Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Month in Taranto

I want to tell you about the wonderful family of Grazia and Aldo! We found Grazia on Lungomare a few weeks ago and met with her and her husband a week ago and taught them about the Restoration and invited them to meet with us and try the "experiment" of Alma 32. What a wonderful experience to teach about the Restoration, the whole story of Joseph Smith, to someone who has never heard before. Wow! I have a harder time than I thought explaining just how significant it really is, everything that it entails and what a blessing from God. They were wonderful though, they have a few children but everytime we meet with them, it is just their 4 year old daughter Noemi who is home and playing in the same room. Aldo offered the closing prayer at the end and thanked Heavenly Father for us Sorelle and when he tried to say my name he said "Askem" and immediately after Grazia corrected him and then immediately after that, Noemi the 4-year old said "queste belle sorelle" which means "these beautiful sisters". It was probably the cutest thing I ever heard from the cutest family I have ever seen. I love them! We met with them again a few days ago and will continue to meet with them. I have so much hope for their beautiful family, they are incredibly sincere and open and willing to listen what we say and "try the experiment" of reading and praying. What more can we ask for? What more does Heavenly Father ask for?
We also had a zone conference yesterday in Bari, my first zone conference in the mission! I got to see three elders from my MTC experience and they are all happy and working hard. I can see changes in them already and I hope that the same changes are occuring in me. I hope that I am becoming more loving and patient and humble and firm in my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can not deny the light that comes into my life, the Spirit of God, because of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. I know just as Joseph Smith wrote in the introduction of the Book of Mormon that this book truly will bring us closer to Christ over any other people. And I know that when we strive to be more like Him, we find peace and joy. It is simple, this gospel is simple.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

God answers prayers

Hello Family and Friends,
God answers prayers. I tell Italians that every day, but it is true. There are so many things I prayed for in the MTC specifically. I prayed for charity and love for these people and I felt it from them immediately, in a way that I have never felt it for them before. I prayed that I would be prepared and qualified. Almost every insecurity I had before about being a missionary is gone now (although there are new ones to work on now too!). Sometimes I am surprised that I can talk to so many people in a language that I am struggling to learn. And yet in many ways, it is easy, surprisingly so. I just simply do it, and I know its a direct answer to my prayers from before. Also, I prayed that I would be able to "hit the ground running" and I absolutely have been placed in a situation where I can, although much differently than what I expected! That is usually how it goes! I have found that it helps a lot to write down the questions or desires that we have and pray for, so that when we finally receive our answer (and sometimes it takes a long time because God wants us to grow and become better for it) we can recognize it and be grateful for it.
August in Italy is holiday season, known as "feragosto". Every day the people ask us "andate al mare?" or "are you going to the beach?" and then they are shocked and amazed when we tell them no, because that is what everyone here does! Sunday was the main holiday day and we had two member meal appointments. Now I have heard lots of stories of Italian food and how much they feed you, but I never really believe it or at least it never really sunk in. But oh my goodness it is true! Meals here are a 2 or 3 hour event with usually around 6 to 8 courses!! We start off with a giant bowl of pasta, enough to definitely be a meal alone, and then for the next 2 hours, they keep bringing out more courses. Usually the salad comes next, then often things like stuffed eggplant, sausage, beef, chicken, potatoes, shrimp, rolls with cheese and ham, fruit, and gelato. It is AMAZING! And hilarious!!! I definitely think that was one of the reasons I was called to Italy, because I can handle the amounts of food just like an elder can! Sunday specifically was quite an adventure, as we had the two meal appointments. We had a few hours in between but were definitely not hungry for the second one. And yet managed to eat just as much food! I dont think I have ever eaten so much in one day, phew! One of my favorite things was something called burrata, which was a ball of mozzerella cheese with cream. The ball of mozzerella cheese was twice the size of a tennis ball and we ate it (each one of us had their own ball) with a roll and ham. And this was just one of the 7 courses of the meal! Can you even imagine?? Delicious!

We do a lot of street contacting here and I love it. I carry around this little notebook and write down Italian words I dont know and the names of the people we meet. Right next to our apartment is a long sidewalk with lots of benches. Lots of old Italian men sit on those benches almost all day long and we've gotten to be friends. At night when we return home, there is a group of friends/family that sit on the benches and I've made friends with the little girls, they are absolutely adorable, especially Marita, and they teach me new Italian words and write them down in my notebook for me. Funny story, we were talking to a sort of older man and I started to ask him if he would pray about something. He cut me off and said, "I pray. I pray every day to meet a beautiful woman like you!" and then he pats me on the cheeks. Haha, these Italian men are ridiculous! Most of them are hilarious and just harmless.

We meet a lot of Romanians here and they are some of my favorite people. Lots of them immigrate here to work as badantes (people who take care of old people and there are lots of old people in Italy) or to beg. What a humble people they are for the most part, just working to send money back home to their families.

Also, the mission made an announcement that all mail including packages should go to our appartment now instead of the mission home. It is probably because the mission is so spread out. Its tough though because it takes about two weeks to get mail and we never know when we will be transferred and have a new address. If it is around transfer time and you arent sure, you can probably still send it to the mission home and it would be okay.

This is getting a little easier, I might be catching on to how to be a missionary! Wohoo, there is hope for me!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Second week in Italy

Week two in Italy! We've talked to lots of people in this city but there are plenty more to talk to! We meet with a member or a less active member every day and with our extra time, we talk to people. Sometimes we just talk to them and sometimes we share with them the gospel. Most people say they are Catholic or too busy but we'll keep trying!
I gained and lost my first personal potential investigator. His name was Mimo and I found him the first week at mostra. He was 80 and great because he spoke very slowly with me. We talked for a long time at the mostra and met again on Lungo Mare and talked for another hour about faith and God and we shared Alma 32. He couldn't understand why God "took away" two of his wives and had a hard time believing in God. We met one last time and he made it clear that he would love to keep meeting with us but only as friends. As much as I loved that little man, our purpose here as missionaries is to bring people to Christ and we can’t just meet with him to be friends.

(Note from Suzy--Caitlin's email this week was very short because of computer issues. Apparently all the Internet Cafe's in Italy are closed in August for Holiday and so they must go to the Post Office and pay high prices to use the Internet there. I happened to be awake at 3am my time when she was writing her email and was able to email back and forth a little bit, and it was so good to "talk" to her! The computer there was giving her all kinds of trouble and she was trying to get assistance but her email time ended without her finishing. More next week!)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hello All;

Where to even begin?? My first city is Taranto! It's in the very south of Italy and is a city of about 200,000 people. There are three elders and me and my companion here. My companion is Sorella Stevenson from San Bernadino CA and she is someone that my MTC teacher Sorella Lewis trained! She is great, she is a little more quiet and has only been in the city for 4 weeks so she is relatively new here as well. I don't know who long I will be here for but if you send letters to the mission home, it will be weeks and may be several months before I get them because Rome is so far away. So write me at my new apartment address in Taranto!

Via Cesare Battisti 269
74100 Taranto

I've heard that mail takes a little while to get to Italy.
Wow!! I am in Italy! We arrived Wednesday afternoon (last week) and President Kelly picked us up at the airport. We ate dinner at the mission home, which is a beautiful beautiful building built for Mussolini's daughter in 1924. The next morning, he drove all of us new missionaries to the temple site in Rome. It's a special place, set on a hill, although they still haven't broken ground for the temple yet. We then went back to the Villa (mission home) and had the ceremony of the "golden transfers", or our first transfer. We were a huge group of new missionaries, there were 15 of us and we all gathered together in a room with a big map of Italy and each of the possible cities were marked with a pin. One by one, each of us went up and opened our envelope that told us what our city would be and who our trainer was, with a picture of our trainer. Taranto with Sorella Stevenson!! We then went to the mission office where they gave us a new missionary orientation and then separated to our respective cities! I traveled with the Bari area group, which consisted of 2 older-in-the-mission anziani and 4 of us new missionaries. We traveled on the train for 5 hours, and I sat next to another new sister (Sorella Tinoco) who is from Peru but has lived in Italy for 11 years so she is pretty much a native! She doesn't speak very much english and she spent just 3 weeks in the Spain MTC. We talked to the people we sat next to on the train for almost the entire ride there and taught them together, even though I had just barely met Sorella Tinoco. She was a powerful teacher and she absolutely taught with the Spirit of God. I couldn't understand most of what the Italians were saying but so it will be for the next little while!
When we got to Bari, our new companions (including mine) met us at the train station, and my companion and I stayed the night in the Bari sorelle's apartment. The next morning, Sorella Stevenson, Anziano Smith (who was also being transfered into Taranto) and I took the 1.5 hour bus ride to Taranto. We dragged our luggage to our apartment and then got to work! Our apartment is cute, it has two rooms, one for sleeping and studying and the other has the dressers and mirrors, and a bathroom with a tiny tiny shower and a full-sized kitchen. We went outside to the street and started talking to people! That night we met with a member and taught her a short lesson. And so life in Italy begins.
It is a little different than I expected here in Taranto! We dont really have anyone to teach right now and we've spent a lot of time going places to get my permesso all in order. Whenever we are out, we say buongiorno to every one we walk by. Some people ignore us and some people respond! We talk to people here and there, and everyone has been really nice to us so far! I have had almost no jet lag and almost no fear to talk to people. I feel comfortable enough speaking Italian and expressing in one way or another what I want to say, although I understand little of what people say back to me, haha. Well, that depends! When we taught the member a lesson, I could follow almost everything. When we talk to people on the streets, especially older people, it is more difficult to understand. It's great though because my companion speaks and understands almost perfectly, her Italian is beautiful, so she answers every question or responds to anything that I cannot. So I have little fear to start conversations with people because of Sorella Stevenson! And I still get to contribute my fair share too, wohoo!
The ward in Taranto is one of the biggest wards in Italy, although definitely smaller than my home ward. I had my first Italian meal after church on Sunday and the rumors were true! They DO feed you way more than you can handle!!! Sister Pastano brought out a big bowl of pasta and I thought that that was plenty, but after we were done, she put another big plate of chicken and french fries and watermelon in front of us!! AH! At home we eat very simply: fruit, veggies, bread.
Everything in Italy closes down for 3 or 4 hours in the middle of the day so everyone can go home and eat. Its crazy! The Italian old people are pretty much hilarious. There are a lot of old people in Italy and they love to talk. Talk, talk, talk, talk. They say some of the funniest things too!! One lady we sat down on a bench and talked to. I continued to say buongiorno to the people walking by and she got kind of mad at me. She kept telling me to stop saying hi to people that I didnt know, although I continued to do it because I forgot and she kept looking at me like I was crazy. Some people do seem really surprised that we say hi to them, haha.
Our schedule goes like this; wake up at 630, exercise until 7, 700 we get ready, 800 personal study, 900 companionship study, then we go out. we come back around 130 for lunch and have language study and a break and then go out again for the rest of the night until 900, where we then plan for the next day.
meeting people is definitely the highlight of my experience. this is hard, but ill usually meet someone each day who makes it all worth it. I talked to an Atheist yesterday about our age, he was so nice to us and friendly. I talked to a group of about 10 kids who thought it was so cool what we are doing and we taught them all about the restoration. I met an old man at mostra (we put up a sign on sunday nights on lungo mare where lots of people walk and then try to talk to everyone!) who we are going to meet with again tonight. This is difficult for many reasons, but the MTC prepared me well with an understanding of my purpose and a hope that it will get easier.

Sorella Askew