Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Giant Chocolate Easter egg


Easter week in Italy! I'll explain a little bit about the traditions of Italy and then tell you about what we did.
In Italy, they dont have the tradition of the Easter bunny and they dont decorate eggs and have Easter egg hunts like we do. They do however have their own traditions.
First of all, for a few weeks leading up to Easter, they sell a special type of sweet bread in all the stores that is only available at this time of year. And its always in the shape of a dove or a lamb, haha. They call it colomba (that means dove in Italian). We bought one and have been munching on it for the last week! Also, they sell these giant chocolate eggs that range anywhere from the size of a newborn baby (yes, that was the only thing I could think to compare it to!) to the size of a two year old. They are big!!! Anyways, these chocolate eggs are made out of chocolate that is actually really really good and inside there is a surprise! Everyone buys these eggs and gives them away as gifts or they buy a couple of different ones for their kids to open up on Easter. Once they break open the egg, they break up the chocolate into pieces and share it. Yum! We also bought one of these :)
Also, at least in this part of Italy, they eat "Easter pizza" on the morning of Easter. It is another type of sweet bread that they eat with salami, cheese and hard boiled egg. And then they eat a really big late lunch, often lamb.
We had an appointment for Easter but they cancelled on us the day before. I decided to take charge and make an announcement in Relief Society that we didnt have any plans for Easter so we welcomed any invites!! Haha, my companion refused to do it, but I figured I could use my Americaness and the fact that this would be my only Easter in Italy as an excuse. It worked!! We had lunch with the Marchetti family and ate pasta (you have to eat pasta with every meal if you are Italian, even on Easter), and stuffed rabbit (delicious!), and chocolate egg. Afterwards, we gave away pass-along cards with pictures of resurrected Jesus at the tomb to people on the streets. I expected that everyone goes to church on Easter in Italy because they are all Catholic, but I was surprised to find out that most people don't!
Also, here the Easter festivities continue on to Monday, "Pasquetta", its called. Its the "Monday of the angel". My Italian companion isnt sure which angel though, haha.
Anyways, Easter was great! We shared lots of spiritual thoughts with people about the Resurrection and the blessings we receive from it. At this time of year, I am particularly grateful that like the Book of Mormon says, Christ "breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory". How wonderful to know that death is not the end and our hope for future joy overcomes any temporary sorrow or disappointment. I know this is true.

Other highlights of this week...
We were finally able to see Tiziana and Barbara, two of my favorite investigators who have been very busy in the last few weeks! Both of them are so open and accepting. It will take time to help them understand these things and to help them change and clear up false traditions. Barbara however is honestly searching to know which is the right path for her, but she has a hard time because as soon as we leave, she gets caught up in every day life and forgets everything we talked to her about. She tells us she needs someone to be there to push her along (dont we all need this support when we are making big changes?) but its hard because we live so far away. We decided together that at least we can call her everyday. Her daughter Noemi is adorable. A lot of times I am particularly motivated or moved by children. When I see how innocent and sweet they are, and I think of the things that they will probably face in their life, I feel a lot of desire to help their parents gain a testimony of the gospel so that the children can be raised in the church. I know what a huge difference that would make in their lives, to have the support of knowing the right way to live, especially when surrounded by a lot of punk Italian teenagers who make a lot of poor decisions starting at a very young age. And especially when I see Barbara or Tiziana's children, I am motivated to help them even more.
Tiziana is also very open and bright, the major obstacle for her is that her two children are both involved in Catholic church programs. She recognizes that this is good but requires a lot of change and sacrifice and it will take time for her to be able to make these changes. To leave behind the traditions of all your family, friends, country, and culture takes a huge commitment and determination!
I've also started a kick of leaving "homework" for our investigators. Specific scriptures that they have to look up and questions that they need to answer. I am convinced it will help!

Life is good! Serving with Sorella Giordano is great! I love Ladispoli! Today we are doing exchanges and I am headed back to Rome 2 with Sorella LaCates.
One thing I learned. My natural tendency to compare (bad) can be used for great good because I can see the strengths of others and use it as inspiration to how I can change and be a better person! Everytime I might compare and feel bad, instead I can remember that I am a child of God with great worth and I too have the opportunity to become whoever I want to become and other people are inspiring examples of what I want to be! Yay!
Also, finding joy in every moment is good too. I am working on that, haha. Gratitude and joy and humility and love. The usuals!

Sorella Askew

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Artichoke sculpture

A good week and the Artichoke Festival

My companion and I are working well together and I am sure great things will happen this transfer!
She already knows pretty much every member of the branch and has the drive to make things happen.
Right now I am wearing a skirt I bought at the market last week. It has two layers and the outside layer has a kind of lacy woven pattern and it catches on everything I walk by. Its driving me crazy! I also just finished eating some pizza. Italians put some interesting things on pizza like broccoli, potatoes, zucchini, chicken salad (yes, like with mayo and shredded lettuce), hot dogs and lots of other random things I cant think of right now. Anyways...
I am thinking a lot about the members of the branch right now. We work with the members a fair amount because they really are key to baptizing and retaining new converts. If I have changed in only one way from my mission, it will be that I will never ever be able to look at my role as a ward member in the same way. I recognize how important it is for a ward/branch to be like a family, to really support and sustain its members with all their love. Outside of the family (and there are many people without a stable family), the ward is truly the place where people should feel absolute love and acceptance and support and nourishment for whatever their needs are. The organization of the Church of Jesus Christ is the inspired way in which Heavenly Father provides for his children. My mission has completely changed the way that I look at less active members and visiting teaching and missionary work and fellowshipping.
Anyways, we had correlation last night with our ward mission leader and for the first time, he really opened up and expressed a lot of his own frustrations with the branch and their apathy towards less active members. Every week we as missionaries request specific help from the members for less actives (people to call them, invite them, pick them up, and home teachers assigned) and the branch has been slow to respond to our requests. The members here really are incredible people and I love them all, but they dont view their role towards fellowshipping in the same way that we do, haha. We as missionaries who work with these people understand how absolutely critical it is for the members to be very very involved. We have really been working on involving the members much more (helping them be friends with investigators, involving them in our english class, and planning activities for the members to help them do missionary work), and some people have commented on it and how some changes are occurring, even if it is hard to see. There is still a lot of work to do, but thats good because I love challenges! We are making ourselves known as well, making announcements in Relief Society and Priesthood every Sunday, visiting with members and encouraging them to reach out to our investigators and to do more. They cant run away from us!

Ladispoli is famous for artichokes and this weekend was the annual artichoke festival! Its called the sagra dei carciofi and thousands and thousands of people come from Rome for this. For three days the town center of Ladispoli was filled with booths selling all sorts of stuff and concerts and parades and fireworks. My favorite part was on Sunday, they displayed giant sculptures made out of artichokes. It was incredible!!!! I will have to send pictures soon. The festival made it difficult to do missionary work because the entire town of Ladispoli was outside at the festival for three days, but we used the time to do some pubblicity for english course. We walk around carrying a big sign that says "free english course" and pass out fliers to anyone who is interested. Good way to get attention!

We restarted english course and have a bunch of new students. English course is always golden for finding contacts and investigators. I teach intermediate and a member teaches a basic class. Last night we had some miracles. I explained a little about the Book of Mormon at the end for our "spiritual thought" and two people stayed after and wanted to know more! We taught them both the whole first lesson and all about the Restoration and the Book of Mormon and answered their questions for a whole hour! It was thrilling, just exhilirating. At the end, they both wanted to learn more so we got their phone numbers and will contact them for an appointment. Cristian and Stefano.
A lot of time the mission is work, its a lot of hard work day after day and I am learning a lot but sometimes it is tedious. And then sometimes we get a moment like this, with people who sincerely are interested, and it is just wonderful. They are hard to find in Italy sometimes but they do exist and I know that Heavenly Father sends them to us when the time is right. I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this work and for the Restoration and how glorious it really is.

Sad news. I had some basil plants I bought and have tenderly been taking care of now for months. I put them outside on the balcony because it is finally warm enough and a bird came and destroyed them. Boo. Haha, I will just have to start over!

Love you all!

Sorella Askew!

P.S. We are going to set a baptismal date this week. For sure.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The gardens of Ninfa

Door in Ladispoli showing tortured Christian Martyrs

I love my new companion!

My new companion, my trainee and "daughter" in the mission is Sorella Giordano! She is Italian and is from Cuneo, close to Torino. Actually, she comes from a little village outside Cuneo. I have seen the pictures and it is gorgeous. I want to tell you a little bit about my companion because she is incredible.
She is 24 and joined the church just a year and a half ago. One of her friends that she grew up with joined the church just a few months before her and introduced her to the church as well. She owned a pub and smoked and was Catholic when she started going to church and meeting with the missionaries. She found that the LDS Church was the answer to many of the things she didn't agree with in the Catholic church and stopped smoking and joined the church a few months later. Her parents were not very happy. They were pretty upset as well when they found out that she wanted to go on a mission and her sister was so angry that she didn't even say goodbye before Sorella Giordano left. Because of her situation at home, she has permission to call home for a few minutes every few weeks.
And yet here she is, full of energy and excitement and enthusiasm! She is wonderful, I don't think I am doing anything to help train her, she already knows what to do and is a much better missionary than me. She talks to people around her, she teaches with power and testimony and has great desire to make a huge difference. She is kind and polite (much more than me, haha) and considerate, she always smiles. She makes my bed in the morning, sets out my cereal bowl with milk and cereal, and wont go to sleep until I am ready for bed. She is positive and filled with faith and also very Italian. I love it. I am learning the language (she doesn't speak much English, although sometimes we spend an hour at lunch speaking English so she can learn) and all sorts of new vocabulary. She talks a lot during lessons and makes friends easily with people. The members here already love her, especially because she is Italian and a new convert and has a lot of courage to come on a mission despite her family situation. Her story has already helped our investigators and I am convinced that with her here in Ladispoli, miracles are going to happen with these people. There are so many times when people we teach tell us that we dont understand what it is like because we were born into our church. Finally, here is a sister who can say, "actually, I know exactly what it is like. I was Catholic and I joined this faith just a year and a half ago." I am so lucky to have her as a companion!

This week has been so busy!! And yet it has gone by so fast. I remember that my first week in the mission dragged on forever. I don't know what Sorella Giordano would say if you asked her, but it has flown by for me at least! We have had a lot of appointments with investigators and less actives and members, and we are redoing English course publicity to get some new students, restarting the class on Saturday. Now I will take over the intermediate class and a member from the branch will teach basic.

On Thursday morning, Sorella Tutt woke up at 4:30 in the morning to get to the Rome train station in time for her to catch a bus to Sicily. I immediately picked up Sorella Giordano. The first thing she said to me was that she had a sore throat because the place she slept in was cold and it was "colpa d'aria". Haha, it made me laugh really hard because "colpa d'aria" is an Italian belief that cold air makes you sick, and all of us missionaries laugh because the Italians are so stuck on how we always have to wear a scarf so we don't get colpa d'aria. And it was just wonderfully Italian how that was the first thing my Italian companion said to me as we met. Anyways, we dropped her stuff off at home and ran off for a full day of appointments, not even able to stop at home for lunch or language study. We got home at 9:30 and I was exhausted from a full day of speaking Italian (explaining every thing that we going on to her because she was brand new) and work.

On Friday, we spent most of the day planning and me explaining our investigators and less actives and members of Ladispoli. Sorella Giordano has lots of good ideas for what we can do to help get some baptisms. We led a branch activity that night where we and the ward missionaries gave some trainings. It was fun because as each member entered, we gave them a tag and a mission call. The goal was to increase their excitement in missionary work and I hope it helped!
Together we have met with Giovanni and Rita and Lillian and Ignazia and Arcangelo and Sorella Giordano's personal conversion story and background has helped with every single one. We both feel that Giovanni is getting really really close to baptism (he came to church again on Sunday) and want to set another date with him again.
We met a new less active (the daughter of a member who is our age and i didn't even know she existed) and as she drove us home from an FHE, we asked her straight up why she doesn't come to church and we hope to work with her more. We had dinner and a lesson with the nonmember daughter and granddaughter of a member and it went really well and they have invited us to come back. Fabulous. We stopped by last night to bring them Book of Mormon reading calenders and hope to work with them more and make them investigators. Her name is Ilaria and her daughter is Benedetta.

One funny story. One member family is obsessed with the temple that is being built in Rome. They copied the image of the design of the temple and put in on their wall, their pens, mugs, grocery bags, keychains and they even made stickers which they gave us! WOW!

Sorella Giordano and I are trying to figure out what we can do to avoid the Jehovah's Witnesses that have swamped the town of Ladispoli. They are EVERYWHERE! We try knocking on doors and people tell us that we already came by earlier in the day (it wasn't us....). We might start working out in some smaller towns or in the country.

I am working on turning my thoughts to be more Christ-like. I am working on not focusing on myself as much, especially if I am tired or feel frustrated because we are "wasting" our time with someone (what a terrible way to think!). I know that one way we face opposition in this life is that we have a hard time focusing our thoughts on great things. But if we can focus on the vision and work towards it (aka, FAITH), how much good we can do and how much joy we can feel!

Thank you! I love the support I have from home! I am especially grateful for my very very supportive family.

Sorella Askew

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I love conference!

Transfer calls came in.... Sorella Tutt is headed off to Sicily and I am staying in Ladispoli and I will be training! I pick up my companion tomorrow morning and she could be either American or Italian. I am excited and incredibly nervous. I go through waves of feeling really stressed out and then feeling okay and then feeling really stressed out again, haha. Deep breath!

General conference was wonderful. I loved all the talks about revelation and gaining a testimony piece by piece. I also really enjoyed all the welfare talks. I see a lot of poverty and misery sometimes and how wonderful it is to know that we as members of the Church care for those who suffer.

One of my favorite points was by Elder Gonzalez who said that followers of Christ
1. are loving
2. make and keep covenants
That was so simply and yet so profound to me! We are unique because we make covenants and believe strongly in honoring them. However, as most people would agree, the most important characteristic of a Christian is the love we have for other people. It is both of them together!!! That is why we get to come to Italy and share our message with a bunch of people who are already Christian. We do our best to share it with love and also we teach of the covenants that we should make to help us get back to Heavenly Father.

I love what Elder Johnson said about trials and how some of the most excruciatingly painful experiences come before those experiences that are most rewarding. I have never seen such opposition in my own life as I have now on a mission. Wow, its incredible!! BUT, I know that when I keep going and pushing and working through it, great things happen. And it works that way for you too. If you are struggling with something immense right now, you too can make it through, especially with the hope and the vision that the hardest moments often come before some of the greatest.

Oh, and did you hear President Monson talk about the Rome temple? We all cheered :)
I am working on gratitude these days. What an important principle, it has never hit me before until now! Gratitude has never been something I am particularly good at, but it IS possible to develop a grateful heart. And how completely that changes life! As always, I am grateful for the Atonement that makes every change and every vision and every dream possible.

Speaking of visions, I also loved how a few people in conference talked about desire and a vision. How our desire is created when we have a vision and of course our desire shapes our thoughts and actions and life. Also, in times of trial, we can have faith and choose to believe in the vision that Heavenly Father has for us. That is another one of the spectacular things about the gospel, we have a correct knowledge about our potential and everything we can become. We have this as our vision and it sustains us and pushes us forward!

I am working on figuring out my specific vision for the rest of the mission (aka the goals i want to set and accomplish).

The people in Ladispoli are doing great. Giovanni, Barbara, Tiziana and others are still moving along. They are moving slowly but they are moving :)
We are working more closely with the branch missionaries (a bunch of 20 year old girls who are AWESOME). I have a goal to help this branch become more involved and dedicated to missionary work because I know that when the members really care about and feel love for any investigators who come to church, miracles will happen. I am convinced of it. A lot of this investigators we have would progress a lot faster if they could feel great love from the members, if they could feel that we actually do have something special in this Church!

We are doing a Preach my Gospel training for the branch members on Friday night!

Love you all! I know that this is the true restored Church of Jesus Christ. I know that living its principles brings happiness. Look at our church leaders and what wonderful examples they are of this!

Sorella Askew