Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What a wonderful Birthday!

I woke up with Sorella Olsen dancing around, throwing balloons at me, and singing , "Happy Birthday!": it was beautiful! We did some street finding in the morning and had a miracle (I asked Heavenly Father for a birthday miracle and he sent us one)! That morning we were looking over the map trying to decide where to go and thought initially to do some casa around where the church is. Sorella Olsen pointed out another zone in a part of Ostia where we have never been and it just seemed right to me, so we changed our minds and decided to go there instead. As we got off the train and were walking to the streets we had chosen, we decided to start talking to the people on the streets. I felt like it was a morning where we should try to follow every little prompting we had, and we kept turning around and talking to people we had already passed or stopping at random houses along the way to ring the doorbell. It seemed disorganized and a little chaotic, and we weren't having much success until we finally stopped and talked an older woman who was really kind and open. We were just finishing our conversation with her and were about to say a prayer with her on the street when a car pulls up to park and the person inside starts waving madly. Our friend says, "I think its my sister" and she walks up to the car and I am thinking to myself "darn, we were interrupted just before we could say a prayer!" Then our friend starts motioning for us to come over and out steps a tall, darker woman in an elegant black dress and a wide brimmed hat. It was Maria di Fattima! She gave me a hug and the first thing she said to me was "Sorella Askew, I am so happy, he died just how he was supposed to: in his sleep". It took me a few minutes to realize who she was talking about; her 91 year old father. She was parking to go to the funeral which started in 10 minutes in the Catholic church right across the street from where we were!! She invited us to come and we attended the funeral.

Two weeks before, Maria di Fattima and her son Dario (through a series of strange events) told us they weren't able to see us anymore. Sorella Olsen and I had felt that it was a miracle to find them (we prayed after not having much success and 20 minutes later, Maria was literally sent to us as we were waiting for a bus and invited us to come to her home), and it was very sad to not be able to see them anymore because there was so much potential. And then yesterday morning, we were in a part of Ostia that we had never been to before and without knowing it we were standing right in front of the church where Maria's father's funeral was, 10 minutes before it started. We talked briefly afterwards and Maria told us to call later that week. It was a miracle.

Then we went home and ate pasta carbonara (maybe my favorite Rome dish, yum), had an appointment with Maria Grazia, and went to a member's house where a bunch of members and investigators were for my surprise birthday party! Ah! It was wonderful!

Other things from this week:

Laura moved to Reggio Calabria for the summer and is already working closely with the missionaries there. She has a baptismal date for this Sunday, although they may postpone it a few weeks to make sure she is really ready and understands the importance of this step. We saw her off at the train station and met her sister, who Laura always complained to us was evil but actually was very nice to us! We made her a travel pack with an apple and treats and she loved it :)

We made our goal of 21 lessons last week!! Ahh! We are going to try to keep the momentum we have!

We found out that the new convert Rachele is really hesitant to have her 9-year old son baptized because he has already been baptized in the Catholic church... Okay, that is a concern we hear all the time and help to resolve, nothing new. But thats not the only problem! She is concerned because her son was baptized in the Catholic church by the pope!! That isn't a concern that we hear very often! She wants to make sure he really is committed before he is baptized by anyone else.

Transfer calls came, Sorella Olsen and I are staying together in Ostia for another 6 weeks!

Another random funny night. We brought our investigator Maria Grazia with us to an appointment with our investigator Adriano and a member, because she was scared to go home and we didnt want to abandon her. In the middle of our appointment, Maria Grazia got up and started pacing the room, clutching her heart. She was having a panic attack! Luckily, the member, Sorella Calvagna, was brillant and knew exactly what to do to calm her down, but we were still worried about Adriano and what he was thinking. No problem there! He started listing off all the vitamins she needs to take to help her anxiety and was way excited to share what he had learned from "his research" with her. Sorella Calvangna was going back and forth between helping Maria Grazia, bearing powerful testimony of the Savior and how we give all our burdens to Him, and telling Adriano that he needed to be baptized. She kept telling him vaguely that he needs to make "that step" and have "eternal covenants" and I think he was really confused! It could have been a disaster but instead turned out to be a hilarious experience! I loved the example of Sorella Calvagna and how she has had lots of problems in her life, but because she had faced them with hope and faith, she has conquered them and become an incredible person.

Lesson I am learning... having a "steadfastness in Christ". How extremely important this is. We have made covenants, we have chosen a life of faith, and we must move forward with faith rather than dwelling. If we have concerns, we can work them out, but we must do it with faith!

Love you lots!

Sorella Askew

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

21 Lessons


Our goal for the entire mission this week is to teach 21 lessons per companionship. The mission averages 5-6 right now. 21 is a very high goal and we can do it!!
We have some set backs this week but we are still on track to accomplish it! Sorella Olsen was sick with the flu earlier and we stayed inside all day, but we taught one lesson over the phone (hymn, scriptures, testimony, prayer, and everything!). Yesterday we taught 4 lessons and tonight we are doing splits with the members and doing another 4. Tomorrow there is a strike for the public transportation, so we will be stuck in Centro Giano (the suburb where we live that is completely separated from the cities and all our of work, ah). But we can still do it! When there are set backs, the Lord is there supporting us in our efforts and He will bless us!

Good week!
Sorella Olsen got sick on Sunday night and threw up and we stayed at home all day on Monday. Poor thing, she was miserable! It was actually a very productive day for me though, I made a lot of phone calls and caught up with the records of all of our investigators. I feel much more organized and it was a needed blessing to have a day to call lots of people and organize the rest of the week's appointments. She is doing much better now! No more rice soup and frozen washcloths!

Laura is leaving us! As a high school teacher she finished the school year and is moving back in with her family for the summer in Reggio Calabria, which is in southern Italy. Luckily, there is a branch of the church and missionaries and we are preparing her and them for a smooth transition. I imagine she will be baptized in the next few weeks in Reggio Calabria. I wish we could be there but I am so glad we were able to spend this month with her, helping her making the changes in her life that she so desperately wanted. She still needs to understand and gain a strong testimony of the Restoration, but she is committed to going to church every single Sunday and keeping the commandments. It has been a huge lesson in love and patience with her, and often a roller coaster. We have tried to help her find peace by applying the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in her life, especially forgiveness, because she is very bitter and fragile from a lot of ruined relationships in her life and disappointments and fighting with her sister. Sometimes it was frustrating because we would tell her the same things over and over again, about gratitude and being positive and forgiving and changing desires and love, and she couldn't seem to get pass her fixation on how awful the world was and all Italian men and how much she wants to be a famous singer. But then sometimes we would see huge steps of improvement where she was much happier and more positive about the future and where she really seemed to understand what we were telling her. Yesterday we taught her a very direct lesson on forgiveness and the Atonement of Jesus Christ and how He asks us to love our enemies and pray for those who use us (Laura feels very used). One of the members of the church who was there, Fratello Battistini, was very blunt, telling Laura how she needed to pick herself up and keep moving on rather than dwelling on the disappointments of the past and wasting time.

Last night Laura called us to tell us that she had done all the reading assigned to her (we leave her homework that comes from the Young Woman's personal progress book to help her understand her divine nature and individual worth), and how her sister got mad at her and Laura reacted with patience and love and how her sister calmed down. It seems like such a simple concept, but it was a huge step for Laura! We have to remember that she is really just a child in the gospel of Jesus Christ because she has lived her whole life without being taught such simple principles as love and patience and faith and forgiveness. It has strengthened my testimony a lot on how important these basic but profound truths that Jesus taught are, and how when we learn to apply them to our lives we find happiness. I have seen so many people in Italy suffering because in their relationships with other people, they haven't learned how to apply these. I know that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the message that we bear about it truly does bring peace and joy to families. A family that is based on these principles will succeed.

Anyways, watching Laura grow and begin to exercise the principles of faith and optimism and forgiveness in her own life has been a wonderful blessing. There were times when she regressed and it was so frustrating to us because it felt like nothing was getting through to her, but then there were moments like the phone call last night that reminded us that she is making progress and her life is so different now than it was a month ago. It has been so fun watching her make friends in the church and asking "I couldn't come last week, what did I miss?" as if she has been a member of the Church her whole life. I know that she has made tremendous progress in one month and I am learning to exercise patience when its hard to see the progress. It is a lesson for my own life! How often do I get frustrated in the moment because I feel like I am making no progress and am instead regressing, when really I am just forgetting to look at the big picture and see how far I have come from the beginning. We even may take a few steps back, but it doesn't mean we should give up!

Everyone has their own journey through life, Laura, me, other missionaries, and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. It doesn't matter if my weaknesses seem to be ridiculous (to me) and not a problem to anyone else, what matters is that I am improving and changing (even if it seems really slow!). Its important what the Lord thinks of me and my progress! Keep in mind the big picture and the eternal prospective!

Lots of good things going on in Ostia! I love this place!

Love you lots!

Sorella Askew

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Zone Conference

We had zone conference yesterday and it was incredible! It was a special zone conference because a general authority, Elder Texiera, came and trained us. I actually knew Elder Texiera's son at BYU, he lived in the Portuguese housing while I was in the Italian housing (they are Portuguese) and I still remember specifically a moving testimony that Miguel (his son) bore in church on seeing the authority of his father's call.

Elder Texiera gave an incredibly powerful training. He used some examples within his family and missionaries that he saw when he was a mission president to illustrate the miracles that can take place, and we all felt the witness of the Spirit that it is possible within our mission with each of us. He talked about his son and how he was called to the New York New York South mission (Emily Ball, I am thinking of you!) and how Elder Texiera worked in the missionary department at the time. He checked on the stats of the New York New York South mission and was disappointed to see that they were teaching an average of 5-6 lessons a week. He gave a long speech to his son before he left on his mission and made him promise to do one thing. Elder Texiera made his son promise to him that the very first week in the mission, he would teach 21 lessons. His son made the promise and as soon as he arrived to his new apartment with his trainer, he told his trainer about this promise to his father and asked for his help to accomplish it. His first city was Staten Island, one of the deadest areas of the mission for baptisms, but his trainer agreed to help him fulfill the promise to his dad, and the two of them immediately sat down and got to work planning how they could accomplish it. They ditched the car and instead took the ferry back and forth from the island and talked to literally 100s of people each day. A few weeks later they had 12 investigators come to church and several of these people were baptized.

He talked about his other son (Miguel!) who served a mission in Japan. During his mission, he didn't write much home to his family, but he saw an enormous amount of success, baptizing much more than the average. After Miguel got home, Elder Texiera pulled him aside and asked him, "I want to know, what was your secret? How did you find so much success?" Miguel, with tears in his eyes, responded, "I had plenty of weaknesses as a missonary, but the thing I did was that I learned to talk to everyone around me, all of the time." And he saw great success.

Elder Texiera talked about much more, about how to ask for referrals from our investigators, about how to set up multiple appointments, about how to have the faith to find. I was deeply touched and inspired. I am so grateful that I heard this from him at this time in my mission, it was absolutely perfect. I could choose to feel bad about my lack of talking to everyone around me up until this point, about implementing the things Elder Texiera asked of us and seeing immense changes in the work. I could choose to regret my year of not being as productive as I could have been. Or I can choose to look forward with faith and hope in the future, and be extremely grateful for the knowledge and the faith that I now have to see great success. Because I know without a doubt that if we are able to maintain the vision that Elder Texiera gave us, we will see great success. I have absolute faith in this, the only area in which my faith might waver is whether or not I am capable of keeping this desire with me to talk to everyone everywhere all of the time.
Elder Texiera asked us to leave immediately after the conference and return to our respective areas and talk to people along the way rather than stay around and socialize. Sorella Olsen and I did just that and from last night until this morning, we have talked to dozens of people, received 7 phone numbers, and gave away 5 Books of Mormons. It truly has been incredible.

Now the question is whether we can maintain this. Will we have the faith to keep talking to people with this momentum? I usually can sustain a good goal for a little while, and then its natural that we forget that initial desire and our effort drops off. But what will we need to do to sustain it? I know it will take a huge amount of faith and effort and prayer. But if we truly desire baptisms, if we truly desire to bring people to Christ and want it more than anything else, we can sustain it. I think this is one of the many many lessons I am learning in Italy; how to keep the faith and diligence long after the initial prompting is gone. Because that is how we reap any kind of benefit in life, whether it is spiritual or temporal. We desire it and we work for it even when the "natural man" starts to taper off and not care as much. We are called to overcome that. And something that Elder Texiera said that has hit home with me, "You are not called to Italy Rome at this time to comply with the status quo". Break out of mindsets and traditions, do what is right and what the Lord knows we are capable of and we will be able to see miracles. How difficult it is to set our standards according to the Lord rather than against other people, but that is exactly what we are learning to do.

I am so excited! I am going to be exhausted next week from all the talking to people that we will be doing this week. I'll let you know how it goes!

Laura's baptismal date is set back because she didnt come to church.
Awesome new investigator named Adriano and he is probably thirty and brilliant. He sees the goodness of the church and is friends with the members but still has to work through all the details before he commits to anything and changes his life. I love working with him, he reminds me of myself and I understand him and his concerns really well! He is searching for the truth.

Maria Grazia, the ex wife of Carlo the member, came to church with her two kids!

Language study at the Spanish Steps this week :)

Funny story. Yesterday morning right after we had gotten on the train to go to the special zone conference with Elder Texiera, I looked down and realized I had forgotten my tag! The only time I have forgotten my tag this transfer! It was too late to go back and get it, so we called the other sisters in Rome and Sorella Jones brought me an extra tag of hers. We stood in line to shake Elder Texiera's hand and I was right behind Sorella Jones. When he got to me, he commented, "Wow, there are two Sister Jones's!" Haha..... nervous giggle. Did I just lie to a general authority??

Love you!
Sorella Askew

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Hello! I want to tell you about a miracle this week! This has to do with Veronica, but not the Veronica that I have been talking about the last few weeks in Ostia. Instead, this miracle is about Veronica in Rome 2, a girl we taught right around Christmastime.

This Veronica was a 14 year old girl that Sorella Pickett and I started teaching. Her family was friends with the bishop's family in Rome 2 and the bishop brought them to the ward Christmas party, where Sorella Pickett and I got their contact information and started teaching Veronica, the only one interested at the time. We were so excited too because she was Italian and young and open and there was so much potential. We had several lessons with her that were very spiritual, and we watched her progress from not believing that God exists to believing that He is real and that He loves her. I had put a lot of hope in her! And then one day we went and taught a lesson and at the end, we asked if she had any questions. She told us that she had decided to go back to the Catholic faith and stop meeting with us, although she was grateful for the help in gaining a faith in God. We were devastated and not sure how much of her decision was based on what she wanted to do or the influence of her family. But we let her go with the hope that atleast she would have the connection to the bishop's family if she ever changed her mind in the future.
A few days ago, I got a phone call from Sorella PIckett, who is still serving in Rome 2. She told me that Veronica and her family all just set a baptismal date!! They are planning on being baptized in the middle of July! Sorella PIckett went on to explain to me how in the last several weeks, Veronica started attending church activities and she become friends with the girls her age in the ward and Sorella Pickett and her companion started teaching Veronica's family. They came to church on Sunday and soon after, all of them agreed to be baptized! Wow!!
Sorella Pickett told me that Veronica also told her about how one of her concerns was that she wanted to feel the Spirit again as strongly as she did when she first met with us, months ago. That was such a comfort for me to hear, because sometimes I feel like we do our best to prepare and bear testimony and bring the Spirit into lessons but it seems to have little impact on the person. BUT, we cannot underestimate the long lasting effects that the Spirit can have. It is also incredible because Sorella Pickett and I had the goal to find a baptize an Italian family, and now we are able to see the fruits of our work together. Even better, we are both still serving in the Rome zone and are around to really rejoice in it! It was a lesson to me on how the things I do here really do make a difference, even if we dont see the results right away. I know that if Veronica follows through on her baptism, her life will be absolutely changed forever. Italy is a hard place to grow up, and most of the teenagers are making bad decisions with their lives. But, with the principles of the gospel and the support that Veronica now has from other girls her age, she will be able to avoid so much of the misery that I have seen from bad decisions. That is incredible!

Also this week I found out that Cristian, the investigator we found from english course just a few weeks before I left, has a baptismal date and is making some outstanding progress! There are good things happening all around the Rome zone and I am convinced that one of the reasons I was called to stay in the Rome zone and serve in Ostia was so that I would be able to see all these great things happening with people that I taught. If I stick around for the next transfer as well, I will probably be able to go to their baptisms! I am very very grateful for the success that I was able to have a small part in, and have a greater testimony that this is God's work and that He is guiding it.

Phew, so what is going on in Ostia anyways?

Laura is still going strong, still getting ready for her baptism on June 22 (she moved the date up). She came to church on Sunday and we are so glad because it was a very powerful fast and testimony meeting. We are helping her to focus on the positive things in her life and realize that although her circumstances might not change right away, thanks to the Atonement, she has the ability to change herself and have a new perspective on life. Her hard times have left her bitter and cynical towards people, although they have also humbled her and I believe prepared her to have the desire to change. We are working on helping her understand how important her desires are: instead of having desires based of off a successful singing career (she wants to move to America and sing professionally) or a man in her life, she can turn her desires to those of serving God and fulfilling His will. Because a professional singing career as a foundation for happiness is very uncertain and unstable, but she can find the happiness that lasts if she has desires instead to keep His commandments. She is still going strong though and keeping her commitments: coming to church, reading, praying. We will teach the word of wisdom today!

Antonella, the girlfriend of a member, is still one of my favorite investigators. She is really cute and happy and smart and we have really good lessons with her because she understands really well, but its funny because we get to the end of the lesson and we think it went really well and then we ask her to do something and she always says no! But she is so nice about it that she is still one of my favorite people, haha. The first lesson, we asked her if she would be baptized when she received an answer and she said no. Yesterday we taught her and she pulled out her Book of Mormon and notes that she took while she was reading it and she shared with us some of the things that really stuck out to her. It was incredible because the things that hit her the most were some of the scriptures that we use all the time in the church! And without any prior bias, she too was touched by the passages about Nephi's determination to go and do and how God always prepares a way, or about how Nephi went forth and was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand what he would do. Antonella would point out a verse and Sorella Olsen and I would look at each other in shock, "how is she so awesome?". So after talking about the Book of Mormon and how incredible it is, Sorella Olsen asked Antonella if she would pray to God and ask Him if it was true. Antonella surprised us by saying "No." What?! She told us she is just reading out of curiosity, haha. That was a surprise, especially because she came to church on Sunday and was clearly touched by the Spirit in fast and testimony meeting (she was crying!). Anyways, we still love her lots and she still wants to meet with us and we are praying that something will touch her heart and help her have more desire to search to know if it is true.

Other random fun parts about serving in the Rome area... (and even though our proselyting area is called Ostia, we spend more time inside the city of Rome than we do in Ostia!)

On Monday we were on our way back from district meeting and our metro back stops right at the Colosseum. So we decided to take our lunch and hour to study the language at the Colosseum! We sat on a grassy hill right next to the Colosseum and laughed at tourists while we studied Italian. Only in Rome!!

One night Sorella Olsen and I were on the bus home and I convinced her to sing a hymn to the bus driver with me. It was crazy and really strange but afterwards the bus driver laughed and told us how much we had cheered up his long day at work. Hymns bring the Spirit!

We are teaching Tea, a 20 year old very stylish Italian girl who comes to church with her best friend who is a member at Ostia. She is awesome and way into dreams and visions although not a huge supporter of commandments yet :) But she is very open and we are working on it!

We got a new investigator, Maria. She stopped the elders on the street and asked them to come teach her and they referred her to us instead. She is evangelical although wants to know what we believe. She is suffering serious depression right now though and wants to escape Italy with her children. We taught her once and went back yesterday and when we showed up, her ex-husband was there. He was a less active member we met randomly our first week here!! We were shocked! We had a lesson with them but it was more difficult because I am pretty sure he was drunk and they were arguing throughout the whole lesson and he was arguing with us a little about church doctrine. That's not the best environment to be teaching Maria in! We deal with some of the strangest things as missionaries, but I love it because it keeps everything interesting!

Another neat experience. We were in Rome on Monday and we had two bidones (when people stand us up) and were trying to do some knocking on doors in the area but were yelled at and kicked out of the complex. We weren't having the best day and we weren't very happy. We pass someone on a bench as we were walking to a bus stop and Sorella Olsen tells me, "we need to go back to talk to that person". We went back and sat down next to her and she immediately told us she wasn't interested. But we sat and talked with her anyways and she was so friendly and kind and eventually our conversation turned to religion. Her name is Barbara and she doesn't have a lot of faith, but was interested to hear why we were so convinced and we explained the Book of Mormon. We ended up leaving her with a Book of Mormon and exchanging numbers to meet again and talk more! It was a miracle and a wonderful experience to show us how God does bless us and send people in our path and prompt us to talk to them.

There are so many other people to talk about but I am out of time!

Love you lots!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Short short this week.

So sorry I don't have much time today!

Quick review of highlights of the week:
We have talked to so many people! It has become a lot easier in these last few weeks to plop down next to a person on a train and just start talking to them because we do it all the time, all day long. I am also learning from the example of Sorella Olsen how to turn the conversation more quickly to the gospel and testifying and inviting, I am tired at the end of the day but it feels good!
We volunteered at the Caritas (soup kitchen for homeless) this week and I loved it. I talked to several people who have lived very hard lives. One woman was 35 years old, only had one arm and had lost her husband and three children. I am so grateful for the blessings that I have!

Several new investigators this week, one family from Moldova that is so very humble, and a woman from Peru. Lots of more potentials! There is lots to do here!
The audio recording has a little more :)

One really good lesson with a less active woman in which, like Elena in Ladispoli, I was able to share some of my personal experiences and I think my struggles really helped me to relate to her and help her along. We are praying she will come to church this Sunday!

Today we are going to the Basilico di San Paolo (photo above).

Love you lots!