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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pizza Oven in the garage!

Volcanos, conference and pizza


Guess what we did today for P-day?? We hiked up Mt. Etna! Mt. Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and Catania is right on the base of Mt. Etna. We can't see it from our apartment because it is obscured by all the buildings, but sometimes when we are in the car with the elders driving around Catania, Mt. Etna pops up into view. It always has this cloud of smoke coming from the top and it erupts fairly often. So today we decided to go hike Mt. Etna! Don't worry though, its totally safe and a huge tourist attraction. Although there are lots of cool pictures in the tourist stores of the last time lava came all the way down to where we were in 2011, surrounding all the shops and parking lots. Yikes! We went up with the elders in Catania and the sisters from Ragusa, another city in Sicily. You can take a bus from the station in Catania to the base of a bunch of trails and then we hiked up for a little bit to reach the top of a big crater. It was so neat! You are just hiking on volcanic rock, there are no trees or anything, just clouds and black rock. Great fun!

We had a great week, especially with general conference!
11-year old Giorgia is all ready for her baptism this Saturday. She is such a cute 11-year old, she sings and dances and has a great understanding of the gospel for being so young. This week we taught her about tithing using a cute example with small wrapped candies. We tell her to close her eyes and stick out her hands. We gave her 10 candies and then asked if we could have one back. She said yes and we took one and told her to close her eyes again. Then we filled her hands with treats so that they were overflowing. That is just how tithing is! Heavenly Father gives us everything, he has given us our lives, family, work, all our blessings. Then he asks for just one tenth in return. Why? He doesn't need it, He is all-powerful and could find another way to provide for his Church if He wanted to. But instead he asks for just a little bit to allow us to sacrifice and receive even more blessings, both temporal and spiritual. Nice!

Lidia is still preparing for her baptism as well. She has a lot of desire to be baptized and is reading and coming to church and making friends with the members. For a few days we were worried that she might have still been smoking after she told us she stopped. We weren't sure what to do because she smelled of smoke but would deny it if we asked her straight up. We did our best to help her understand that we were here to help and that she could be very honest with us if she ever relapsed. We also had her interview with the bishop to get a second opinion. We think she is doing okay now though because we have seen her a few times without her smelling like smoke. Yay! It's so funny too because we bring members to help us at the appointments with Lidia and instead of a lesson it turns into a "Lidia sharing her whole life story and all her woes" session. We are always struggling to find the balance between being courteous and building relationships and listening vs actually teaching and taking control of the situation. We usually listen for a few minutes and find some way to direct the conversation back to the lesson. Lidia will focus and listen for about 3 minutes but as soon as she finds a pause, she will turn to start talking to the member about something completely unrelated, haha. It is so typically Italian and I love it. We are learning great conversation-directing skills on the mission!

We found a few new investigators this week! I think I am known as the sister who loves finding work and I think I can blame it a little on my lack of patience and my desire to get things done efficiently, haha. I just have the attitude of "if our investigators aren't progressing and they aren't keeping commitments, that's fine, let's move on to find someone who will". I actually used to dwell a lot more on investigators who weren't acting and it was almost painful and definitely frustrating. As I've gotten older in the mission, I am more and more willing to let people go and move on to find those who are truly desirous and ready to hear the gospel. I have a strong testimony that these people are out there and we just need to find them, look at Adriano and Angela! Finding work can be tedious and hard but I have done so much of it that it has become easy and almost automatic. I love it!
Anyways, we found two different awesome awesome people on the buses. One is Grazia from the Dominican Republic. She is searching for God and studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses and wants to find out what church is true. The other is Angelo, a 20-something year old university student who believes in God and is mostly curious about "the Mormons" and willing to do our experiment (read, pray, come to church and you can know for yourself!). Both are awesome and willing to see us often (that's hard to find in Rome where everyone lives such hectic lives and is so busy with work).

General Conference was incredible!! I've found that general conference is always great but so much more incredible to watch as missionaries. It's a huge event and we literally count down the days for weeks leading up to conference. Ah, to listen to the words of prophets and apostles. It's a stark contrast to the confusion and depression and indifference of the world. We actually have a living prophet!! WOW!
We did things a little differently here in Catania (I couldn't help but think about Rome and my people and my Rome investigators who I knew were attending conference there. I miss them!) The elders and us drove to an American family's house to watch the Saturday sessions on Sunday and then we went back to the church to watch the Sunday morning session live. We ate Cinnamon rolls and an American lunch with this family from the branch and it was so strange to spend so much time with Americans. Ah! What am I going to do when I go home??
I loved all the talks but especially President Uchtdorf's and President Eyring's.

On Monday, I was assigned to give the training in our district meeting. I decided to simply talk about some of the things I had learned about missionary work and how to be a more effective missionary. I was shocked that I easily talked about it for an hour and could have kept going! Tomorrow we have zone conference and because this will be my last zone conference, I have to give a "dying testimony". That is, they make all the missionaries about to go home stand up and bear testimony. It's making me reflect a lot on my mission and the blessing it has been in my life. Maybe I'll share some thoughts next time but I KNOW that this was a necessary thing in my life and an incredible incredible thing that has changed me forever. How far I still have to go, and yet how far I have come!

One last cool thing from this week. We ate pizza at a member's house on Friday night. This member family actually built a brick oven in their garage, the type of oven that they have in Italy for making really really good pizzas. They had literally dozens of pizza dough balls prepared and for an entire hour they made pizza after pizza with all sorts of unique toppings on it (including a dessert Nutella pizza!). It may have been the best pizza I have ever had. And I must build a brick oven just like that in my garage one day when I grow up. Yum.

Love ya all!!

Sorella Askew