Sunday, December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas Indeed!!!

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.

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