Week 78: How great shall be your joy

This week has probably been one of the most stressful but most rewarding weeks of my entire mission.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
We had zone conference on Wednesday which was absolutely wonderful. Sora Barrera and I were in charge of lunch for the ~45 people present so we were pretty stressed about that haha. We planned on kind of a sandwich bar and spent a lot of Tuesday buying a ton of meat and cheese (the ladies at the supermarket counter hated us so much for making them cut so much) and then buying all the fruits and veggies. We were a little worried because they didn’t have any of the bread we wanted to buy, but we figured we would just come later in the day and buy it then. But of course, we FORGOT. Thankfully, the elders reminded us that night and they promised they would buy 20 loaves of bread the next morning — I think they could hear the stress in my voice over the phone haha. So bread was bought and all was well!

IMG_2624Friday was Diana’s baptism! We only had one worry​ with everything and that was when we heard that the font would not be filled until an hour after the ceremony started….uhhhh….I guess the elders wanted to make sure the water was warm so much so that they kind of underestimated how much time it would take. Sora Barrera and I were thinking, “If we need to, we’ll start getting buckets and bringing in water from the kitchen!” Thankfully, the speakers spoke longer than we anticipated so the water was at a reasonable height by the time the ordinance came. It was just an absolutely wonderful and beautiful ceremony. Knowing how much she has had the desire to be baptized, I felt so proud of her as I watched her make that step. She has so much faith and is such a firecracker — she will bless so many lives in the future. On Sunday, she received the gift of the Holy Ghost and I started crying in the middle of the blessing because I felt the Spirit so strongly.

IMG_2621​Last time at Sora Berdeu’s house!

IMG_2631Receiving flowers from our English students!

Well, I don’t have much more time here at internet, but I wanted to just say how much I am thankful for this mission. I am so grateful for the choice I was prompted to make to serve a mission. I had no idea all of the millions of experiences I would have, all the friends I would make, and most importantly, how much my testimony would grow and how my relationship with my Savior would be strengthened. I ​love these people. I feel like part of my heart will always be in Romania and Moldova. I have learned how much God really loves each of us individually. I had the rare occasion on my mission to feel an infinitesimally small portion of God’s love for a person — whether a member going through a hard moment, an investigator about to be baptized, a street contact talking about the difficulties of their life, or just looking out at the park on a winter’s night at the hundreds of people walking past me. I could feel how much God loves them and the feeling overwhelmed me usually to the point of tears. It kind of felt like my heart was too big to fit in my body. And from those little glimpses of love, I know that God loves me too. Even when I had really really really hard days or things didn’t go at all like planned, I see now that God was taking little pieces of tile that seemed random and unnecessary to me and in the end, He was making a mosaic. He took someone as silly and normal as me and transformed me into a powerful, loving, strong, and courageous messenger of the truth.

I love a quote from C.S. Lewis that says, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

I have felt that way so often and I know that it was only by relying on Christ that I was able to overcome every hard and difficult thing of my mission. I am so glad that I can live the righteous life I have always dreamed for myself and I cam so glad that my mission changed me. I will miss these people so much. Sure, there is Facebook and Skype and everything else, but it will never replace the feeling of being a missionary, talking with them every day and seeing the change that the Gospel is making in their lives.

I am so excited to see what God has in store for me next and what life will bring. I love you so much and I am so glad I got to share these experiences of the past 18 months with you too! I will talk to you soon and I love you!!

IMG_2652I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Love always and for the last time,
Sora Amy

Advertisements

Dă-mi acest munte de urcat, oferă-mi aceste provocări

Well, one of my very last emails home! I will get to email next week, but by this time next week, I will be on a train over to Buc. CRAZY. It still has not sunk in quite yet and I think all the hustle and bustle of this past week and the upcoming week will keep me going.

This week unfortunately we had a lot of people cancel lessons on us, but we still we able to meet with quite a few people so it was great. We also got Sora Barrera’s Moldovan visa papers in so in about a month, she will be good to stay for a long time to take over my post! We met this week with Irina, one of our new investigators, and she came to us with even MORE questions than the first time. We were able to talk about the entire Restoration, which was good, and we can tell that she truly does want to find the truth. We invited her to go home and read from the Book of Mormon and pray about what we said and she said, “OF COURSE I’m gonna go do that!” So we are pretty excited about her. She is just the most energetic person, I love it!!

We also met with Diana, the newer investigator, and recapped with her about the Restoration by watching a video. She loved it and wanted to take home a copy of the DVD so she could watch it anytime she wanted haha. She is really sweet and sincere and you can tell she just has this desire to learn about these things. She came to church on Sunday, all dressed up in a dress and heels! She stayed for the whole time and participated in Gospel Principles and Relief Society, answering questions and everything! 🙂 She seems to be a really great progressing investigator and I’m excited to see where things go.

IMG_2604​With Diana after church

We had exchanges this week and I went with Sora Elliott — I feel so blessed to be her first STL! She is literally just the sweetest and cutest person. We unfortunately had to do a lot of chores like dropping off bills and picking up things, but we still had a great day and I loved getting to know her better!

We met with Diana a couple times this week and she had her baptismal interview today! Elder Bateman comes out and says, “I think she has a better understanding of the gospel than I do…” haha. So it all went well! This week is a lot of preparation (the program, cleaning the font, etc), so we are super busy. Plus we have zone conference on Wednesday and the Bacău sisters are staying with us so I get to see Sora Merkley!!!!! WOO! It will be fun to have time to talk together and reflect on the crazy 18 months we just lived.

This week we also had a fun evening with Sora Berdeu, Natalia and her daughter Palina, and Sora Berdeu’s family! We ate traditional Russian treats and played some Phase 10 🙂 We had to leave before all the phases were over, but I was winning by the time we left haha. I love these people so much and I am so glad that I have been able to become not only the missionary they rely on, but the friend they love.

IMG_2603​Self-timer always wins

Well, not much else to say, but know that I can’t wait to see you soon! Until then, I will be working hard and having a great week too 🙂

Love always,
Sora Amy

We found love right where we are

IMG_2585Well this week has just been amazing! We are still meeting with Diana and she is pretty much all set to be baptized on February 27 🙂 She had an interview with our branch president yesterday after church and he said he felt really good about her being baptized and that he thinks she is ready! So that was great to hear. I had to teach Relief Society on Sunday (after being told Sunday morning at 8 am…gotta love that missionary life) and she was participating and making comments like a member! I am so so excited for her!!

This week we also met with SEVEN new investigators! Probably the first time in my mission I’ve had this happen to me. All seven of them came from English classes — making those 450 students all worth it. What’s cool is that we didn’t even offer 30/30 lessons, all of these people are simply interested in learning about what we believe! To give you a quick run-down of each of them:

-Galina is a woman in her 60s that knows English really well. She is in the advanced class and learned English alone at home/from our English classes for YEARS. She is very spiritual and believes that God has helped her to learn 7 languages in the span of a couple years. She talks a lot but is very attentive so we are excited to keep working with her.

-Victoria is an older woman as well, probably in her 60s, who is interested in what we believe. She was very responsive and attentive and has the sweetest testimony of God. I asked her if she knew God exists and she said one time she was praying, “God, please show yourself to me. Help me know that you exist.” And then right when she ended her prayer, she felt a warm, light breeze. For her, that was an answer. She kept saying, “Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but for me, it was an answer.” I love meeting people who have these amazing testimony-building experiences even before they know about the Gospel. It shows to me that God is constantly preparing the hearts of the people here.

-Ilona and Beatrice are two younger girls, around 16 years old. We were worried that they wouldn’t be too interested in the spiritual part of our lesson, but as we started talking, Ilona started crying. We were worried at first that she was sad or something, but she said that she is just very susceptible to spiritual things and that she is sensitive. She said something like, “This is the first time you’ve ever seen me cry, Beatrice!” Sora Barrera and I were talking this week about how strange yet amazing the missionary-investigator relationship is. We get to see people cry and tell us all about their deepest beliefs all within just a couple hours of talking of them, yet sometimes I don’t know the simplest things about them, like how many siblings they have, until months later. But they are super sweet and driven girls. I am excited to see how they progress.

-Irina and Maria are two friends, 23 and 19 years old. Irina seems to be more interested and is probably one of the bubbliest and fastest-talking people I have met on my mission…which is saying something. She has a MILLION questions and it makes it a little hard to keep the lesson on track, but we think once we explain to her that we have to show her the big picture and then answer all of her detailed questions, then things will go better. As of now, she just has only snips and pieces of what we believe, but we want her to see the big picture. She mentions though that she LOVES the way she feels around us and in the church building. She says she just feels so peaceful,so we think that is promising.

-Diana is another 16 year old, the one I mentioned last week that came to church. We had a lesson with her on Saturday and she was so receptive and open. She said that if she prayed and knew that these things were true, she would be baptized. She is so loving and I think she really has a true desire to know these things for herself which is such a blessing. She seems really promising and I am so so excited to see her progress.

This week we also had an exchange so I got to spend Wednesday with Sora Huffaker! We basically just talked about Alexandria the whole day since she had just served there for 4 transfers. She is such a great missionary — just so simply doing the things that she needs to be doing and doing them faithfully. Plus she is so funny and chill so it made for a great day!

For Valentine’s Day, Sora and I taught 3 English classes back-to-back, then 3 lessons immediately after. The elders were kind and brought us some food that we scarfed down in between English and the lessons. We came home pretty dead but made ourselves a romantic Valentine’s dinner: Kraft Mac n Cheese. It was the perfect ending to the day!

IMG_2599
Last P-Day, we went hiking up a random sketchy tower with one of the elders’ English students and he took lots of pictures so I have lots to show from this past week! We also went walking around a beautiful lake which would have been great had it not been freezing cold.

SAM_3870If we were a band…you better believe this would be our album cover​

I keep having moments every day where I realize how close I am to the end…how my days are down to 14…but I then put myself back into blissful denial. But I am so glad that I am sprinting to the end (or at least trying to) and giving it my all. I’ve found that if I’m busy, I have less time to dwell and get all sad so I keep myself moving and doing things. I am going to miss being a missionary, I am going to miss all of these friends I have made, I am going to miss having my days full of connecting with people and bringing them closer to Christ. But I can hardly wait to see you and start the rest of my life! I love you so so much and I hope you have a great week!

Love always,
Sora Amy

What could I have done more for my vineyard?

IMG_2583This week the craziest thing of my mission thus far happened: English classes. And not just any English classes…English classes where 450 people showed up for the first day. Yes. 450. In the little chapel in Chișinău. Imagine it, if you will.

We knew we might have a LOT of people coming since the elders were getting around 150 English calls a day, so we braced ourselves for impact. Tuesday, instead of being a day where we taught, we just had a sign-up for people to sign up for 1 of 4 tracks that we now offer. I was manning the beginner table and I was OVERWHELMED with people, all asking me a million different questions. Probably one of the most stressful hours of my mission. Sora Barrera and I now teach the beginner class almost every day of the week, Saturday by far being the worst with 3 classes back-to-back. All of the classes are pretty full and huge so it’s exciting!! We already have 4 lessons set up for this week with English students who had questions about the gospel. Also, I was talking to a couple of the students after class and they were asking what I do for a living at home. I mentioned that I was going to study biostatistics and she said, “Well, I am a teacher and I can tell you, you are a FABULOUS teacher! I love these classes!! You should be a teacher!” Who knew what 18 months of teaching ESL could do to a person! So if all else fails, I can always fall back on being an English teacher to Romanian speakers. Everyone needs a plan B, right?

One of the people we set up to meet with is a girl named Diana (also 16 years old…confusing, right?) and we invited her to church the next day. Lo and behold, she came and stayed for all 3 hours! It was terribly confusing for her since she had only ever heard a spiritual thought from us so she asked me a million questions, but she was intensely paying attention and said afterward that she loved church so much and would be back next week! We gave her a pamphlet that explained the restoration for her to read before we met on Saturday and hopefully that started to answer some of her questions. Or maybe it will just give her more questions…we shall see.

This week was not only tiring because of all the English classes, but also because we went down to Buc for MLC on Thursday. We left at 4:30 in the morning for the airport and got into Buc nice and early. The meeting was really great and inspiring, as always. We talked a lot about the “why” behind all of the work we do. It was interesting and made a lot of sense — you can be a good, obedient missionary without fully understanding why you are doing the things you are doing. But once you begin to better understand the purpose behind everything you do, there is an added strength to all of your actions and they become easier to do, more of a joy than an obligation. President Ivory also said something that hit very close to home. He was talking about the church leaders here in Romania and he said so simply, “They’re not getting rid of me. I will be their friends for life. I will always have a piece of Romania and Moldova with me.” I started tearing up, thinking about how this is true for me as well. They’re not getting rid of me here. I will always have a piece of Romania and Moldova and they will always have a piece of me. After a long day of meetings, I had to start saying some final goodbyes to some of the missionaries present because I probably wouldn’t see them at transfers. It was a weird feeling, that is for SURE, and just a precursor to all the rest that will follow.

IMG_2580​Enjoying the only Burger King in eastern Europe, conveniently located in the international flights terminal in Buc!

One random cool experience to share: last Monday, Sora Barrera and I were finishing up our proselyting time and we decided to go bloc-knocking. Neither of us were very enthusiastic, but we still went out to do it. We picked a bloc and on the second door, a woman answered the door. She agreed to take our survey but was pretty uninterested in anything we had to say. As we were getting ready to leave, she asked where we were from. When she heard America, she quickly says, “Would you like to come in for some tea or coffee???” We agreed and we met her, Alina, and her husband, Oleg. They had lived in Alabama for a couple years and were so excited to meet us and talk to us. They also had an ADORABLE Dachshund puppy so everything was just the best. They listened really attentively when we shared our message and I could see the change in this woman’s heart from our initial conversation at the door to that point. I am seeing so much how people want to connect with other people, not with some cookie-cutter missionary. Once I let people see my personality, whether through teaching English or talking about my life at home as I pet their dog profusely, then they are always more willing and receptive to hear about the things I believe in so deeply that I left my home, family, and friends for 18 months.

I am so so so grateful and happy to be here. I can’t believe in just 5 weeks, I will be in California! I love you lots and think about you often. But until that day comes, I will be working my hardest. I was reading today in Jacob 5 in the Book of Mormon and a verse really stood out to me: “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?” I want to be able to look back on this last transfer and be able to ask that question and know that I did all that I could.

I love you!
Sora Amy

image-05-02-15-01-14
I look bald, but that’s okay. Us with Diana!

If you have hope, you have PURPOSE

IMG_2565After church, in front of the church building​

This week has been WONDERFUL! The best part? Meeting with Diana 🙂 On Monday we met and she told us how she wants to be meeting every single day. She has had SUCH a huge turnaround — it is amazing! She is like the Diana we met in the beginning, the one who was so so so so so excited to learn about the Gospel and come to church. We taught her almost every day this week and then she came to church on Sunday. Actually, our lessons are more like HER teaching US. Since she learned everything with me and Sora Gibson before but she still wants to review everything, we give her the topic for the lesson the day before and then she studies from True to the Faith and the Book of Mormon. She comes prepared and tells us what she understands about the topic and then we discuss it further and clarify anything that might be iffy. It is AMAZING to see her transformation. We set a baptismal date with her for the end of February (great way to end the mission, eh?). She is just the happiest and it makes me happy to see her like she was before.

Other highlights from this week:

-meeting with Tatiana: She came to our lesson and pulls out her Book of Mormon. She begins to tell us about how she tried to make time every evening for reading, like we suggested, but then every night she was just too tired. We were a little deflated at that point and sad that she hadn’t kept her commitment. But then she says instead, she woke up EARLY every morning and read! She went on to tell us that she is up to 1 Nephi 20 and absolutely LOVES it. We were so happy to hear that!! She is really progressing and I can see the difference in her from the first time I met her until now. She is so much more open and really excited. She still is hesitant to come to church, but she said she wants to come and she knows that she needs to come. We will be praying hard to know how best to help her over this next hurdle.

-a fun Relief Society activity all about knowing each other better — sharing embarrassing moments, fun facts, “what if” questions and lots more. PLUS we had cookies afterwards, so everyone was happy 🙂

-meeting with Sora Berdeu, Olea, and Tatiana: I love the members here and how loving and open they are. I feel like I’ve made best friends here in these branches and I love watching them all progress in the Gospel. I’m so blessed to be here in this city with these people.

-district dinner on Sunday night: Sora Barrera and I made chicken quesadillas for the whole district and we spent the night exchanging riddles haha. Frustrating for many of us, but still fun. I love this district so much and how fun they are 🙂

IMG_2571Most of the district, ready for dinner!

I don’t have much more time, but I love you and I am so happy to be here. I miss you and hope you have the best of weeks!

Love,
Sora Amy

Behold, He changed their heart

“Yea, He awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God.” (Alma 5:7)

When I was studying from the Book of Mormon on Tuesday, this verse stuck out to me. Later that day, we were able to meet with Diana for the first time in a long time. I felt like this verse was talking about her. She was really really upset to hear that Sora Gibson was leaving and just felt so remorseful that she had wasted the time when we were both here. I think unfortunately she needed some sort of catalyst to wake her up to the fact that meeting with us, gaining a testimony, baptism, nothing will happen without her making the time for it. She seems much more resolved to meet with us and we are hoping that she will then make the steps toward baptism that she was so excited for earlier. I feel like she was awoken out of a deep sleep and that her heart had changed. I can’t wait to see what this change will bring for her.

image-20-01-15-03-08-1
Diana, Sora Gibson, and me at our last lunch together on Tuesday (taken with Diana’s phone so we got those nice instagram effects)

Monday and Tuesday were crazy days in general, trying to get everything done for Sora Gibson before she was off and away. We bought Russian dolls, hit up all the markets, and said goodbye to lots of people. Sora Berdeu was so sweet and had given us both bracelets for us to remember our time together…she really is the sweetest lady ever with the biggest heart. The train station was sad to see so many people I love leave. Who knows if I will see them again before I leave?! And it was weird to think I would be on that train in just 6 weeks (5 now!) TIME IS GOING TOO FAST.

IMG_2550Gibby!

I had an exchange with Sora Bird on Wednesday as we waited for our new companions to arrive on Thursday. I picked up Sora Barrera on Thursday afternoon and OH MY GOODNESS I already love serving with her so much. She is just the sweetest person ever. Like I don’t think I could imagine a more loving and kind person. She also is just so mature and yet so fun-loving. She is AWESOME at Romanian and just so ready for whatever comes her way. I am so so excited to be finishing off my mission with such an awesome companion!

IMG_2559Me and Sora Barrera 🙂

We had an awesome branch activity going along with the temple trip about family history. A lot of the members are getting SO excited to be going to the temple and it is making me excited for them!!

I don’t have much time today, but I hope you know that I love you and I miss you! I look forward to seeing you and until then, I will be working as hard as I can. I love this work and I love the happiness and blessings it brings to others. I love you and I will see you soon!

Love,
Sora Amy

Live as a Moldovan, die as a Moldovan

IMG_2529With Natalia and Palina, two members of the Russian branch

Well, my last transfer boards and the big news is that I am STAYING! I thought for sure that I was leaving — I’m not even sure why, but I had the feeling that I was going. Sora Gibson and I met with lots of members and investigators this week to say goodbye to them. It was hard because we weren’t sure which of us would be leaving but we were pretty much 100% positive that one of us would go. We ended up basically having a goodbye lesson at each place which was pretty sad.

Transfer board Sunday was pretty stressful. Sora Gibson was asked to speak earlier in the week so she prepared her talk and then when we were visiting with Sora Covali Saturday night, she asked if we could do the Relief Society lesson. We agreed…until we remembered that we had agreed to do a musical number with Nina in the Russian branch sacrament meeting which is the same time as Relief Society in the Romanian branch. Thankfully, we figured it out: Sora Gibson would do an hour-long exchange with Sora Bischoff and do the musical number and Sora Allen and I would go to Relief Society. During sacrament meeting, as they go to announce the speakers, they announce that it will be Sora Gibson followed by…SORA BRAY. They asked me to share my experiences from serving in Moldova, so during the first half of Sora Gibson’s talk I was frantically trying to pull my thoughts together. I ended up sharing my feelings about how I felt like the branch members had truly built Zion among themselves and how much I felt their love and faith every single time I met with them. I ended up crying (sigh) and it was compounded by the fact that I still wasn’t sure at that point if I was leaving or not. Transfer boards came out at 9 am…right when sacrament meeting started…so we were all pretty nervous about what was going to happen. Afterward, I saw the news that I am staying and Sora Barrera is coming to be my companion!! She was trained by Sora Ralls right after I left Brașov and she trained Sora Gibson so we’ve served with each other’s companions a lot. She is from El Salvador originally and studies at BYU. I am so excited to work with her and have her “kill” me — I have heard only amazing things about her 🙂 🙂 🙂 Sora Gibson will be going to Arad, Sora Allen will be going to Ploiești, Sora Bischoff will be staying here in Chișinău and she will be training!! We say goodbye to Elder Hammer later today to send him off to America…in just six weeks, that will be ME. Crazy, right?? But, getting back to Sunday, we went to Relief Society and Sora Covali introduced me as “the savior on mount Zion” having agreed to teach the lesson only the night before and then to speak in sacrament meeting with only 10 minutes notice haha. But the lesson went well and I was so relieved to just go home and not speak publicly in Romanian for at least a little bit.

We had a couple awesome experiences this week:

– Less-active finding with the Flanders: we tried to find some members who have not come to church in over 10 years by going to their houses/apartments as listed in the branch directory. None of their phone numbers worked so we got the Flanders to come exploring Chișinău with us. One less-active lived on a street without any public transportation leading over there, so we walked for about 25 minutes away from the main street and finally made our way to the littlest street. After not finding him and none of his neighbors even recognizing the name, we decided that the faster way out would be down through the forest that surrounded the street. We started what ended up being a 45 minute hike in the snow. We were amazed that the Flanders were such troopers! They amaze me!

IMG_2526​Less-active finding selfie!

– Visit with Sora Kabak: The Kabaks are one of the families in the Russian branch and they both speak almost no Romanian. We made friends with their granddaughter, Dasha, who came to church a couple times when she was visiting her grandparents for the holidays. She can speak English pretty well and she is just the biggest sweetheart. She invited us over for lunch so we had the chance to visit with Sora Kabak…turns out, she speaks English pretty well too!! We were shocked!!! She managed to talk to us for about 2 hours! It was amazing to get to connect with her and find out that her daughter and son-in-law live in NEW HAMPSHIRE! We talked about New Hampshire for a good 35 minutes straight…it was awesome. The members here continue to surprise and amaze me every single day.

IMG_2523Sora Gibson, Sora Kabak, Dasha, and me!

Lots of other fun stuff happened (all the missionaries having a potluck yesterday to say goodbye to the Kneibs, one of our senior couples who left this morning, and Elder Hammer; three lessons with our English students Valeria, Adrian, and Veaceslav; all the missionaries stuffed into Sora Gorgos’s little apartment for a dinner) and I wish I could elaborate on all of it!

I miss you and I love you all so much! I am so so excited for this last transfer where I can give my all and leave my whole heart here in Moldova. I love this country and I feel so blessed and happy to be here. I love you and think of you often! Have the best week ever!

Love,
Sora Amy

DSCN2730Romanians and Russians all together!