Monday, February 10, 2014

Week 27: Viva Firenze!

Good old Dalton came to say goodbye

Farewell, my lovely roommates

On the transfer van

Saw my mom in Monroe!

There's this quote by Brigham Young in Preach My Gospel that has had occasion to pop into my head:  "If you go on a mission to preach the Gospel with lightness and frivolity in your hearts, looking for this and that, and to learn what is in the world [...] you will go and return in vain. Let your minds be centered on your missions."

Every once in awhile I'll step out of the apartment, usually when my Canon A-I film camera is in hand, and this quote will come to mind, as though the presence of the camera-in-hand has got me "looking for this and that" and I'll panic - "Oh no! Lightness and frivolity! Get thee hence!  No more touristy thoughts!  Stop looking at the trees!  I know there's a lot of them, but you're here to work!"  I mean, I'm sure it's not that bad.  But I do have to watch myself constantly, lest my fascination with the picturesque South override my focus.  The quote made me realize though, why I was not called to Italy as I had hoped.  The suppression of my natural urge to take pictures of everything in sight would have driven me bonkers.  However, a funny thing happened last week where I finally left the city I'd been calling home for half a year and was assigned to labor in the next best place to Florence, Italy..... Florence, Mississippi :]  So now I'm here in good old Firenze, as the Italianos would call it.  What's more, I'm back with two of my dearest friends!  Sister Creager, who I was with in the MTC, is my companion again, and we live with Sister Ray (one of my roommates my first transfer in Shreveport) and her comp Sister Diehl (who also came out same time as me).  At transfer point, we saw all the sisters we came out with and had an MTC reunion with much hugging and screaming.
MTC sisters, reunited
Florence is small and pretty and tame, many more woods, much more space between houses, and noticeable milder people than those I've previously encountered knocking doors on a Sunday afternoon.  In fact, yesterday was no ordinary Sunday as you sports fans would know.  As if I needed another reason to hate on football (i.e. the one religion the entirety of the South can agree on) yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday and I was scared out of my pants to attempt any form of uninvited proselyting at the risk of being raged at by large gatherings of possibly-intoxicated already-riled-up fanatics.  All during church, I tried not to think about what may or may not happen that afternoon, and focus on the fact that we had two investigators and a less active at church (I know right?! the work here is bumpin) and the lesson on Adam&Eve, the Fall, and Agency that Sister Creager and I were assigned to teach the 10 yr olds in Primary (which was bomb, just fyi).  But when we got dropped off on our corner, a street looking very much like Rameumptom Row, even bleaker because of the gray and drizzle, it all got frighteningly real.  But guess what?  God is still merciful.

We'd previously designed to tract a street called Duckworth.  Yes, Duckworth.  What's a Duckworth?  Two lesson and three Books of Mormon, that's what.  Hollaaa!  It was miraculous.  First a man let us in.  Yes, let us in.  Oh you have a spiritual message?  Ok sure, whatev.  And we shot out a Restoration lesson with my cup demonstration (basically you build Christ's church, remove the foundation which is prophets and apostles [Ephesians 2] and watch the church fall, build it up again after the story of Joseph Smith and the first vision, boom the church of Jesus Christ restored).  Another man who looked tired and jaded (a golden combination) took a Book of Mormon after we vehemently promised him it would change his life.  And then another man let us in at the end of the street, and HIS WHOLE FAMILY sat down to listen to us give the same lesson with the cups.  They committed to read the Book of Mormon, to put our promise to the test, and see if this fantastic story we tell and claim we make isn't true.  I know it is.  And I know they can know it too.  And we totally taught a family on first contact on Super Bowl Sunday while tracting.  That never happens.  But that's what you get when your companion fasts to find a family.  Great things are coming to pass in this town.

I'll give you a rundown of life lately:

I spent my first morning going down a list and making phone calls to complete strangers that may or may not want to hear about the gospel.  I had this moment of "This is so not normal.  A year ago, I wouldn't pick up the phone to call my own dentist."

An army of church-cleaners!
My first night, we visited a man who had already rejected the missionaries when they knocked on his door, but now had a requested a Book of Mormon and had his whole family there to listen to our brief spiel on it.  What caused the change of mind?  His LDS friends online had challenged him to check it out.  Members are everything.

Same day, we followed up with a woman who'd said she was interested in learning about other religions, and she'd actually read the first chapter of Nephi in the last two days!  We taught her about the Restoration and Joseph Smith, in between interruptions by her boyfriend's drunk friend on the couch beside us who probably is still not convinced that we are NOT Jehovah's Witness.

I helped teach a very recent convert about the Priesthood, at which he so humbly insisted that he wasn't worthy to bless the emblems of Christ's body.  He called the higher priesthood the "Mel-cheese-idek."  I tried so hard not to laugh until two hours later, when Sister Creager would have to endure my rolling-on-the-floor giggle fit.  "aaahah...haha...mel-cheeeese-idek.."

Six months!
I hit six months last Friday!  SIX MONTHS.  Can you believe that?  A third of my mission, done.  Since Sister Diehl and Sister Creager came out with me, we all got to celebrate together with too much fried food and a stomach full of regret.  I don't feel much different.  Just with more experience under my belt, and a firmer testimony, and what the mission president calls "spiritual grit" - the ability to bounce back after emotionally/spiritually trying days.

So I guess there has been some change.  Sister Ray says I look different from the greenie that came to live with her in Shreve last August.  Considering I don't think I've aged in four years, I'd say that's pretty significant.  You won't find any lightness or frivolity in this heart.  You also won't find nearly as much fear, either.  Still working on that balance between being cheerful and being focused, but I think I've found the solution.  Hope.

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God. [Ether 12:4]

No matter where I make port in this mission, so long as my anchor, my hope, is in Christ and his promises, my resolve may be sure: nothing will sink us.  Viva Firenze!  Viva Israel!

Sister Valdez

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