Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Goodbye...three kisses and a baptism!

Hello family!

Well, the time is dwindling down, we'll be seeing each other soon! It has been a really good last week of my mission and even though we can talk in a few days, I'll let you know what happened now.

One of the first exciting things that happened was that we tracked down someone that Gary Denning had baptized on his mission! His name is Massimo Celso, he is not currently active but we found his number in an old ward list and gave him a call. I told him who I was and asked if he remembered Anziano Denning. "Of course! He baptized me!" he responds and I explained to him that I am his niece and would like to meet him. We set up an appointment and a few days later the elders drove us to his house and we all went in together. He was wonderful! He was baptized when he was 20 years old, 20 years ago, and he is now married with three daughters, 16, 9, and 5. The whole family welcomed us warmly and soon the two younger girls were climbing all over Sorella LeCates. We shared pictures, Massimo shared his baptism photos and I shared pictures of the Denning family, and he told us about his conversion. It was pretty funny because he kept telling me, "you look just like Anziano Denning" but we aren't blood-related! Massimo has a gorgeous family, and the home has a very special spirit, with church books and pictures floating around. The anziani are going to start working with him to get his family reactivated! We left a spiritual thought at the end and Massimo jokingly yelled "trucco, trucco" (trick trick!), saying that we had tricked him because I had called to ask if I could meet him and share pictures and we ended up reading scriptures. Well, of course, we are missionaries and we have to share a spiritual thought! He really felt the Spirit and was hopefully reminded of his conversion years ago.

On Saturday we got permission from President to attend a soccer game! It was Catania vs. Napoli and we won! It was quite an experience, there were 6 elders, us, and 2 members and we sat in the "curva", the really cheap section of the stadium where fans have been known to get pretty rowdy sometimes. There was a group a few sections away that throughout the entire game took off their shirts, waved giant flags and yelled cheers. Everytime something exciting happened, they lit some type of firework and there was a big fireball with smoke for about 5 minutes. Haha, security is a little more lax in Italy. Also, the opposing team section was completely covered off with a net so the fans of Napoli couldnt throw fireworks onto the field. I got pictures of everything :)

We met a lot of really great people this week. Agata and her grown daughters. We talked about familes and read the family proc and one of them started crying. Agata said, "I told her not to marry him but she did it anyways" and explained how her daughter's husband was good for nothing and selfish and he wouldnt even take care of his own child. Poor Santa was desperate and so sad as we read from the family proc of the roles of a husband and wife to love each other and care for each other and their children. I shared with her pictures of my family and talked about how that even when the situation seems desperate, it really is possible to create this type of family if we have a vision and keep the faith.

We taught Giovanna and she was desperate because she couldnt find a job and her 17 year old daughter ran away when she was 12 and is now married and wont talk to her. We shared the story of Mosiah 24 and having patience in affliction. We taught her friend Margherita, an older Sicilian woman who has lived in the same tiny house her whole life. She was married when she was 13 (in church too!) and had 7 children. Holy Cow! I cant even imagine what my life would be like growing up in Sicily. Giovanna actually had a really cool experience with the Book of Mormon though and when we went back to visit her, she told us how she loves reading it because she gets into the story and she feels really peaceful when she reads. If she feels a panic attack coming, she just picks up the Book of Mormon and reads it. She is so sincere!

Yesterday was my last full day of missionary work. It is so bittersweet and strange but at the same time so normal, just like any other day, going out and working. God gave me a really nice gift though and we had a wonderful day.
We met with a crazy hilarious Albanian family who reminds me perfectly of my Albanian family in Ostia. We teach the two teenager kids and the grandpa sits in on the lessons but doesnt understand a word of Italian so he just smiles and interrupts with random Albanian comments or pinching our cheeks or asking to see our pictures.
So an Italian tradition is that everyone kisses each other on the cheeks as a greeting. We do it all the time with females, but are not allowed to with men. It happens all the time where non-member men lean in to kiss us on the cheek because it is just a normal thing to do to say hi or goodbye, and we have to pull away and explain to them that it is against the rules. Sometimes its really awkward and they feel stupid afterwards, but we just have to do it anyways.
Well, in leaving the Albanian family, they all knew that I was going back to America and this would be the last time they would see me. The son leans in to give me a kiss on the cheek and before I know it, its done and I didnt say a word! I couldn't explain to the father and grandfather that I couldnt kiss them because I had already done so with the son! So I thought, what the heck, there is nothing I can do! And I got kisses from the son, the father and the grandfather. Three farewell kisses from men on my last missionary work day in Italy!

We ran to the church for a final appointment with Angelo. We asked him what he thought of all the things we have been teaching him and he started off explaining all the things he was reading, the Book of Mormon, the New Testament study manual, ect, ect. We interrupted him, "No Angelo, this is what you are reading, but what do you THINK about these things? What are your feelings toward them? Do you believe its true?" He told us that he was struck by the doctrine that we teach, that he feels that it is right. Especially the plan of salvation and the eternal nature of the soul and the purpose of life and how beautifully it all fits together. He told us about how much he liked the idea of modern revelation, that the scripture canon isnt closed but that God continues to talk to us today for our problems. He told us about how he sees the apostasy, just looking at the history of his own Catholic religion and it all makes sense. We talked about baptism and asked if he would like to start preparing for baptism. "I would" he said simply and we set a date for the 10th of December. I cant tell you how happy I was in that moment. It was a wonderful wonderful way to finish my missionary service. What an incredible experience, to watch someone that I found on the bus just a month before desire to be baptized! I remember him sitting on the bus with his beard and his hat and thinking "hmm, this is kind of an interesting guy, but I will talk to him anyways" and he is progressed in just a month to know almost more about church doctrine than we do! He is wonderful and it breaks my heart to leave before he is baptized but it was the greatest gift God could have given to me before I left.

As I finish my service here in Italy, I am profoundly grateful for this privilege. I think the best way to sum it up would be in Ammon's words in Alma 26. I might be changing a few words here and there, hehe, but most of it is the same...

Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Utah, we go up to the land of Italy, to preach unto our brethren, the Italians, and they alaughed us to scorn?

For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Italians to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Italians of the aincorrectness of the btraditions of their fathers, as cstiffnecked a people as they are;

But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the land of Italy not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls.

Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to aturn back, behold, the Lord bcomforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Italians, and bear with cpatience thine dafflictions, and I will give unto you success.

And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.

And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their churches and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks

And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our ajoy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.

Now behold, we can look forth and see the afruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are bmany; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.

Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men or women that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began;

Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a bbranch of the tree of Israel, and has been clost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, dwanderers in a strange land.

President asks us to make a list of 30 blessings we have received from our missionary service. I will share some of them....

1. determination to get back up again after everytime I fall down

2. understanding of the power of prayer

3. ability to overcome discouragement

4. faith- a strong belief in a loving Heavenly Father that leads me to act

5. hope- having a vision of a bright future when it seems impossible

6. acceptance of my weaknesses and strengths

7. righteous desire- much more desire to serve God no matter what the cost may be

8. teaching with the Spirit

9. ability to share the gospel with ANYONE

10. confidence in talking about our beliefs with anyone, now I know what to say

11. patience and love for those who are different than me

12. understanding that to overcome the natural man is a long long process, dont give up

13. overcoming bad habits to compare myself to others

14. anything worthwhile will take sacrifice

15. diligence- work with enthusiasm even if you are tired

16. ability to control doubts

17. courage when confronted with fear about the future, dont be afraid

18. gratitude- dont feel it? count your blessings until you do

19. a change in core motivations- my drive to act has become more selfless

20. understanding of how grand and marvelous the Lord's work in the latter days really is

21. desire to do missionary work and succor the less actives for the rest of my life

22. understanding that the Atonement can heal us from sins of selfishness

23. ability to recognize and follow through on promptings of the Spirit

24. praying specifically for specific answers

25. ability to teach english- overcome fear of public speaking

26. testimony of the word of wisdom- eat healthy and exercise so you can have the energy to work and serve, our body is a gift!

27. ability to speak italian!

28. stewardship, more responsibility for the things I have stewardship over

29. realization of how important the family is and desire to create my own!

30. our heart and nature can be changed through the atonement

These things are not just trite phrases of testimony, but things I learned on a very personal level through sweat and tears and hard work and determination.
I know that this is the only true church of Jesus Christ. I know there is great joy waiting for people who walk forward with faith and determination, not faltering. I know that God loves us and answers our prayers. I know this is his work. What a privilege it was to participate.

See ya soon!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lava explosions and Greek temples


Things are great, always doing great in Sicily. I just have to say again how much I love this place. Rome is my home and my mission, but Sicily is magical! Sometimes I stop and think about how great it is to be a missionary in Catania right now. We stop people on the street and they stop to talk, we smile and wave and people respond and are so openly friendly. We knock on doors and sometimes people really do let us sing to them and invite us to come back! We have much more success here in contacting people than we did in Rome; Sicilians have such a warm, accepting culture. Now, it is still a lot of work finding people who are sincerely interested and desire to act, because most of the people we talk to are not very interested, even if they do invite us back. But finding work is so much more fun here! It's an adventure! So yup, just like every week we are talking to people around us, giving away tons of passalong cards and pamphlets, knocking doors and singing hymns, helping people to feel the Spirit and desire to act on that feeling. Mamma mia, it is a great life!

Also, great news. Angelo is stinkin' awesome! Every time we meet with him, he grows on me more and more. He is for sure going to be baptized. He is incredibly brilliant, I think he already knows as much about our doctrine as we do. We were talking with him in the church last night before Institute (yeah, he started going to institute! wohoo!) and asking him about the different pictures hanging up in the church, quizzing him to see if he knew what the story was. He did, almost perfectly! There was a picture of the restoration of the priesthood (which he knew and described to us). Trying to trick him, I asked Angelo who the other person was besides Joseph Smith. He struggled a little with the pronunciation but managed to spit out "Oliver Cowdery". WHAT?? Where did he learn that? I can't remember if I already shared this, but Sorella Buma had a theory that Angelo was one of the three nephites, coming here to test our gospel knowledge and help us grow. But, he is actually tall and skinny and light skinned with a dark beard, so we are trying to decide if maybe he is John the Beloved instead.
He came to church on Sunday for the first time and the members were amazing with him, totally welcomed him and invited him to all sorts of other church activities. We finally discovered his age, he is 30, so he still can go to all the Young Adult activities in the ward. Wohoo. The members think he is great and love that he studies Sociology at the University. We were just a little bit worried about sending him to priesthood because sometimes in Sicily, fights break out between the members and they start yelling and making a scene during priesthood/relief society. BUT, we trusted in the Lord and sent him off with the anziani and everything turned out okay! We taught him the Word of Wisdom after church and he already knew about it, accepted it, and lived it (rare for Italy where EVERYONE smokes). They also made some kind of announcement in church about stake conference in a month and Angelo asked us if he needed to tell someone if we wanted to go. Yeah!
Just think, we found him on a bus just a few weeks ago, talked to him for just a minute and invited him to general conference. He called to tell us he couldn't make it and we set up an appointment and now he is practically a member! Miracles happen!

Random other stories from the week....

On Sunday night Sorella LeCates and I were at home planning for the next day. The Anziani called us a few times and we didn't answer because we were in the middle of planning. Finally when we finished, I picked up the phone and Anziano Hill says "drop everything you are doing and go outside to find a good view of Mt. Etna. It's erupting and lava is spewing out the top and it is a once in a lifetime experience". AH!" We ran to the top floor of our building and found a window that looks out over the sea instead of at Etna. Then we ran outside and for 30 minutes ran up the hill trying to catch a glimpse of Etna but to no avail! I swear we live in the only place in Catania where you can't see Etna! Discouraged we finally went back home. There was no hope. The anziani from another city in Sicily call us as well "have you seen Etna?? Go look, its erupting!" Garg, we couldn't see it! Finally, we decided to try the top story window one more time, bringing with us a chair from our apartment. We climbed out through the window and onto the roof and behold, there was Etna with lava running down the side of the mountain!!

Today we drove across Sicily with the anziani to Agrigento, where there are some beautiful 600 bc Greek temples. Nice!

We ate lunch this week with a member, Fratello Giardina. He gave us each a huge heaping bowl of spaghetti to start off. Now, in America, this bowl of spaghetti would have been more than enough for lunch. But, we are in Sicily and Sorella LeCates and I knew that more was coming. Sorella LeCates was prepared and brought napkins and plastic bags to hide under the table, haha. Next, Fratello Giardina gave us each a giant plate with 5 chicken breasts drenched in oil and covered in salad. 5 chicken breasts each!!! We really physically couldn't do it and resorted to stuffing pieces of meat in the bag under the table when they weren't looking. To finish it off, each of us got a heaping bunch of grapes. Yum!

Lia, a new convert we work with, makes us laugh. This week we were saying the closing prayer and the phone rang. Sorella LeCates paused for a moment to see what Lia would do. She answered the phone, talked for 10 minutes (!!), and we finished the prayer when she got off.

How much my mission has refined my desires. They are still so far from perfect but much much more righteous than when I started. How grateful I am!

I had before my mission, and it has only been strengthened, a testimony of God's perfect plan for us. Yes, we have weaknesses, yes we have problems, yes there are struggles and pain and suffering and unhappiness. But I know that it is always for our long term happiness. I know that if we turn to him and ask him to guide us and seek to do his will, our life will unfold and become so much more than we could do on our own. And much more importantly, we are creating something that will continue to progress through all of eternity. It's a perfect plan!

Sorella Askew

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Short email!


Sorry, this will be really short because I have no time but I wanted to leave you all with a little something!

Quick notes:

Lidia was baptized on Saturday! Everything went well, she bore a beautiful testimony and a lot of members and family members showed up. We started filling the font a few hours before and went to check on it after an hour and realized that we forgot to put in the drain! Haha, so quickly fixed that and then had to spend a little bit of time filling the font with water from the bathroom and kitchen using buckets so that it would be filled in time. We made it and everything went smoothly.

Angelo is awesome! We had a lesson with him last week in which we simply asked him at the beginning if he had any questions. He pulled out a huge list of questions he had written down, it was intense! He had been studying the Bible and wanted to know what we thought about all sorts of questions. We talked a lot about eternal marriage (anyone have a good explanation for the NT passage about the woman married a bunch of times and no marriage in the resurrection?) and plural marriage and the law of consecration and what hell is and what happens in the millenium and what it means to have a perfect church. Phew, it was amazing! He is so smart! He is doing so well though, he knows pretty much everything about our doctrine already from his own study and for the most part loves it. He is just working on some concerns and we really need to get him reading and studying from the Book of Mormon.

We met a great filipino named Sonny who just moved here and speaks no italian and little english. He is searching for a job and loves to meet with us, but we need to find a Tagalog speaker!

It was Sorella Lecates bday on Sunday, wohoo!
Sorella Buma left us on Monday morning, she took a flight all by herself to Rome (isnt that so cool that she can just fly to another part of our mission??) We are managing without her ok so far!

I hear that missionaries start to fall apart as they get near the end. My body is doing okay but my stuff isn't! My bag broke a month ago, the zipper broke off and it gapes wide open. And then the button on my shoe popped off this week and the strap of my shoe just flops around when I walk and it is really annoying, haha. They are my last pair of shoes so they are going to have to make it 2 more weeks!

We did a new thing called gesso, I love it! Gesso means chalk. We draw things with chalk like the First Vision and the Plan of Salvation in a public piazza and talk to the people walking around us about it! I LOVE IT!!!

I have been studying the Atonement from the Book of Mormon this last month; reading all the sermons and parts that teach us of the Atonement and writing down notes. It has helped me to become a lot more familiar with references and appreciate the Atonement. Why do we have so much information about it? Ether 12:41. So that we will be convinced to seek after this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles wrote. How do we seek after him? We must give away all our sins to know him, just like King Lamoni's father. For must of us that is a process and the Christ comes to us as we slowly become more and more sanctified and like him.

Love ya!

Sorella Askew

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I love Sicily!

Hello dear family,

I love Sicily! We went to Taormina today for P-day, its a little town on the side of a mountain about an hour away. It has an ancient Greek theatre in an absolutely spectacular setting. That is, on the side of the mountain overlooking the beautiful Sicilian ocean. From the top of the theatre you can see the town, the ocean, beach, Mt. Etna, and even across the ocean you can see mainland Italy! It is just incredible, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I sent pictures!

This week was great! We had one really really good day full of appointments where everything seemed to go perfectly well. Each day had at least one really good moment, but the highlight of the week was that Giorgia got baptized!!!

On Thursday we had zone conference, my last zone conference of the mission. I love our mission president and his wife and pretty much all the missionaries in our mission. They are wonderful people. I loved sitting and listening and taking notes, just as at every other zone conference. But this one was particularly special to me. As I sat there, I had a very strong feeling of satisfaction. It's hard to explain but as I reflected back on the work I have done over the last year and a half and the thousands of people I have shared even just a piece of the gospel with, I felt satisfaction and joy. I felt that I had accomplished a great thing and that the Lord was pleased with my work. No matter how imperfect I was or how much I wasn't able to do, I could feel very clearly that the Lord accepted my mission. He accepted my sacrifice and was pleased. I remember back to some more difficult times when I wondered if what I was doing really made much of a difference, if I could really be here for a year and a half. And now I am so filled with gratitude that I was blessed with enough faith to keep moving forward and working and talking to people. It is as if all the small things I did that seemed useless at times all of a sudden added up to one complete mission of hard work. On Thursday, God gave me the vision so that I was able to see this. How wonderful!

On Friday night we went to the US military base, Sigonella. It was a little piece of America!! Big cars, English, grass yards, bikes out front, it was so cool! We met a less active member of the Sigonella branch, Aubrey, and her non-member husband and left them with a spiritual thought. They were so kind and actually asked us to return as soon as we could! So, we are going back this Friday! Afterwards we ate at an American member's house: breakfast for dinner! Pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, yum!

Saturday was 11-year old Giorgia's baptism! It is officially counted as a convert baptism and we taught her all the lessons before, but the ward was heavily involved and planned the entire baptismal program. All we had to do was show up early and fill up the font! It was a beautiful baptism and Giorgia was so excited.

The other great news is that Lidia is all ready to be baptized this Saturday! The more we meet her, the more I love her. She has a huge desire to follow Jesus Christ and even asked us this morning if she could serve a mission like us! She passed her interview on Sunday morning and we are doing all we can to get as many members possible to her baptism. The members have been great too, really taking charge to help her find the right size for baptismal clothes, and volunteering to do musical numbers for the baptism. An involved ward makes a huge difference! And I honestly do love this ward, just as I have loved every other Italian ward I have been in. It's hard to explain how uniquely special Italian members of the church are. One of my favorite things to do is participate in ward council, as we did this Sunday afternoon. Oh to sit with the leaders of the church and watch as they seek and receive inspiration to help others, wow! They argue and laugh and say some of the most inspired things, all in one breath.

Well, Sorella Buma is leaving us on Monday to transfer to Ladispoli mid-transfer. I am a little terrified that we are being left in the big city of Catania all by ourselves without a sure knowledge of the buses and no existent bus map or schedule. Sorella LeCates and I have some of the basic buses figured out, more or less, but as soon as we get lost on the other side of Catania, I will have no idea how to get out!! It's not as easy as "find a metro station" like Rome, haha. Things will be okay!

I love the work here, we are finding and teaching and baptizing and that makes us happy!

I am especially excited for Rosario the evangelist, Angelo the brilliant socially-awkward student, Dora the gorgeous searching-for-answers mom, Mary the Nigerian, and pretty much everyone else! Good things are happening here!

Love you all!
Sorella Askew