Monday, October 28, 2013

10-28-13: Halloween Spirit

I suspect the title of this week's email is more in anticipation of Claire's favorite holiday which is now just around the corner and I will bet future emails will be full of exuberance about Christmas spirit and cheer. And missionary work, of course. I would expect nothing less from her. Hope you all have a spirit-filled week! 

This week we brought in the Halloween Spirit by....
·  Carving pumpkins! We had a sweet lesson with a less-active family in our ward and helped them carve their first pumpkin! Because Germans usually just eat pumpkins. But we showed them the joy of making them art. We talked about how God takes all the icky stuff out of us (I was terrified of the inner-pumpkin squishy-ness as a child) and then puts a light inside of us. In order for other people to see that light, we also need to carve some holes, which is painful, but worth it. The kids liked it and we were happy to use pumpkins to further the Gospel of Truth.
·  Teaching an old, toothless man we found on the street who was actually less crazy than we expected, but probably not super interested in our message.
·  Inviting everyone to get baptized! Everyone we have invited has remained in a state of indecision despite our prayers and love, but...indecision will turn to a yes sooner or later. We know it can happen and we know people are ready.
·  Examining all things German that have suddenly appeared in our house (because of the new German sister missionary). Like a red-light lamp that apparently helps ear infections but really reminds us of a chick incubator (Sister Meisenfelder has been sick and that has been one of the treatments). And like all of the German food now in our cupboards including assortments of potatoes and sauces.
·  Drinking lots of tea. Which I have come to love, by the way. Germany has a bunch of delicious fruit teas that are excellent for overall health and in accord with the Word of Wisdom. Also I forgot to tell you I tried non-alcoholic beer in Leipzig forever ago and it was nasty. But that has nothing to do with Halloween spirit.
·  Having potato peeling contests at church activities. For which German woman prepare their whole lives.
·  Listening to a British high counselor come to speak in our ward with a sweet British accent on his German
·  Getting stoked to hear from a Seventy this week in our mission
·  Tausching (going on exchanges) with the Greifswald sisters! We took a three hour train north to spend Friday night and Saturday with the sisters there, who just opened a new program. They are studs; I was not so organized when we opened Altona and they are so happy to be there. Greifswald is apparently a really touristy town because about 52% of the people we talked to didn't live there. I actually got to give some Marzahn cards away to some people from Berlin J. It was beautiful up there though and by the Ostsee and...’twas good. Our other tausch-group Ostsee city, Rostock, is coming down here this week and working in our area and we're pumped to have them here too.
·  Having awesome train conversations with the guy who checks our tickets to make sure we aren't riding schwarz (without paying) and with a lady studying Hebrew! Thank you Logan for starting to learn Hebrew because you gave me the opportunity and courage to start talking to her. The guy lived in Greifswald and we had a really good lesson on our way home actually and the lady lives in Hannover, but we got her emails. I love it when it is so natural to talk to someone about what you are doing here. It is often weird to just approach people walking outside but when we are just sitting on a train, it is natural to talk to people around you. The lady thought it was funny we were speaking German with each other when we both had American accents J.  As a mission, we speak 9-9 German with each other, no matter how silly we sound (that means they speak German from 9am-9pm).
·  Having an awesome lesson with a guy named Presente (say presence with a French accent) that we found on the bahn (train) last week. We were pretty sure he thought it was a date, but good news, he had a lot of good questions about our church and even took notes! Teaching is so much easier when you teach to peoples' questions and interests.
And now for the things that take away from the true spirit of Halloween, namely, excuses. People have a tireless supply of excuses for why they can't come to church or meet with us. I will humor you with a few.
·  I'm going walking that day
·  I need to sleep
·  I need to wash my pants (apparently there are intensive pant washing techniques I do not know)
·  I need to make food
·  I'll be in the shower
·  I'm working
·  It's too early
·  I have a doctor appointment that day (Germans are at full capacity after one appointment in a day)
·  I'm going to a party
·  It's a holiday
·  It's too hot
·  I need to study
·  I don't want to
·  I already believe in God; your work is done.
·  I'll be on vacation
·  No time
·  No interest
·  I'm atheist
·  I don't speak German
·  I don't speak English
·  It's my birthday that week (which debilitates you for the whole week?)
I know, pathetic, right? We can all make time for the most important things. Like God.

And lastly, some quotes from my mission president and his wife:
"Life is about sucking it up." --Sister Kosak
"Don't miss the joy." --President Kosak

So don't forget the true meaning of Halloween (whatever that it is)--don't make excuses, suck it up, and be happy.
I love you all.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, October 21, 2013

10-21-13: That awkward moment when...‏

Missionary work is awkward work. As I have previously mentioned. It is undoubtedly great, but definitely awkward.
So I’d like to welcome you to this week's segment of....
That awkward moment when...
  1. Your only progressing investigator, Homar, is actually already a member of the church. And has the priesthood. I know. It threw us for a loop too. We were talking about church and preparing for baptism Tuesday night and he showed us some pictures of the missionaries that he had met in Africa. We knew he'd had missionaries earlier, but then he said he went to church for three years there. And no one goes to church in Africa for three years without getting baptized. And then he asked if we should only get baptized once. And then it dawned on us. Homar had already been baptized! Ten years ago! Oh goodness gracious. I kept asking again to clarify and we also had a member with us and then we found out that he also had received the priesthood and then we were really tripping. After he moved to Portugal and then Germany, he lost contact with the church and lost his Book of Mormon. But he found his way back to us and now we need to find his record number and get him participating as an active member of this church! And what's even funnier? We met his brother. Who is a friend of someone else we'd found a couple of weeks ago and who had a first lesson with Sister Kriser on exchange. Yet no one wanted to mention that Homar was already a member of this church. Whew.
  2. You trip while running in the dark in the morning and bust open the same knee you scraped two weeks ago.
  3. You ask a random lady next to a playground if you are allowed to play basketball there and she looks strangely at our skirts and my sock-like mittens  and then we invite her to a choir concert. We do it all.
  4. You've been Sie-tzing (the formal "you" that we are supposed to use as missionaries for everyone except children) a 16 year-old for the past two weeks because she had a baby and you weren't sure how old she was. And you have an awesome lesson with her but then her mom gets mad because there are great misunderstandings about Mormons and you aren't allowed to meet with your 16 year-old friend anymore :(
  5. You see your trainer on the last day of her mission. Yup, Sister Kriser and I went to the Hauptbahnhof to pick up Sister Diederich and drop her off at the mission office and now she is home. How did that happen? The beginning of my mission seems like forever ago. But it was good to see her, mucho healthy and happy, though freaking out about going home.
  6. You teach a lesson with two dogs and a cat on your lap. Scriptures are there somewhere too.
  7. All of the dozens of people you've found over the past six weeks all fall off the face of the earth. Awkward.
  8. You think you are getting a brand new missionary in your apartment and you will need to help her learn German and BAM! you get a native German sister (Sister Meisenfelder). There was only one native sister in our mission (from Austria) out of 65 sisters and we got two sisters from Frankfurt this transfer. We are pumped to have a German live with us! She is 19 (two years younger than all of us) and is so nice and excited to serve and she speaks impeccable German and helps us with our language. Woot!
That concludes this week's awkward moments. We just need to be awkward one second longer than anyone else can stand and then we see miracles. (I can suddenly envision a whole new reality tv series--“Survivor: Awkward Missionary Moments” where you get voted out of the mission if you can’t stand the awkwardness.)
And now something that is not awkward?
Talking about Christ's atonement! I've been studying and thinking a lot about mercy and grace and judgment and healing and there is there is a super great talk from Brad Wilcox about grace. I don't think I've ever really understood grace and my mortal mind doesn't completely understand the atonement still. But I just wanted to leave you with the link for Br. Wilcox's talk and a quote from it. "The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly. The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed." Here’s the link so you can read the talk for yourself:
I'm grateful for transforming faith and small changes that lead to a more abundant life.
And as a final end note....we challenged Frau Möbius, who has been going to church for five years, to pray sincerely tonight to ask God if she should baptized. Which she has done before and gotten nothing. But we have a great hope for her and I know God will let her know if the time is right. Please include her in your prayers today.
Love you all.
Send belated birthday wishes to my brother, Taylor (yesterday was the big day).
Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, October 14, 2013

10-14-13: Expect the Unexpected

We failed to expect the unexpected and against all odds, Sister Kriser gets to stay here with me in Marzahn for another 6 six weeks! Woot!

Transfers calls are different in every mission. Our mission president has two assistant missionaries who spend Saturday morning calling every apartment to tell them where they are going or if they are staying. Fortunately, I didn't yell at anyone this time. Saturday rolled around and Sister Ricks and I were a little on edge, which is funny because we are the two who were almost for sure staying. But we made pfannkuchen to appease our worried souls and then at approximately 8:34 am, Elder Wolfley called to tell me and sister Kriser we were staying together (and we got a new tausch area in Greifswald!) and to tell Sister Sadler she was going to Hamburg (my heart is still there) and to tell Sister Ricks that she is TRAINING. At this moment Sister Ricks lost all color and promptly teared up. She then promptly lay down on the floor to regain some composure and strength for this new assignment. Sister Ricks is awesome though and will be an amazing trainer. We are so excited to have a new missionary in our apartment too, and I am grateful to be here without being a trainer! Not that training isn't great. Because it is. But it's like salt. To be used in moderation. We were really surprised Sister Kriser is staying too because people usually stay 3-4 transfers in an area and this will be Sister Kriser's sixth. Woot!

Painting with the colors of the...trees
I LOVE FALL! It is so gorgeous here because Germany has approximately 78 trees on every block and they just look like they are on fire with different hues of yellow, orange, and red. There is no greater time to be a missionary. I think I said that in summer too. I just like season changes I think. Pretty much every time we go outside though I start screaming because I am so blown away by the beauty of the earth and then people wonder if Americans have trees. Go Team Autumn!

Das Wunder der Woche
Last Monday we did a mini-tausch and Sister Jardine (from Spandau) and I did some finding together here. We talked to this awesome family from Barcelona and I busted out my limited Spanish skills. Unfortunately the wife took this as a sign of Spanish fluency and went off in a rapid something where I understood only the word "todos." Fortunately her daughter spoke a little German and her husband spoke a little English, so we had a broken trilingual conversation about the Book of Mormon. The wife was so excited to talk about Christ and hugged and kissed us afterwards. It was so sweet. They didn't have their phone number or address memorized so we just have an hopefully we'll meet them again.

I Didn't Know I Wasn't Pregnant Until...
So we called this lady who was in our phone because we didn't know who it was and made an appointment with her. Completely normal thing to do. We met with her this week and she told us she was pregnant. Except she's not all the way there mentally, but we weren't really sure how handicapped. Turns out the elders had taught her in the early spring and we got the teaching record and....she thought she was pregnant then too. Nine months ago. That's always a bad sign for normalcy. And not that people aren't precious in their own unique ways,'s always hard to meet with crazies and help them make progress in the Gospel.

Tausches Within the Apartment
We tausched with the other Marzahn sisters this week, who just live in our apartment, so that was really easy to coordinate. But apparently exchanges haven't been...normal in the past. To quote Sister Sadler, "Tausch has always been komisch ever since the dead raccoon."
Will I explain further?
Was our tausch normal?
Yes. And no dead raccoons. Berg auf. (slang term, meaning upwards or moving up)

Homar. The Second.
Still didn't ever meet with the first Homar. But Homar the Second is rocking it. He found pictures of missionaries that he had met with in Africa when he was 15 (he's about 35 right now) and that was cool to see. He is still not sure about baptism because even though he believes everything we've taught, I think he understands how big of a commitment this is. Because the Gospel changes your life forever. It's really hard to be an auslander (foreigner) here because you always have crazy work schedules and no money which makes it hard to come to church. But we're working with him and he can do it.

Some Firsts...
  • A lesson in a car. Because we didn't have an apartment nearby and it was cold.
  • Going to a non-denominational Christian church in Berlin on Saturday (reminiscent of Colorado Springs experiences)
  • Quark pudding with pfannkuchen. mmmm...

Domestic Skills 101
One of Sister Kriser's special domestic skills? Sewing on buttons. Using super glue instead of thread.

I love you all. With whatever skills you have or lack :)
Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, October 7, 2013

10-7-13: Expressions of Expression

We played choose your own adventure this morning on the way to the grocery store. We chose poorly. But learned this importance secret:
Never build cobblestone roads on hills where people ride bikes.
It explains why Germany doesn't have hills; it opted for the cobblestone roads from that either/or decision.
Except they let one hill slip into the midst, apparently, and we picked that hill as part of our adventure. I was going a wee bit too fast this morning and coming up on Sister Kriser pretty quickly so I braked and swerved to try and not smash her. Except I forgot cobblestone is different from sidewalk and my wheel caught a crack as I turned and.....explosions of death and destruction resulted. Minus the death and destruction and actually the explosion part too. But you can check yes for dirt, bruises, and blood that came with this adventure.

Missionary work is no child's play.

My leg looked pretty beasty and I got a bunch of dirt in my palms and a bruised soldier, but I womanned it up and we went on our merry way to purchase food before returning home and having the other sisters in our apartment take care of my bike wounds. They did a good job, so no fear, and I learned the important lesson of avoiding careless cobblestone collisions. And I still support the use of bikes.

In other news, General Conference was this weekend and it was so great! Seriously, General Conference is like Christmas for missionaries. I love the opportunity to hear from inspired men and women of God and be lifted by them. We don't get to see the last sessions because of the time difference, which is a bummer, but I still loved the six hours of goodness provided. Plus all the missionaries got to watch it in English, which is always a nice language break. We invited a lot of our investigators to go into conference with a question they had about life or about the Gospel and promised them they would get an answer. Sister Kriser and I did the same thing and surprise! Definitely got an answer. Super directly from Elder Richard G. Scott's talk about how the most important thing for us to be doing is learning about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Check it out:
I was thinking about last year's conference in October too and the answers and direction that I was searching for then. It has been a year since I decided to go on a mission. A year ago this past weekend, President Monson lowered the age for missionary service and it changed my life forever. As much as I wanted to, I don't know if I would have made it out here a year later. I am so grateful for continuing revelation, that God speaks to His servants still and that He speaks to me and that He can speak to you. This Gospel is life changing, being a missionary or not, and I know I am who I am because of Christ's church.

Remember Homar from a few weeks ago who we thought was a different Homar but it was okay because he was still great? Well he made it to conference! And by that I mean....he made it in time for the closing song and prayer Saturday night...but he still made it! He got lost on the way to our church and turned a 30 minute ride into a two hour quest with Sister Kriser desperately trying to figure out where he was and giving him directions on how to get here. So we missed a bit of the first session too. And I was sad Homar didn't really make it to any of the talks, but Sister Kriser was ecstatic that he made it at all. Because it can be really hard to get people to church and once they're there for the first time, it's a lot easier to come back. Plus we had a dandy church tour and joint teach right after :)

And now some quotes from past weeks I've forgotten to send....

"Satan is a dirtbag! I hate him so much!" --Sister Stringham during our tausch in Spandau this past week upon hearing of an investigator making poor choices

Sister Kriser: "You want to go on the longest bike ride of your life?"
Mark: "Well, I have a bike and two legs, so....why not?" #birthdaybikeride

Sister Kriser: "I heard pig is the worst meat for you."
Mark: "Who told you that? It obviously wasn't a German."

Lady in our ward: "How old are you now?"
Me: "Twenty-one."
Lady: "When I was twenty-one, I already had two kids!"
Me: ".....oh....." (awkward silence.)

Me: "Sister Kriser, I can't answer the phone. I'm wearing a birthday face mask."

Thanks for the belated birthday joy that many of you sent; it meant a lot to me :)
Also cute little Frau Köhler in Leipzig wrote me again and is still the bomb.
that is all.  

Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

9-30-13: Birthday Bashes on Bikes

I officially made it into my twenty-second year of life and celebrated the survival of one score and one year by biking to Honey Man's house yesterday.
Honey Man is a contact Sister Kriser found before I got here.
Honey Man gave them some honey.
Honey Man also lives way in the boonies of Berlin.
In a dorf in the boonies.
But we decided that bahns (trains) are slow and Germany is beautiful and we are pretty fast bikers so we could do it no problem.

We were right about Germany being gorgeous.

We underestimated how long it would take via bike however. Meaning we spent 3.5 hours on our bikes (40 kilometers we think?) and then had to take a regional train back because it was dark and there was no way that we would make it home on time otherwise.
BUT IT WAS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL AND GREAT ADVENTURE and we re-found Honey Man. Who had no honey today. And who told us he's interested in our message, but doesn't think he has time. Which was sad. But we still had a good little lesson with him.
Here is where you stop and ask yourselves how the heck we made it from Biesdorf to a 40km away dorf without a GPS or knowledge of German road system (especially taking into consideration my past transportation fiascos). And here is where we say we brought Mark, an amazing 25-year-old convert who got baptized in April. Who has an iPhone with a GPS :) We told him about our adventure at church and he accepted our invitation to come (thank goodness) because no way would we have completed this endeavor without him. Plus he gave such powerful testimony of how he came to know our church was true to Honey Man and testimony is always better from normal people who speak the language natively. Not that our testimony isn't powerful, but members really just send the message home.
We made it home in time to eat quark cake with the other sisters in our apartment and rejoice in life.
And we aren't even sore today :)

It's definitely been easy to be a happy missionary the past few weeks--Sister Kriser is so positive and we just seem to carry each other, no problem, and work and have fun and enjoy little things like finding wild fruit and eating it. We also found a boatload (okay, a family-sized boat) of investigators together this week, which was awesome. It's so good to just get some fresh people to teach and try to be a better teacher from the start. One of the families we found last week is from Macedonia. I found out this morning that we somehow don't have the Book of Mormon in Macedonian. Hmph. That does not decrease the goodness of the Naboosha family though, who are....Christianized Muslims. I don't know how else to say it. They are loosely Muslim by culture but believe Christ is the son of God and everything we taught they loved. They have a 19-year-old daughter named Sibella who asked if she was allowed to get baptized even though she was Muslim. Ja klar (of course)! It was a super good lesson. They are all looking for work and we prayed that they would find work and this morning we found out they found work, which is wonderful except now they don't have time to meet with us because of crazy auslander (foreign workers) work schedules. But isn't that nice that God answers prayers? We shall find a time to teach them more that works regardless.
We went on tausch (exchanges) to Glienicke (northern part of Berlin) this week and just wanted to say that tausches can really help you appreciate your wonderful companion and all that they do. It was still a pretty successful tausch; they haven't had new investigators for a while but we found a sweet lady from Ghana (#memoriesofAltona) and a Vietnamese man, plus a Chinese contact! Marzahn (my area) doesn't have a lot of diversity compared to other places I've served--we mostly have Germans but with a fair amount of seasoning from other eastern European countries.

I realize I didn't do headings this email.
Thought I'd point that out.

For those of you who have been counting, I'm almost half way through my mission. And I was thinking about the beginning of my mission this week and how terribly long those first several weeks seemed and how long 18 months seemed and I had to work really hard at trying not to count every minute and simply rejoice in little things. Time has since flown and I want every missionary still possibly trudging through the first few transfers to know that it always gets better and trudging will turn into joyful skipping (for sisters) and jumping (for elders--not that elders can't skip or that sisters can't jump but...). Elder Uchtdorf's talk from forever general conference ago has stuck with me my whole mission: "Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. 'This is the day which the Lord hath made...,' the Psalmist wrote. 'Rejoice and be glad in it.'" Sometimes it was not so easy to appreciate the particular part of the trail. Right now, it's pretty easy and I'm so grateful. Regardless of its difficulty, I love the challenge to appreciate life and to celebrate the day. I love being a missionary. I love my Savior Jesus Christ, who helps me find joy in each step of the journey.

Watch General Conference this week. In your language of choice.
Go to for all of the life-changing details!

Sister Claire Michelle Woodward