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!