take steps to ensure their well-being by our insistence that they stay away from affected areas and be home before dark where appropriate.
Also, bear in mind, that the media will portray the worst of the riots because inevitably that makes news. In the real scheme of things the problems are confined to just a few areas and most of the demonstrations are relatively peaceful. Please continue to pray for all of us in this mission.
Thank you for entrusting your beautiful sons and daughters to us.
Greece Athens Mission
I just had the best weekend for a long time! I got to go to Meteora!!!!!! (see picture)(!) daaaaa It was so cool!!!! I can't even tell you how cool it was because e-mail just doesn't do it justice. Meteora, in case some of you didn't know, is comparable to rock city on Mt. Diablo, only a 1000 times larger. It's made up of several massive meteor shaped cliffs many topped with monasteries that have stood there for 1500 years. The word "meteor" actually comes from the cliffs because of there resemblance to one another. Meteora means "changed vision" (The Tranfiguration) for the main monastery found on the top of the largest cliff. It's spectacular to say the least. So we got to go there yesterday, that's why I didn't write. It was pretty lucky that we got to go. President said no at first, but then Sister Charles talked him into it; it's kind of a long drive, 2 1/2 hours. I don't think that missionaries will ever get to go again. While he really enjoyed Meteora, he absolutely despised the travel. I'll have to send you guys the pictures next week: my camera's out of batteries due to excessive use!!! Anyway, it took all day to go there and back. It took a really long time to get there. We had to take the back roads and travel through Greece's gorgeous countryside because the farmers had blocked the national highway with their tractors in protest. No matter, the trip was beautiful and we got there with plenty of time. The first time you see them, it's like a smack in the face. They're incredible. After we went up to enjoy the amazing view and tour the ancient monasteries, we drove down to the village of Kalambaki at the bottom and found a nice cobble-stoned plateia that hade a Greek taverna. We sat outside on the plateia nest to a fountain under the shade of grape vines. Sounds pretty good huh? It was. hahaha. I got souvlaki with a pita, Greek salad, fries, and ice cream. It was exceptional food, every ingredient was super fresh. From there we traveled back to Thessaloniki. Great day!
Today we went to the farm for service. This farm isn't just any farm. It has all the components of a farm and it's also a place where handicap children come and practice kinetic skills and ride the horses. The farmer, Takis (Tak-eeess, Greek) and his wife, Beatrice from Switzerland own the farm and were hit pretty hard by the economic crisis. It has him thinking about his life and God's will for him. He expressed to us how he wants to repent and we had a good long discussion with him. His wife was given a Book of Mormon a while a go in German. She remembered it and asked if we could bring Takis one in Greek. The first thing he said when he saw me the next time I came, he asked "Did you bring the book?" He thumbed through it and realized that he didn't recognize any of the names that it contained. He didn't realize that the Book of Mormon is a record of the inhabitants of the ancient Americas. That blew his mind. He found it extremely interesting. We told him about Joseph Smith and how we have apostles today. He said that it makes perfect sense and that I didn't have to prove it to him. "Who are we to try and make sense of God's dealings with man? Who's logic can define what God would and would not do? Spiritual matters must be felt and seen through spiritual eyes, not by reasoning and physical sight." We went back to the farm today and sat down with him. The first thing he says, without me prompting anything: "I read the book" I asked him how much of the book he read. "The whole thing"... say what? He hadn't read the whole thing but went through and read all of the chapter summaries to get an idea of what happens. He said that he knows that there is something there, but is having a hard time understanding and grasping it. I told him that's why we're here, to explain the purpose of the book and the lessons that we learn from it. From there we presented the Plan of Salvation. That struck a note in him. His father dies at the age of 15, burned alive in a car crash. He soaked in every word. We taught him that death is not the end to life, that families can be together forever. I asked him if we could pray at the end and he began expounding on what he'd like to pray about. He said that we didn't know how much this message helps him... " It really..." The words were stopped by his emotions. I offered the prayer and gave him 2 Nephi chapter 9 to read from the Book of Mormon which talks all about life after death. I think he'll really enjoy it. They both are ready. I look forward to seeing how things turn out these next couple weeks. We've been helping them with some pretty heavy duty work on their house because they have a class of Swiss seniors coming to stay as a retreat this next week. It reminds me of Ammon's story; the king listened to Ammon's message and accepted it because of Ammon's incredible service towards the king.
Well, we have another appointment coming up soon.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Wow, crazy things have been happening. Surprise! I'm no longer in Cyprus. I'm in Athens again... Cyprus has an issue with American missionaries so a bunch of Cyprus missionaries were changed and will be changed. I didn't have long there, but at least I was granted the time that I had and had the experiences I had. I'll definitely miss it very much. So as you might have guessed my mailing address has changed yet again back to the Panayias Eleftherotrias 9 address that I had before. I'm getting a new companion as well. His name is Elder Hall from Boise, Idaho. He's a really good missionary and an excellent Greek speaker. I'll learn a lot from him.
I miss Cyprus very much already. I feel as though I've left home again. I suppose there are many times in our lives when we think we know exactly what should happen, but in reality, it's the Lord who is the decision maker.Though the thing that's happening to us in the very time and place may be hard, or painful, we can know that if we have faith in the Lord, He will deliver us into happiness. He can bear our grief and carry our sorrows. He is filled with a perfect love for every individual, so much that even when we stray from the paths that He has set for us, He always provides a way back. I want whoever is reading this to know that I have a sure testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. And I'm not just saying this thing because I've heard somebody else talking about it, or because that's what mom and dad have taught me since birth; I'm saying it because I've felt the difference and have come to know for myself that this thing is truth. He is the great Mediator, Messiah, and Brother who has plead our case before The Father since before this world was. He is always going to be there when we fall, or feel alone. When our hearts ache, He's there to whisper soothing words of peace. He came to this world for a purpose and He accomplished that purpose perfectly. He entered the garden of Gethsemane for me and for each of us individually and took upon himself my pains and my sorrows, my sins and my temptations, that He might weep alongside me out of understanding what I feel and that He might have the power to break the chains with which Satan has me bound that I might enjoy redemption and rejoice in eternal happiness one day with the people I love. How much do we owe Him? How much are we in debt to Him? We will never be granted the ability to pay Him back, and yet He still asks for one thing in return: Our hearts, our love, our faith. They're all the same really. The one Being that had everything chose to give up everything for us. I know that we are never lost because of our Savior. He is the Christ. The King of kings of which prophets have prophesied since the beginning of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Great Messiah, the loving Brother and God, the Healer of Souls. You may think it strange that I can believe such things. Most of the world, after all, seems to think that religion's a joke, a fraud, a lie. It's not true. I have felt the difference between faith and rebellion and I can say from personal experience that there is a God, and happiness comes only through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ and in no other way.
Have a great week everybody,
Yeia Sas Oly kay Cronia Polla!!!!
So begins the largest celebration of the year in Greece: ee megalee evthomatha (the big week) which leads up to Paska! (Easter) It's a pretty big deal if you remember from last year. Olga invited us over for Easter dinner, but she hasn't called in a while. I'll have to call her today.
The musical celebration is coming along really well! The missionaries are beginning to catch the vision and sound really good. The actual performance will be on the 10th and the 11th of April. I'm glad and excited to be doing it, but man is it stressful!
Good news!!!! We have investigators!!!! We met a girl sitting in front of the Panepistimio (university) and did a survey with her. We told her about how we were teaching people about a prophet that God has called today. She got really excited! "A prophet?! That lives today?! What has he said!? Where is he!? How come I've never heard of him before!? The people need to know about this!!!" Were some of her words. She's really a great girl. Her name is Evangelia (Ev-an-gel-eea). She's currently celebrating the Easter week and paska in her horio (village). We met with Hope as well and she's doing very well! She still has her Book of Mormon from last summer and what to start meeting again and coming to church as well as the musical presentation. She's way cool, I'm glad we found each other again. Elder Hall was able to get in contact with a family he used to teach who have interest in learning again. They live in a village on the Peleponese called Patra. Will be driving over there in two weeks the day of the musical celebration. It's a three hour drive, that'll be fun just before a performance. blah. But I'll get to see scenic Greece! The Peloponese is the large peninsula that makes up the bottom third of Greece, and is supposed to be the most beautiful part of the country, the place around which ancient Greece was centered. So yeah! I'll keep you guys posted on how those people are doing!
This last week we took Manolis out for gyros to celebrate Greek Independence Day, the day the Greeks rebelled against the Turks who had occupied the country for many years. He's doing really well! The gyro shop is in Aigaleo, so w had the chance to walk through the city and he remenised about the first time he met the missionaries and even pointed out the spot in the large Plateia in the middle of the city. It was a great experience.
Anyway, it's always great to hear from you guys. Have an awesome week! Kalo Paska!!!!
Yeia Sas Everybody!!!
Wow, what a tiring week! I'm about to fall asleep just sitting here writing this e-mail. Paska was great!!! The whole week was great, really. This last Friday we celebrated something called the Epitafio. Every day in the "Holy Week" celebrates a different event of the Savior's last week. The epitafio represents the crucifiction. The woman and children made a big funeral bed out of flowers inside the church. Everyone gathered within and without holding lit candles while a very joyful woman weaved through the crowds sprinkling the hands of all with a sweet smelling ointment, symbolic of Mary's contribution to the Christ. Evening mass started the event as the Papas chanted mourning hymns. When he finished the funeral bed was carried out into the streets. As it passes the masses of people, they threw white flower petals on it. As it continued down the street, the crowds follow it as one lonely bell sounds in the bell free. Winding though the dark streets, the procession passed opened windows and doors illuminated by candles and insense placed on windowsills gave a sweet scent to the air. People were now throwing the white petals from doorways and balconies onto the moving bier. The streets were paved with carpets to show honor the moment and to bless the homes of the owners. The procession eventually made a circle and ended up back at the church.
The next evening was the larger celebration: Ayio Fos or (Holy Light) The celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. My companions and I climbed the slopes of Lycavitos, a prominent hill in the center which is the highest point in Athens. We were joined by a thick crowd. Like the previous night, this one was started out by chanting from the priests. At midnight, a light was lit within the church which then spread to every individual's candle. I stopped to reflect on the symbols and wondered how many people understood the meaning behind the action. Nearly 2000 years ago, death was overcome from within the tomb at Jerusalem. Jesus Christ resurrected and gave likewise to us the gift of resurrection, of life. As midnight struck, the bells in the bell free of the hilltop chapel peeled in celebration, and fireworks were seen shooting up, illuminating the night sky of the once dark city. Joyful faces shouted in unison, "Xristos anestei!!! Alythos anestei." "Christ is risen!!! Truly, He is risen." Families and loved ones kissed eachother on the cheeks and the priest then led the crowd in the singing of hymns. As the mass ended, everyone carried their still burning candles down the mountain paths, creating streams of light which melded into that of the city's. Having returned home, Greeks would then break their 40 day fast from everything that comes from animals and would feast.
The next day was Paska, or Easter Sunday. We actually didn't end up going to Olga's. She's not doing very well right now. I didn't understand all that her husband was telling me, but I did understand that she's spending long hours in the hospital every night for something that could be fatal. When I heard I made them a large pot of bean soup and a huge ring loaf of their traditional Easter bread, Tsoureki. Olga wasn't there when I went over to give it to them, but Yianni expressed his gratitude in her behalf and she called this morning and invited us over this Saturday for an Easter feast. I told her that she shouldn't in her condition, but she's too Greek, she insisted. Anyway, back to Paska. We started it out by going to sacrament meeting. I sang a song in a quartet, the song being "It Was for Me". After that, the senior couple in the center had a huge Easter dinner layed out for the missionaries after church consisting of various salads, rolls, green beans, and chicken casserole. After that we all headed up to the top floor and watched Ben Hur while eating apple crisp and Milopeta (Greek apple pie). We then all headed to the northern chapel to watch Sunday morning's live session of conference finishing off with that amazing talk given by President Monson. It was a really great day, an Easter that I won't soon forget. It was a time to reflect specifically on that last and most important week of the Savior's life. As He demonstrated when He cursed the fig tree that Monday morning, He had the power to crush His enemies with just the thought; so why didn't He demonstrate His power while being whipped by the roman guards? Why didn't He crush the mocking crowds which defamed him? Why didn't He save Himself from the cross which he hung from? Why? Because such is the love of God. He had power to destroy His enemies;but He didn't, because even though we sin, even when we disgrace Him and mock Him by our actions and ours words, even though we cause Him pain, we are still his brothers and sisters. That's also why he allowed himself to suffer on the cross, so that we could have life. Even as the city was illuminated by candlelight which came from a single flame, so shall all be made alive because of Him, whether they understand it or not.
Well you guys, I hope you had a great Easter! Until next week!
Yeia Sas Everybody!
Whew. What a week!!! When I say that I think particularly of yesterday. Elder Hall has some investigators in Patra, so we left early Sunday morning and drove there with the AP's. Wow. What an amazing drive!!! Patra is Greece's third largest city and it's situated on the north coast of the Peleponese peninsula. The road takes you through Corith and along the coast of the Corithian Gulf, winding along green mountain cliffs coated in wildflowers which drop down into those famously blue Greek waters. Small villages lined our path clinging to mountain sides, their terracotta tiled roofs reflecting the sunshine, making the villages shine. It reminded me a lot of the drive along highway 1 in California. It was very relaxing. We reached Patra and as we were driving into town the family we had the appointment with canceled on us. Who does that? We drove 2 1/2 hours to see them and then they just bail? No matter. We went and visited another lady who one of the AP's had known. She was very surprised and pleased to see us. She's been taking care of her 98 year old mother. She was very grateful for our surprise visit. After that we decided to drive up into the mountains above Patra, to an ancient village called Clauss. A German man founded it and the first winery in Patra. It was extremely beautiful. Vineyards tiered the mountain side. We parked next to one of them and had had the sacrament using a bottle of water and a muffin. It was one of the most peaceful sacraments that I've ever had. I wish I could do justice to the scene, but I can't in writing. We headed back into the city and stopped at Ayios Andreas, the 2nd largest church in Greece. It was very impressive. It's named after the apostle Andrew who was crucified on the site. Fragments of his cross are inside the church. From there we headed back to Athens. We arrived another 2 1/2 hours later and we had to head straight to the church to begin practice for the presentation which would start in an hour's time. I was dead tired and had a pounding headache. That soon departed as adrenaline and anticipation set in. The chapel filled up! There were many, many more people there this time. The missionaries took courage because of it and nailed it! Everything went very very well in my eyes. The best part about it was the presence of some particular people in the audience. Apparently, that morning, some ladies were walking in the center and saw the posters for the performance that was to take place. They found one of the Elders in the church and he told them how to get there. They got lost on their way, so they asked an orthodox priest who was passing by and he showed them how to get there! They really enjoyed it. The sisters spoke with them and got their number and will begin teaching them soon. A professional Greek singer also came. He really enjoyed it as well and wants to meet with us to learn more. It was worth it! Those people make it all worth it.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Happy Chinese New Year!!! As you can tell from the pictures, we did celebrate. Pretty authentic. All the Chinese in the photos are members. From left to right on the last photo: Lee Ping, Nina (mother and daughter at their house), Alice, Judy. In the back, Elder Gardner, me, and Carter (Lei Chun) I didn't really know what to expect, just delicious food, and I was right! The food was absolutely spectacular!!! They made lemon chicken, BBQ pork, spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce, noodles, that breaded fish stuff with pineapple and bell pepper, a couple of different salads and of course, the traditional new year dumplings, one of which contained a coin, didn't get it though. It was soooo good. I want some more right now. The New Year Celebration in Beijing was broadcast on the TV with English translation, so we watched dance performances, comedy routines, and Chinese acrobats as we ate. After the dinner, we played some games. The first one had us pair up and we had to feed the other person with chopsticks while both were blindfolded, another was charades and the other was telephone... in Chinese! It was all really fun. Then at the end, we had cherry cheesecake for dessert. It was quite the experience to get to see the Chinese culture at it's best. I'll never forget that experience.
It's quite the cultural experience here. The branch really needs Greek Cypriots right now though. We traveled to the southwestern coast today to the city of Lemesos or Limmosol in English to train one of our district leaders on what we want to see happen this transfer. On the bus ride back I really came to appreciate how beautiful the island is. It really feels like I'm on an island. There's one large mountain in the northwestern part and the rest is made up of mellow rolling hills dotted by olive groves, cyprus trees, orange trees, and palm trees, and blanketed in a lush coat of new green grass which looks like it has been misted with a coat of bright yellow from the mustard, intensified by the Cypriot sun. It was like 75 degrees this afternoon!!! Amazing! On top of that, it's all met by an incredibly blue Mediterranean sea and sea breeze. Yeah, it's very beautiful here. AND, here's a cool fact, it's the closest proselyting mission zone to Isreal. AND the other missionaries have told me that from a certain point on the island, on a really clear day, you can actually see Isreal! cool huh? So yeah, that's been the extent on my Cyrpus adventure so far.
Nee How Ma from Lefkosia, Cyprus!!!!!!
As you all know, I arrived in Cyprus yesterday afternoon. Where to begin?!?! There's much too say. I'll start from the beginning. We left from Athens airport and landed in a stormy Cyprus. Powerful winds and hard sudden rains were coming in from the mediterranean. We drove from the southern coast from Larnaca to the capital city of Lefkosia also known as Nicosia to the english. Cyprus used to be a british colony, so there is a lot of British people still here. Our senior missionary, Elder Kennedy, explained some of Cyprus' history to us on the way there. The Cypriot's native language is Greek, but they're not considered to be Greek. In the 70's, the Turks invaded the island and pushed the Greek Cypriots back to the capital city, taking 1/3 of the island. If you look on a map, you'd see that Lefkosia is split in half. One side is Greek Cypriot, the other is Turkish. On the Turkish side there's a mountain with a big Turkish flag painted on it and this saying: The first time you ran, the next time you'll swim. Intense huh? There's a buffer that regulates travel in between the two sides, kind of like a modern day Berlin wall. Obviously they absolutely hate each other, but that doesn't effect us too much. Anyway, we arrived in Lefkosia and then went straight to the church for family home evening. I would say that about 60% are Chinese and the other 40% are from other parts of Asia, mainly Napal. Dad!!!!! I need more Chinese phrases!!!! They went nuts when I used the one that you taught me: Wo tsong me gwaa de ja jo laie da! There's a chinese girl who's about to be baptized. Her name is May. She's really great! She makes me smile. I was speaking with her in English, but she's a little slow to understand, so I used my phrase and she started laughing and gave me two thumbs up. haha Then I told her that it was nice to meet her and shook her hand and as I did she gave me a quick bow and I did it back. haha I bet you never thought that your language studies in Hong Kong would help your son do missionary work in Cyprus some day, huh dad? haha A mission never ends.
Other good news, one of our investigators in Thess just got baptized!!!!!!! His name is Jacob, and is one of the three. Another one of the three is lined up for baptism either this weekend or the next. hooray!
Hope you guys have a great week!!!
Sunday, December 27, 2009
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY! Wow, I can't believe it's almost Christmas!!! Only a couple of days away!!! And what a Christmas it's been! Obviously you can tell why from the pictures. Zoeytsa's been baptized!!! And I got to do it!!! It was a really special experience for everyone. You can't imagine how cold the water was. It'd be about the same as walking out into the pacific about now on a rainy day. Brutal. I guess I can't complain though. There are people being baptized in much worse conditions. The Aegean sea is much warmer than Russia or Canada or somewhere like that where ice is floating in the water. I suppose I should start from the beginning now that I know the whole story. Zoeytsa is a greek lady who grew up in Albania, where at that time, religion was forbidden. Punishment awaited anyone who even spoke about the subject. So many people lost faith, and denied the existance of a God. Not Zoeytsa though. As a child her grandma always assured her that there is a God and that He's mindful of everyone of us, so though Zoeytsa couldn't talk about Him with anyone, she knew He was there because of her grandma and her personal prayers. She grew up with a deep passion for art, following the footsteps of her father, who was a very famous painter in his day. Instead of going out with her friends to play, she would stay home and paint, or watch her father paint. She grew up and study all styles in college. Once she gained a good amount of experience, she moved back to the land of her ancestors, to Thessaloniki. Once she had become established in greece, many of her friends and orthodox priests wanted her to get baptized into the orthodox church. She felt something hold her back, however. Something didn't seem right about it, so she declared herself not ready for baptism. She's become quite well known for her work here in Thessaloniki. During the summers, she spends her evenings in front of the white tower painting and selling her works. One night while at the white tower, she spotted four kids in shirts, ties, and tags, who had set up a white board and were talking with the people who would pass. She saw something different about them. She describes it as a light. For the first time ever, she left her canvas and came over to the white board to see what was going on. She read about the "Questions of the Soul" and was approached by one of the kids who gave her a book and told her that God has called a prophet today. Being an artist, she can read faces very well and can almost tell what a person is thinking from the expression on their face. She could tell that he was being sincere. So that's how Zoeytsa and I met. She told me that I could find her on the plateia selling her paintings. I went there twice and couldn't find her, but he last time I did and bought a painting from her and set up an appointment to sit down and talk. We went to her studion and taught her about the restoration and the Book of Mormon. That night she went home and told her 25 year old daughter, Petrina, that she wanted to be baptized into this church. "Mama, for 20 years people have been trying to get you baptized and you say now that you want to?" She felt the spirit during the lesson. Something had reminded her of her grandma's words. We continued to teach her with the senior couple, Elder and Sister Johnson, even though her work load had come to be nearly impossible to bare. We came to be really good friends and she even expressed how she felt like we were her own children. Smoking was the only thing that was in her way from being baptised. She even paid her tithing the day after we taught it, and it was more than 10 percent. Elder Stephenson and I translated and started her on a stop smoking program and I created a scripture chain, and sent a message everyday with an assignment to read a passage that I had chosen of some of the best scriptures in the Book of Mormon. It was a real strength builder for her and helped her out of temptation more than once. Finally, after having to postpone the baptism a week because of her addiction, she became smoke-free and was baptized on December 19th, 2009 in the cold waters of the Aegean sea. What's so amazing about this is that she has problems with her kidneys and the doctor told her to stay away from the cold as much as possible. That didn't matter to her though. She told me over the phone that she was going to be baptized even if it snowed. The program was really nice. Elder Johnson and I spoke, Elder Stephenson and I sang "I am a Child of God" and we played a slideshow of church paintings of Christ while the pianist played an interlude. We all drove to the sea, which we had cleaned and dedicated that morning. We linked arms and walked out into the water. Everystep got harder and harder as small waves would splash up against us. Then when we got far enough I felt something pinch my foot. I think it was a crab because he didn't let go until I kicked him off, haha. When we got out, she and everyone else seemed to be more concerned about me than her. It was pretty cold. We then went back to the church and changed and headed over to her house, where she and her daughter, Petrina ( the younger looking girl in the pictures) had cooked something that looked like it could be for a Greek Thanksgiving. So much food! greek salad, russian salad, a carrot salad that was really amazing, baked chicken, rice, Mousaka which is a casserole of layered potatoes, eggplant, and ground beef and baked, and pastitsio that rivaled that of Olgas, hawhawhaw. On top of that they brought out cakes, cookies, and filo pastries soaked in honey for dessert. So much food, it was ridiculous. It must have been really expensive. So she had over all the missionaries, the senior, couple, and some of the members that had come to the baptism and we laughed and talked through the evening. The next day she was confirmed a member of the church by one of the members, received the gift of the holy ghost, and bore her testimony in sacrament meeting. I'm really proud of her and the choices that she's made. She's going to give me a gift today. She's spent the last week working on a portrait of me to say thank you. It's amazing to see the happiness and hope that people receive as a result of following he gospel of Jesus Christ. Zoeytsa is going to do amazing things.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
" I had another awesome experience doing a white board in front of the White Tower. We set it up there on the promenade and wrote on it "Questions of the Soul" such as "Does God exist, Did we exist before this life?, what is the purpose of this life?, and where will we go after death?" within ten minutes a crowd had started to gather in front of the board, just staring at it. We started talking to as many people as we could, then this old Greek guy walked into the middle of the crowd and said in a loud voice, "What group are you from?!" I told him that we were Mormons and then he said, in the same booming voice "ahh! the Mormons! Let me tell you something about the Mormons!" He turned to the crowd which was getting bigger by the second (greeks are really really curious) and he says "Mormons are the most loving, most christian group in all the world! They make the finest, most intelligent people! They don't drink, they don't smoke! They've created one of the finest universities in all the world! They live by the highest standards of conduct! Are they not Christians?" The crowd was eating up all his words. One lady even started saying out loud, "They're Christians! They're Christians!" Coming from someone who is Greek orthodox who believes that you must be orthodox in order to be a christian, that's a big compliment. He further explained that he had been to Utah several times on business as an engineer and has been to temple square and knows our doctrines quite extensively and just laid it all out. Apparently he had lived next to a Mormon family who had shown him a lot of kindness and had explained clearly the restored gospel. I stepped in and began to relate the message that we had to share and he testified to everything that I had too say. We met some really great people that night who had a real desire to learn more and an really deep impression was left on a crowd by one of their own. So cool!!! I'll definitely never forget that experience."
Well you guys, I have some bad news. Mom, don't freak out. haha Our zone leaders moved apartments this last week and we helped them do it. They lived five stories up, and while carrying some boards down the slick marble stairs, my left foot slipped out in front of me and I landed with my right leg bent behind me.(That's my bad knee) Slid down a couple of stairs. I didn't do anymore work. It's my knee that hurts, considerably weaker. I have my knee brace on now which helps a bunch. I decided to wait a week to see how it feels before deciding whether or not to go to the doctor. On a positive note, it feels a lot better than it did. I'm hoping that it's just bruised or something. It doesn't hurt so much anymore. It just feels weaker. I can walk fine, and just as much as before I fell, so that's not a problem. I just thought you guys should know, don't worry though!!!
Teaching in the Square:
I don't have much time, so I'll quickly tell you the highlight experiences of my week. This last Thursday, Elder Lohman and I were on an exchange with Elder Middleton, one of our zone leaders. We went to a place called Kamara, a square in the center of the city that runs from the university to the sea, to do a survey asking various questions about what people believe. I wasn't having too much success. I talked to a man who wasn't watching where he was going because he was staring at my name tag so intensely. I asked him if he would like to do the survey and he just went off about something. I couldn't even tell if it was greek at first; I guess I wouldn't know if he was cursing me out. Anyway, he made some pretty intense gestures and walked away. Crazies. So I turned around to find a guy in his twenties staring up at me, laughing. "Not too Christian is he?" he said in an English accent. I responded, "What can you do?" So I asked him if I could do the survey with him. He waited for a second and then gave and had me sit down next to him. "Alright" he said, " but I'm going to be the worst person you've ever talked to." I laughed and said, "We'll see" We did the survey and I was suprised at the answers he gave. He said that he believed in a greater power, and that that power governed all things; that it was selfish for us to think that we are the only world to contain life, and that that power governs all life, in all other worlds as well. He said that we can communicate with that power and that we can receive answers. He said that he believes Christ was the maker of Mary, that he made her famous, basically denouncing the divinity of Mary which is such a popular belief in Orthodoxy (sometimes Mary, or "Panayia" which means "the highest of all women saints", is worshiped more than even Christ himself). He said that he's had a very hard life; that in one year, his wife left him for his best friend, taking his daughter and all of his money, he lost his job, his father died, his dog died, his cat died, he moved to greece for a girl who dumped him, leaving him totally alone in Thessaloniki with no home. "I believe in work", he said "work, work, work, the power of the individual. I told you I was going to be the worst person you ever talked to. Alright, give me your speel, sell me God." I felt pity for him and thought it almost funny that he thought we were so different, when in reality our believes matched pretty closely. I told him that he'd be surprised at how similar his beliefs were to our church's doctrine. I told him that a great power does exist, and that I call Him God, and that He is the governor of not only this world, but of all the many worlds which He has created. I told him that we can communicate to Him through prayer and that He does respond. I told him that Christ is our savior, not Mary, and that He has called a prophet today, whose highlight message has been that there is no substitute to hard work. I guess he was kind of thrown off by this; he had expected me to start yelling at him preaching damnation or something. I guess that goes to show you how unorthodox we are. haha I told him that I wanted him to do something, pulling the Book of Mormon out of my bag. I told him that if that power really is God and that He is literally our Heavenly Father, then there would be nothing stopping Him from answering a prayer from one of His children. I asked him if he'd read and pray and that, for sure, he'd receive an answer, and that he's know that someone is watching out for him. He then said, "I've talked to Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, and Mormons before; but none of them were able to impress me like you just did. Where's your church? I'm coming this Sunday, if I don't have work." He caught me off guard. At no point in the conversation did he seem to show much interest. "Yeah, I don't know how you did it, but you have my attention." It's amazing what the spirit can do. I know, for sure, that there was nothing I did to impress him. It was the spirit working with someone who had been sufficiently humbled to where his heart could be opened. Unfortunately, he had work this last Sunday (he works on boats in the marina close to the church), so hopefully he'll be able to make it next Sunday. His name is Kallos by the way, Cal in English. I hope he makes it all the way!
One Year In Greece!!
YEIA SAS OLY!
This week is the week that I hit my one year mark! Can you believe it? I can't. By the way, I hit one year on the 8th of October, not the 10th, so Thursday!!! It's a pretty big deal among the missionaries I guess. We're going to celebrate by going to a traditional Greek taverna Thursday afternoon for lunch. Something to look forward to I think! I'll be sure to take a lot of pictures! The end of the transfer is also coming up. President was up here last week and gave us some info. He said that there will be more changes this transfer than the last transfer, which is surprising because not one companionship stayed together last transfer. I think it's most likely I'll stay in Thessaloniki, possibly training! That'd be challenging. Training means that I would be companions with one of the seven newbies coming in this next transfer. Cyprus still won't accept Americans, so that option is out. We'll see what happens!
The past two weeks have been so crazy it's kind of desensitized transfers. I'm staying in Sikies in Thessaloniki! Woo hoo. I expected it. I got a new companion though! It's funny how I haven't kept the same companion for over one transfer. His name is Elder Stephanson from Texas. What to say about him... he's wayyyyy tall, about a head taller than me and his humor is really similar to Ken's. haha Elder Harris will be coming back up today with his new companion, Elder Foerster from Germany, and we'll be living together. Elder Lohman flew off to Cyprus yesterday. He was really excited to be going back. I told him he'd have to come to California for Thanksgiving next year because he's never experienced it, and he's pretty serious about it now, so be expecting one more!
One year celebration at the Traverna