Monday, September 23, 2013

9-23-13: Out of this world experiences

We've been using the good legs God gave us to run from appointment to appointment this week and have been busy, which has been good. Plus I love Sister Kriser :)

Doctor Who Hallways
I don't know how many of you have see the TV series Doctor Who, but there’s an episode with a bunch of creepy, empty hotel hallways where everything looks the same.
I think they filmed it in Germany.
There are so many creepy doctor-who-ish hallways that are so silent. Until someone lets you in...and then you get....

Shots From Above
We went on tausch with the sisters in Tiergarten this week and Sister Vick came here to work with me. We dropped by a less-active who lived in aforementioned doctor-who-other-dimension-apartment buildings. She invited us into her dark apartment that only had one lonely light bulb swinging above her head. We sat down and she proceeded to tell us about the good old days of the DDR and how much she misses it because they didn't have to worry about anything and everyone was so trusting. Which is strange because I've heard the exact opposite from every other east German. To each his own I suppose. She also told us about her crazy neighbor who talks to herself at night and then we heard said neighbor walking and talking out on the balcony upstairs. After much talk, we said we needed to go and I started to say a closing prayer, except that I was rudely interrupted by something sounding like a gunshot from upstairs. Which resulted in frightened screaming from the member we were teaching. So there I am, praying in a dimly lit Doctor Who-esque apartment while someone screams next to me and dangerous, scary sounds come from the apartment upstairs. But I carried to the prayer out to the end and we bid adieu (she got a little calmer after the prayer) and then rode our magic blue bikes home. Whew.

Two Homars?
Sister Kriser talked to a guy named Homar a couple weeks ago from Africa and we made an appointment with him to talk more about the Book of Mormon. Except that appointment fell out but we called him and made a new appointment for this past week. Sister Vick and I were there for this appointment this week and we met Homar at a bahnhof. Except the Homar that showed up didn't look like the one we met two weeks ago, but I thought maybe I just didn't remember that well. So we started teaching, but partway through, I realized this was definitely not the same Homar we had previously met. This Homar had already met with missionaries in Hannover and said he believed Joseph was a prophet already! As it turns out, we had two Homars in our phone and had called the wrong one to make the follow-up appointment. But that’s okay because now we have two Homars to teach!

Oma Voigt
We visit this sad 91 year-old less-active lady who we fondly call Oma about every other week. Except she just wants to die and smokes up a storm to quicken the process. Despite this, she continues to live and wish for death.
This is a warning for all older people: make a plan for if you get ill and old before it’s too late and you are forced into a home you hate and want to jump out the window but it’s not tall enough to kill you.
That is all.

Gentle Reminders to our Ward Mission Leader
We have a missionary coordination meeting every week with the 6 other missionaries here and our mission leader, called gemiko. Brüder Schröder, our 80-year-old mission leader, asked how all of our companionships were doing. We all responded that they were going well and he said, "Well, the good thing is you only have to be with someone for 18 months! Imagine being with someone 60, 70 years...."
An elder piped in, "You mean forever Brüder Schröder. You're married forever."
Brüder Schröder: "Oh right, I forgot."
I'm pretty sure all missionaries are grateful that marriages and families can be forever, but companionships aren’t :)
That doesn't mean we don't like each other. Sister Kriser and I have a really similar work style and have gotten along really well and I'm hoping we’ll get another transfer together.

Zone Conference
We had a wonderful zone conference on Friday. I love zone conference. You just get so pumped to rededicate yourself and go out and work and teach and change peoples lives and I find so much strength from other missionaries´testimonies. Plus it´s one of our few meetings in English:) Suffice it to say, I am stoked. To exist.

Trees Hate You...
Okay trees don't actually hate you. I was just trying to think of something to go with trees and Julian Smith came to mind. We got to dig up some trees on Saturday with our bishop and that was exciting. But more importantly than that, Germans love plants and gardens. But sometimes they have too many plants and they leave extra plants on ledges outside their house. We got super lucky yesterday because our neighbor had left....A LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREE! I totally danced as I brought it up the stairs to our apartment, where we can start celebrating Christmas for the next three months. Another Christmas miracle...

Well, you all are great.
I know that Christ lives that He loves us :)

Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

9-16-13: Good things

Claire told us this week that her mission is the biggest in the world. They currently have about 70 sisters and 200 elders serving there.

Last week's word of the week was great. This week, I would like to introduce the more complex word..."good."

Good things come. Sometimes. But not always. But the end is always good. And if it's not good, then it's not the end.

Good news first
Remember Frau Köhler, my cute little old lady neighbor in Leipzig that I befriended while running circles in our garden outside? Well I got a letter from her last week! I had given her a Book of Mormon before I left and she wrote to tell me that she started reading my gift and has enjoyed it thus far. She said she missed her Claire-chen (little Claire) and hadn't met the other missionaries that moved in yet, but....she is so good. The card made my day.
Another good thing? I did my first tausch as a sister training leader! I hope it's okay that I call it a tausch. Because I didn't even know that word meant exchange until three months into my mission. But just so we're clear, tausch=exchange. Sister Kriser and I both took the three hour train ride up to Rostock to serve with the sisters there for a day. They just re-opened a sisters’ program there last transfer and it's been pretty hard to find people to teach. The five missionaries that serve there make up a quarter of the branch and their church is above a ghetto-netto next to a belly dancing studio. Yeah. I know. But Rostock is so great (I mean good?) and they are such hard working sisters. We went in and were able to see some miracles there :) Namely...while trying to go by some contacts, Sister Cluff (one of the Rostock sisters) and I got a couple of new contacts, which has been rather scarce in those parts. One of the contacts we had was a false address, so we decided to just klingle the building and after most people not answering, a guy finally let us in. Sister Cluff gave a two sentence summary of why we were here as he held back his barking dogs and to our surprise, he told us to come back next week to tell him more! Then there was another guy that we walked by on the street and he started calling after us in French. Little did he know that Sister Cluff studied a little French before her mission and she responded to whatever he said. And of course then we started talking about Jesus Christ. Because that's what we do. Though Muslim, he said he loved Christ and we got his phone number and guess what his name is? Mormoni. Ridiculous.

The tausch was a very good thing. I was so impressed by the testimony and spirit of the other sisters, even when they are in a hard time of their missions. Plus we got to run along the Ost See for morgen sport (morning exercise) :) I miss my Colorado mountains, but Germany sure does a good job of providing its own non-mountain beauty. I feel really blessed for the opportunity to get to serve in this way on my mission and love it.

More good news?
We met with a lady named Frau Möbius, who has been going to church for five years but has hitherto refused to meet with missionaries. However, she agreed to meet with us on the condition that she can try to help our "schrecklich" (terrible) German. (Sister Kriser: Can we do language study for an hour and then have an hour for a lesson? Frau Möbius: You don't need one hour of language study, you need twenty!). By the way, our German isn't that bad. Anyways, we're glad for her help and that we get to meet with her (she gave me a 1-, sort of like an A- in our grading system, on a German translation she had me do, so not bad).

Conversation Starting 101
We did our sprach studium in some chairs at a mall one day because we didn't have time to come home and do it. There was an old lady sitting next to us and both of us kinda wanted to talk to her, but were stumped on potential small talk starters. So after a few-dead end questions (she wasn't very talkative) and finding out she was waiting for her husband, Sister Kriser asked, " do you get a man?" First time we've used dating advice as a conversation starter. Unfortunately its uniqueness worked about as well as the other questions and she anxiously awaited the arrival of her husband so she could get away from the weird, probing American girls.

Not So Good Things
We had stake conference this weekend and all the wards and missionaries in and around Berlin gathered together and it was lovely! The not so good part? We had a semi-sketch investigator show up (who informed us this week that he had to go to prison next month because he was caught riding the trains “schwarz”--without paying for a ticket), who was pretty dang angry at the world for some reason. Plus he's not exactly all there upstairs. As the meeting started, he started shouting some of his most choice German profanities at the surrounding ward members and the stake president and was getting a little violent. We didn't exactly know what to do since he refused to leave the meeting at first. But Sister Kriser coaxed him out soon enough with some pixie dust and help from the Lord and we walked him to a bus stop. Along the way, he kicked a couple of fences and yelled at some more passersby. Which was actually pretty scary. But we managed to get him on the bus, said a prayer together, and humbly returned to the stake center in Tiergarten to assure everyone that we were okay.

Missionaries just have weird experiences sometimes. Okay, a lot of times, because we talk to a lot of random people, which most normal people don't do. And we see a whole different side of society than what we saw as normal people. It's so hard to explain what it's like to be a missionary, what it's like be a missionary in your mission, in your area, in your companionship, in your life. But I am so grateful that Christ knows exactly what it is like for every part of that pyramid.

Marzahn is nice--it's not the city/busy part of Berlin, so it's actually pretty quiet. Sister Kriser is still good and healthy and funny and brilliant :)
Love you all.

Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, September 9, 2013

9-9-13: Enter stage right, Berlin (where life is great!)

Started the next act of my mission in Marzahn, an east section of Berlin. Despite the trauma of leaving Hamburg so unexpectedly and soon, I've had a good week here and love my new companion, Sister Kriser.

Before we get carried away though, let's go back to Tuesday morning when I left Altona. Oskar, our investigator from Russia, was a dear and escorted me and Sister Schwantes to the hauptbahnhof (train station) and made sure I made it on the train on time and safely. Our zone leaders were also there to help us, but Oskar insistently made sure our needs were met by him. It was really tender to have him there. And then I left. On a train. By myself. Which was the first time I've been alone (still surrounded by people, but companionless) in seven months. Your companion usually brings you to the train and your new one picks you up, but since the last 2 times I've gotten a new companion have been at a training conference and my last companion has gone with me there, I had not yet experienced semi-solitude. I enjoyed the two and half hours of pondering and preparing.

Here enters Berlin.
Or I enter Berlin.
Depending on if this is a play or I am simply narrating what has happened.

Warm Welcomes
A brigade of missionaries met me when I arrived (I wonder if the people who work at train stations have noticed that every six weeks on Tuesdays a bunch of missionaries show up), including my new companion Sister Kriser! She entered the MTC the same day that I did, but got to Germany a transfer later, and I am her second companion. Yup, she stayed with her trainer, who is now home, for four transfers. Whew! Anyways, she is great! I love her. She's from Florida and is super sporty and super healthy (amount of salads consumed this week? more than 12) and just plain super. We've gotten along really well and have quickly become friends.
Also I didn't realize how stressful training was until I'm not doing it. And yeah, being a missionary is still stressful, but not nearly as much as when you have a new companion who doesn't speak the language and it still trying to live the MTC in Germany, which is great but hard. I have enjoyed not having to learn the transportation system by myself and not being always in charge. Also we live with two other sisters, including Sister Ricks who I took Writings of Isaiah with at BYU! It is fun to have four of us here :)  So the missionary scene is positive.

Sister Training Leader What-not
So being a sister training leader is pretty much the best parts of being a zone leader; we have five sister companionships in the area that we tausch (exchange) with and help train during the transfer and also get to go to leadership meetings once a month and see how we can improve the mission. We went to one such meeting this past week and it was super great. That's all the information you get. I need to get an English thesaurus so I can remember what other adjectives I used to use in English besides great. Because great pretty much sums up existence right now, but not so eloquently. So the great tausches we have coming up have not yet happened but we'll have one a week for the whole transfer and I'm pretty pumped about all the greatness that lies in future. And right now.

African Patches and Appropriate Hand-holding
Good news. I may not be able to teach the dozens of Africans we found in Hamburg, but we have two African investigators here in Berlin that I get to work with now, so I don't have to go through terrible withdrawal pains. Their names are Douglass and Chambal and they are both....greatly great. Ja klar. But there's definitely more Germans here, people we both talk to and teach. The ward has about 100 active members (and 200 inactive) and four elders and four sisters all serve in  the same ward. Working on trying to get two wards here.
Participated in some appropriate hand-holding on Sunday with a member who got baptized a couple of months ago. She is an adorable older lady named Sister Kremir who I sat by during sacrament meeting and she just grabbed my hand and held it the whole meeting. It was presh.

Das Wunder der Woche
On the way to church on Sunday, I realized that I had lost my Monatskarte. Which is not great. Because to use public transportation for the month, you buy an 80 euro ticket that you should not lose. But I did somehow and we went back to the bus area searching for it but our searching was to no avail. So we did what all missionaries do and prayed that we would be able to find the card, but it wasn't looking like that was going to happen. We started walking back to church, slightly defeated with our heads down, and then we saw the precious card, lying on the sidewalk! We cheered huzzah and went merrily along to church.
Which maybe isn't a big deal to some people. But I love that God answers prayers, no matter how big or how small. And things like Monatskartes or races that wouldn't be important to Him become important to Him because they are important to us and we are important to Him.
How was that for a great sentence?

So I keep getting transferred to bigger and bigger cities. Leipzig was big enough for straßenbahns. Hamburg had busses and s-bahns. And now in Berlin, we use busses, s-bahns, straßenbahns, AND BIKES! I didn't think I would like using a bike as a missionary, but I love it. It is like freedom. Don't think I can get a to a bigger city after this one though.

So there is your short intro. I'm excited for it all. Be excited for life.

Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, September 2, 2013

9-2-13: Wrenched Away

Claire is being transferred to a suburb in the NE corner of Berlin, which used to be East Germany before the wall came down. The news took her by surprise, as she thought she would be staying another transfer, which is likely why she sounds so sad about leaving Hamburg.

Wretchedly Wrenched
After a mere six weeks in lovely Hamburg, I received a call on Saturday that it was time to pack my bags and prepare to go to Berlin. Marzahn to be specific. I may or may not have yelled at the poor missionary who was the bearer of this news because honestly, I was not thrilled about leaving. Honestly, I am still not thrilled about leaving so soon. Because I just stinkin´got here and the first couple of weeks were a bit rough but we are really starting to see some of the fruits of our labors and it just made my heart cry a little bit when Elder Hansen said I was getting transferred and had to leave my little flock of people after just six weeks and not to mention my companion who I didn't get to finish training. End of super long run-on sentence. So after yelling at poor Elder Hansen and then apologizing and then running round screaming for seven minutes, I came to grips with the decision and started those hard phone calls where you tell people you're leaving in two days and no, you can't use facebook yet to keep in touch and no, you can`t call or come back and visit unless you get called back. I'm holding out hope that I will come back. Transfer calls? Closest thing to real world drama that missionaries experience.

So I am going to Marzahn and my new companion is Sister Krizer (spelling?). Also I'll be a sister training leader there, which basically means I go to leadership meetings and go on tausches (exchanges) every week with other sisters in our area and other leaderly-type stuff. Whatever that means. I guess I will soon find out.

Frau Boschmann cried when we went over to say goodbye. Oskar offered to accompany us to the Hauptbahnhof (train station) tomorrow morning. And I will miss my dear Russians. Rita flipped out a little bit and asked if I'd be here for her baptism (not sure L). Frau Frommhagen is terrified of people but is taking public transportation anyways to come and say goodbye tonight, and we had just finally became "sisters" instead of "weibliche elders" (female elders). I liked being a weibliche elder. Usually it takes a while for me for me really love people and for them to perhaps tolerate me. But I was blessed to very quickly fall in love with the people and places here. Which is great, except I'm leaving. Apparently I am needed elsewhere. Even if it was just for six weeks, I do feel incredibly blessed to have been allowed to serve here and am grateful for this time. I may or may not have started crying when saying goodbye to Bishop Sievers (the leader of the ward in Hamburg). Fortunately someone pulled him away before I started bawling in gratitude for his service to others.

Das Wunder der Woche
Let`s go back before transfer calls when lots of good things happen. Like Sebastian, for instance—the first actual average German we met who wants to meet with us. There goes a saying in the missionary world that for the most part (though not always), missionaries don't find normal people, only members do. That's why members make good missionaries. But we're grateful for the exception this week of Sebastian, who we met knocking on doors, which we usually never do because it’s not super effective. But he was really interested even though he is atheist and asked us to come back and though I won't be able to go back now....Sister Schwantes can! The work will go forward.

On the Wrong Path
Sister Schwantes was a little worried about me leaving because she wasn't sure how strong her connection is with the people we've been teaching. But an encounter with a sweet drunk lady assuaged all her fears when she called over to us to come and talk to her as we were walking by. In broken and slurred English and German, she started telling Sister Schwantes that she was doing a lot of good here. She told her that she could see peoples' souls and that Sister Schwantes has the soul of an angel. Then she pointed at me and said, "This one, this one has wandered. She is not like you. She has some bad in her and is on the wrong path. You need to help her. That is your job. Help her." I started to give a soft rebuttal when she said that I was just like her and did my fair share of drinking and partying. I quickly realized arguing with a drunk is never a good idea and then I simply found it hilarious and tried not to laugh. I should probably give up my wicked ways J. Her most insightful question that made me evaluate my behavior? 
"How old are you?" 
"How old were you three years ago?" 
Turning to my companion, she said, "Exactly! You see what I mean?!?"
Whatever that means.

Well, you'll hear how Berlin is next week. I know that God sends us where we need to be and I’m thankful for opportunities to serve wherever I am called.  Send letters to the mission office. Send prayers to heaven. 

Sister Claire Michelle Woodward