Tuesday, November 26, 2013

11-15-13: Gratitude and Missionized Kid Stories

Most of you are familiar with "The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf." If not, please go find some of your lost childhood and then come back and continue reading.

My dear companion, Sister K, is now the main character in a spin-off, "The Little Girl Who Cried Transferred."

Yes, that's right, even though President Kosak told us three weeks ago that she was leaving, she is staying for her seventh transfer in this area (about 9 months so far) and our third transfer together. Shocked but thrilled are we. I am so stoked to spend Christmas with her and though I haven't had a companion for so long before, I am glad that it is her. The only embarrassing part is that she keeps telling people that she is leaving and writing cards and saying goodbye (this is her second time believing she was leaving) and other sentimental things only to show up at church and say “PYSCH! I'm still here!”

No one is going to believe her next transfer when she really has to go.

In honor of Thanksgiving, which we don't celebrate here, I thought I'd write a gratitude list for you all about my week and my life. I am therefore thankful for...

·  Making it home despite getting lost 20 minutes away from our apartment in the dark. Somehow because of varying bahn and bus schedules and paths, it took an hour and a half for us to get home from somewhere where we can ride our bikes to in twenty minutes. But the important thing is that we made it home before 9:30. Into our warm apartment. J
·  We had a good street display this week and I got to use my chalking skills again to share my testimony. It's a little harder wearing gloves though.
·  I saw my dad. Wait, scratch that. I SAW MY DAD! Yes, that-person-who-raised-me-that-I- haven't-seen-in-10-months dad. That was weird. But so great! He was here for work and got permission from my mission president to say hello, so we ate dinner together and he came to church and met all of the wonderful people I get to serve and it was just a crazy missionary experience that missionaries don't usually have but brought an extra dosage of Ammon Joy (see last week’s letter) regardless.
·  Funny people. Or maybe they aren't that funny but somehow you end up laughing because they are drunk and alternate between crying, complimenting your skirt, and questioning the authenticity of your American citizenship. Oh the people we see!
·  Our constant supply of new investigators. Even though most of them don't stay L. Like the miracle Cameroonians from last week. But we can get them back.
·  Sister K staying for another 6 weeks!
·  Christmas is coming! And coldness and darkness. But Christmas!
·  Canned pumpkin. Gifted from my mother through my father to me. Score.
·  Our nice apartment.
·  A living prophet and apostles who give us revelation and direction from God.
·  Living with three other wonderful sisters. I love them so much.
·  Getting to serve as an STL (Sister Training Leader) and work with other sister missionaries in our program.
·  Church! I love going to church and feeling uplifted for the upcoming week and I love that the church is the same all over the world and how you always have a family in the Gospel.
·  Music. Especially Christmas music. Which is not yet played to excess, but simply to satisfaction.
·  Chocolate.
·  Socks. Especially in winter and in cold apartments.
·  Friends J
·  My family. My grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and especially my wonderful brothers and parents and dog.
·  Laughter.
·  Scriptures.
·  Quark. (a German dairy product--sort of a cross between non-lumpy cottage cheese and yogurt)
·  Books. Even though the only books I read right now are the scriptures. But I still love them.
·  Words. Connected with the above point.
·  Letters and emails.
·  A fridge.
·  The ability to remember and the faith to look forward to the future.
·  Education.
·  Shoes (that should probably have gone with socks).
·  A wonderful mission president.
·  Prayer! And especially answers to prayer.
·  Health!

I think that was a good sampling of some of the feelings in my heart. I am just dang blessed all the time. I really know that God gives us people and experiences in our lives exactly when we need them so that we can be lifted up and so that our faith can grow. Also I realize that two of my bullet points are not grammatically correct in how I introduce them, but it is too late. Actually it's not. But. Yes.

So that was my ode to Thanksgiving. Just spreading some Thanksgiving cheer among people who understand Pilgrims and Indians and what really went down. And the cherry on top comes from Elder Gordon Watts: "The depth and the willingness with which we serve is a direct reflection of our gratitude."

I know our gratitude increases when we are actively involved in expressing it. I am so happy to show every day how grateful I am for Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Sister Woodward and her dad

Monday, November 18, 2013

11-18-13: Ammon Joy and the Like

Sister K and I have a certain feeling we like to call "Ammon joy." Ammon was a great missionary in the Book of Mormon who brought way more than a myriad of people unto Christ. The outcome of these conversion stories often resulted in people passing out for joy. Just dropping down in a state of supreme happiness, completely overcome. Though we have not yet experienced fainting as a part of our happiness here together, we have had many moments of "Ammon Joy," where missionary goodness runneth o'er (when we find someone who’s interested in learning about the gospel, when people come to church, when people keep their commitments, etc). The following are a sampling of the instances of Ammon Joy we have experienced this week:
·  We had a choir concert in our church and lots of visitors came! Which is great because we've spent the last several weeks inviting everyone possible. And actually none of the people we invited on the street came. BUT members brought lots of friends, which is even better, and our Hausmeister (landlord) came and all were able to be edified and then filled with soup and cake afterwards.
·  We saw Siegfried on a bahn (train) this week. As in Siegfried from Die Nibelungen. Long blonde hair and all. Except he spoke English and was traveling with a viking, which I don't remember from the play. Random side note that somehow increased joy anyways.

·  This week I spoke French somehow. Okay, not fluently, but more than I thought I could and it definitely felt like a gift of tongues experience. German wasn't super hard for me at the beginning of my mission like it is for most missionaries, so sometimes I feel like I missed getting that divine help that so many missionaries receive when learning a language. But I was privileged to taste that feeling this week when we started talking to a guy from Cameroon who spoke no German. And this is part where Claire rants about how grateful she is for Pimsleur language CDs and how that was an inspired choice on the way to and from work last summer. Except it went beyond the little progress I made with the French portion of Pimsleur and the dinner French I know from my dad. Eric, a new convert/returning to church member from Cameroon, has been teaching me a little French too and somehow, I was able to tell Oliver (stranger on the street who speaks no German) who I was, what we were doing here, where we came from, and we had a book about Christ that we wanted to give him (with the help of a picture visual aid). And when he talked to us, I didn't understand everything, but somehow a few words. And he knew enough words in English to tell us to come with him to find his apartment. So we walked with him for a while, me racking my brains to try to remember any of the words to the song in French from Anastasia on my ipod, but failing for the most part. Fortunately I didn't need these words because we made it to his apartment, where he had a cousin who spoke German who at first tried to turn us away, but then told us we could come back, much to Oliver's excitement. So we are. Right after we finish emails. J
·  It is the tragic fate among missionaries to have joint teaches and no investigators or investigators and no joint teaches. It is a huge blessing to have members with us when we meet with people, we try to get them there, but sometimes people are flaky and appointments are sporadic and it just doesn't work out. We had two joint teaches fall out on Saturday, which was sad, but because of this, we were able to have a some really great lessons with some less actives in our church that made us shout for joy at their goodness and progress in the past few months. Yes, Ammon joy comes better when not planned.
·  Eating banana pancakes and scones (who would have thought my salad-eating, green-smoothie-drinking companion would teach me how to fry dough?) and talking about normal life and mission life with Sister K. I could not have asked for a better companion during the past few months. She knows exactly how make Ammon Joy and enjoy it. We know that she is getting transferred already, so we will find out Saturday where she's going and who is coming here....
·  We went on two tausches (exchanges) this week: one with Sister R in Marzahn and one with Sister H in Tiergarten. I love sharing missionary joy and being strengthened by others. Sister H's definition of happiness as a missionary? "A little chocolate and a progressing investigator."
·  The scriptures and words from living prophets. I love my hour of personal study every day and feel so stoked to go and do what I learn each morning. What did I learn this week? "Do your best, your very best. Say your prayers and work hard and leave the harvest to the Lord." -President Hinckley
I know this is the Lord's work and His harvest. I love partaking in the Ammon Joy of everyday life.

-Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

At the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Monday, November 11, 2013

11-11-13: The Week When...

The week when...

--You walk into the nearest s-bahn station and notice Christmas decorations gracing the normally seemingly ghetto ledges and start screaming for joy and you almost forgo sending emails just so that you and your companion can gather around plastic Christmas trees and sing songs. But you choose emails in the end.

--It gets dark really early. Light hours are a precious and rare commodity now.

--You realize you forgot the English words to all the hymns you've been singing in German for the last many months.

--You have not one, but TWO Germans in your apartment for a day because you went on tausch (exchanges) with the other new German sister missionary. Meet Sister DeMolder. What do you get when a Frenchman marries an American? A German! ...somehow...

--You get to have a marvelous interview with President Kosak, who again astounds you with his personal, Christ-like love and confidence in your potential.

--You consider shaving your head because the people you teach keep getting distracted by your hair and its curliness rather than focusing on what you're saying. Seriously, too many ladies keep touching my hair and exclaiming what a wonder it is while we are trying to teach. No more wearing my hair down.

--You get enough marriage advice to last the next five years. As it turns out, we meet with a lot of single ladies who got botched by their husbands after already having rough childhoods (Frau Kleine, Frau Möbius, Schw. Kremer). They have great fear for me and Sister Kriser and continually remind us not to marry dirtbags. Just in case we forget. And Frau Möbius's final thoughts on men now? "They can all go jump in the ocean!" Her ex-husband was an extra dirty dirtbag though. We met with her a lot this week, still praying that she would get an answer to get baptized even if she hasn't for the past five yerars. She knows baptism is really important, but somehow doesn't sense the urgency in the Gospel and has seen a lot of people get baptized and fall away over the years and it scares her. We're still hoping for the end of the year. But yes. Don't marry dirtbags. Male or female.

--You go to soccer with a less-active and are painfully reminded of your ineptitude for the sport, leaving you feeling vulnerable and not unlike a burden on society. But it's good to feel vulnerable sometimes. Sister Kriser is really good at soccer and I still need to learn to do things I'm not good at. See Ether 12:27.

--You have three investigators at church! Which is a big step! Presence came to all three hours and was able to come to our eating appointment with us afterwards. Woot woot! He's doing great and reading a lot and coming to church is a huge step so we have great hope for him. On a side note for those of you wondering about Homar, he's in Hamburg for 3 months for work. :(

--You give a thema (lesson) on "How to begin teaching" at a zone training meeting and use a cookies-are-like-the-gospel metaphor that also includes the eating of spoons of flour, salt, sugar, and of many cookies.

--And the newest excuse you heard for why someone can't meet with you or come to church?
"If I had gone to church, I would have missed the news!"

So that was the week. I pulled out my warm winter coat this week and have worn my running tights twice under my skirts already.
I love Sister Kriser and I love my hour of personal study every day and the light of Christ and the much good to do.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, November 4, 2013

11-4-13: Half-time

It’s officially half-way time on my mission. Which is a dang good place to be if you ask me. To celebrate, the Rostock sisters came in for two days for a tausch and then for our annual Mission Tour, which is where an apostle or seventy (leaders in our church) comes to visit and speak with us! We were graced the presence of Elder Patrick Kearon from England and Elder Fingerla from Germany. Because the former is from England, our meeting was in English! Hurray! Not that I don't love German. But English is just my mother tongue.

Jumping back to the pre-celebrations of this week:

Transportation Tales
Okay, so you all know I struggled greatly with transportation at the beginning of my mission. I want to let you know that since coming to Berlin, I have not gotten lost or taken a wrong bahn or bus (thanks to Sister Kriser’s extended stay here), nor have I actually even used a map. Except I loved labeling my maps in my other cities with investigators, members, and less actives because it was good to know if we were in the area and had time to stop by someone, so we took our neglected map last week and went to work labeling (yay for 3-hour trips to Greifswald!). I was pretty satisfied; Monday we got to use our handy work to go by a less active before an appointment and somehow after checking and finding the address...the map disappeared. Forever. Sucked into oblivion or stolen by a stray cat or picked up by a homeless person who is now stalking all of the people’s names thereon. It just somehow disappeared. Which resulted in me lying on the ground during nightly planning with the weight of a lost map on my shoulders (and the massive amounts of people we saw at Primarck, a cheap and insanely large and crowded store here, still clogging my head with too-many-people-in-one-place syndrome). But then as it turns out, a lost map is just a lost map. Maybe the stray cat can now find a home with its help. Sister Meisenfelder was still sick this week, so I spent a day at home tending to her and relabeled another map and problem solved minus the sick sister, but more good news, that problem is now solved too and she is healthy again! Hurray for her German red-light incubator that heals ears and throats!
stats: Amount of German jokes in apartment? Increased by 243%

Halloween Eve
So that was Monday and Tuesday-day. Tuesday night the Rostock sisters came and we had six sisters in our apartment that night and the next! I served with Sister Stuart, who is so so great J. She has hipster glasses and beautiful big hair and we had some good appointments, especially with the Binaj family, who has been getting taught off and on for the past several months (Alba, their 21 year old daughter got baptized last year). Theyre from Albania (I forgot if I already talked about them so sorry) and strongly cultural Muslim, but the mom has read almost the whole Book of Mormon and knows its true. Except she can’t speak German and we can’t speak Albanian and her husband isn't really onboard for another member of his family getting baptized in our church. But I love the Binaj family; they are so passionate and ardent in all their conversation and they kind of just yell during our lessons when we talk about normal things because that’s just how they express themselves. That is a good way to live life though--heart and soul. I think it kind of intimidated Sister Stuart, but she loved it too and it was another successful tausch. Especially because all six of us celebrated Halloween Eve together by making caramel apples that night. ‘Twas wonderful.

Spiritual Explosions
Thursday: Mission Tour! The whole east half of our mission (about 140 missionaries) gathered together to be uplifted and edified so we can be better missionaries. Sadly, Sister Darrington and Sister Schwantes are on the other side of the mission so they met in Hamburg, but it was cool to see and feel the power of so many exceptional young people who are giving all that they can to help build God's kingdom. The visits of Elder Kearon and Elder Fingerla just put the day over the top. The next day we went back to Tiergarten (the ward building in central Berlin) for our leadership training meeting (all the zone and sister training leaders from all over the mission) to be double-uplifted from these two servants of God and pumped for life. I developed a nasty cough that threatened to de-pump me for life, but my mother-sent essential oils and Sister-Kosak-sent-mini-pharmacy enabled me to attend and learn and then keep working. Exploding with joy and the Spirit and only occasional fits of coughing.

Christmas Companions
In case you forgot, I love Christmas. More than a lot. But I want you to know that my ardor for Christmas probably falls beneath both Sister Kriser’s and Sister Ricks’s love for Christmas, both of whom insist on singing Christmas songs to start companion study, gasp in excitement whenever we see something that slightly relates to Christmas, and consistently end the day by telling me how many days we have until Christmas. Tis the season J.

Teaching Times
We had some good appointments this weekend with Frau Kleine and Nga (a 13-year-old Vietnamese girl), who we help with English every week and teach a little bit too. We got them to come to the church to make brownies and have a church tour and it was the bomb (stats: using the word "bomb" since serving with Sister Kriser? Increased by 372%). Frau Kleine doesn’t haven’t any legs and we always thought it was because of a car accident, but we found out that she tried to commit suicide when she was 23 by jumping in front of a train after her husband left her. She survived, so obviously she is still needed! I’ve seen her heart soften a lot towards the church since coming here a couple of months ago and she loved our church and all the beautiful pictures of Christ, so she just needs to feel His healing. We taught Presence again (who astounded us with the amount of research he’d done on our church and how much he’d already read in the Book of Mormon) and invited him to get baptized and guess what? After weeks of everyone saying no, he said yes! No date yet, and he wants to do a lot of research before, but...he has the desire! Woot!

Stop, Drop and Roll
Sr. Kriser and I have found a boatload of new investigators while serving together. Unfortunately, almost all of them stop after our first lesson and they drop us and roll away, despite our continued efforts to master how effectively we teach. Even Frau Möbius, our ever diligent eternal investigator who didn't recognize an answer about getting baptized, doesn’t really have a desire to meet and learn more from us; she just wants to continue going to church in her normal life. Except normal life is normal life and it won’t get any better until you make a change! We are therefore overly pumped for Presence and hope he won’t pull the stop, drop, and roll drill like the others.

To conclude.
I had one of those rare moments of perfect contentment yesterday.
During sacrament meeting at church.
After singing Nearer My God to Thee.
Which is one of my favorites.
And sitting and feeling full.
Full of peace that only the Holy Ghost gives.
And simply content.
Before returning to the crazy but great missionary world in which I live J

I love you all.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward