Monday, January 27, 2014

1-27-14: Special Types of Missionary Coldness and Miracles

If I was one of those people who named crayon colors and those crayons were actually weather types, I would call this week "missionary cold" or "permanently frozen." Granted I'm not serving a mission in Russia, Finland, or Norway and maybe I'm just wimpy, but it was so so cold this week. Piercing missionary cold that comes from being outside for extended periods of time. I think that's how Hell will feel: cold. And away from God. Fortunately we don't have to bear the latter. We just shuffle through the icy streets and find all the food we've taken with us for the day to be frozen in our backpacks. The good news about that: frozen granola bars taste faintly of ice cream. Despite the chilling frost, it was an awesome week. The special missionary coldness came with special missionary miracles.

Miracle Number One: aka “The District” day
We have these training videos that we watch as missionaries that give examples of how to be better teachers, planners, etc and it's called "The District." Most of the time, I feel like American missionary work is totally different from Germany missionary work and I feel like no missionary work is as perfect as on these films. Until Tuesday, when I think someone from "The District" producing team set up two perfect appointments for us. So if we're on the next "District," that was Tuesday. We met with the Müllerstein couple and their baby (ps-they are GERMAN) and Herr Müllerstein (who is actually only 20, but I don't know his first name) was so interested in what we believed. When we promised him he could know if the Book of Mormon is true by reading it and asking God, he asked how long it would take to get an answer. We explained it was different for every person, and then he gave us this equation:
"So if I have a lot of faith, I'll get an answer really quickly and if I don't believe, then it will take a long time."
We went with the "um. kinda. maybe?" answer, because sometimes even really faithful people wait a long time. But he wants to find faith again and it was so brilliant! Unfortunately, he's leaving for work for two weeks, so we're hoping we'll keep in contact. And that he'll get his answer. J

Part two of our district day was our appointment with Jenny, who got baptized last June but hasn't really been coming to church. We brought her home teacher with us for support and Jenny also brought a guest; she wanted us to teach a friend of hers about the Plan of Salvation and he wanted to learn from us. Except the best part was that we didn't even teach; we just provided visuals, scriptures, and transitional phrases. We're good at those. Meanwhile, Jenny and her home teacher just had this master joint teach appointment and Jenny's friend Heiko was so interested and deep in thought. It was the bomb! Plus Jenny invited him to get baptized. He said he'd think about it. Then she commanded him to get baptized. What do you say to that?

Miracle Number Two: related to the first
On our lovely “The District” day, we also found a guy named Ben from Cameroon. He showed us the building where he lived and told us to come by on Saturday so we did. Except the name he gave us wasn't on the building. Which happens sometimes when people give you false information. But instead of deciding he was lost, we decided to go inside and knock on every door on the eighth floor, where he said he lived. We were delayed because of this particular way of finding him again, but we found where he lives by meeting his brother Alex! Ben had apparently left because he thought we weren't coming (curse you, invisible names), but Alex proceeded to tell us he wanted to give his life to Christ. And when I say he told us, I mean he told Sister Rasmussen that because while he was talking to her, he gave me the phone and told me to talk to his friend. Slightly confused, I said,
"Hi, this is Sister Woodward. Who is this?"
He responded,
"Hey, this is Christian. I meet with your people in Eisenhütenstadt and I've been going to church for a month and I'm getting baptized on Sunday!"
Then came the awkward pause where I tried to figure out what was going on and then we were just excited and Alex told us he wanted to get baptized too and it was just a party on the eighth floor of a ghetto building. Hurray!

Miracle Number Three
Remember our Serbians from last week? Ah they are great! We had a crazy appointment with them with week that started out kinda rough. As in, all six of their children under the age of four were a wee bit hyper and giving their best impressions of angry birds (the animal, not the game) and Yorshka started talking to me and asking for money from us or the church because they have a niece who needs an operation and they can't afford and I awkwardly tried to explain we weren't allowed to give out money. So I was feeling kind of uncomfortable with the whole environment but we somehow got to the point that we wanted to watch a movie about Joseph Smith with them in Serbian. They were thrilled (demonstrated by vigorous nodding). They all gathered around the couch to watch the movie on the tiny DVD player we had brought with us and it was such a picture-perfect moment, aside from the occasional screaming of angry-bird children. Then we invited them to be baptized on the second of March and Yorshka and Yasmin said yes! The others have to think about it. I think it will take a while to teach everything, but they have a goal and are super excited for it!

Miracle Number Four
Because all good things come in sets of three, I thought I'd add another one. Because Annie from China is also a miracle! Sister Kriser and I actually found her forever ago but didn't get to meet with her until Saturday. She was also so attentive and tried really hard to understand everything we were talking about. She doesn't have any background with God but wanted to learn about him and she prayed for us at the end in Chinese! She is really open and told us she really respects our passion for our faith :)
My favorite parts of appointments?
When investigators pray for the first time.

Northern trips
We went up to Greifswald for our exchange with Sisters Schmidt and Bronson and it was also lovely, though we definitely had our fair share of feeling "missionary cold."

Special types of heart breakage
We see oodles of miracles, make no doubt about it. I think there is also a special type of missionary disappointment, where our hearts just break when people don't keep their commitments. We were expecting so many people at church on Sunday, many of whom were mentioned above, and approximately zero came. Even faithful Frau Möbius who comes every Sunday stayed inside because of the cold. Even those that we tried to pick up before church but then weren't ready. Such deep disappointment after you saw how excited these people were when they were with you. That's why we pray and read the scriptures every day--so we don't forget!

Random side notes that don't fit with anything else
You know what I miss in English? Adverbs. Just saying.
Also people here often pray for "the missionaries and the sisters." Because apparently missionaries aren't sisters.
Also I love apple tea.
Also....that is all.
Except that I love you all.
As usual. J
God lives and loves us; this is His special work.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, January 20, 2014

1-20-14: A few of my favorite things

1-20-14: A few of my favorite things
(I think I already used that title in the past year. Forgive me for my re-use of ideas.)

One of my favorite things about missionary work?
My life revolving around other people and not having to plan out the details of my own life and future and worry about trivial things that seem to matter and yet don't. I have met so many people on my mission and it is crazy how much time I have spent thinking about them. These poor people have no idea that their lives are copied into journals, discussed with my companion, and then emailed home for a score of others to read. We gleefully look forward to our first appointments with them and are heartbroken every time they aren't there. Random people from Leipzig, Hamburg, and Berlin (plus some from cities we have served in during exchanges) are always in my thoughts and prayers. That is one of my favorite parts about mission work: the important people we meet.

Important People #1: our Serbians
Once upon a time, Sister Kriser and I had a long and dark week in November but found two guys from Serbia at the end of the week that brought hope to our lives. Until that hope was cut short when appointments never worked out. But once upon a time this week, we went by on our Serbian friends after another attempted appointment fell out and although the two men we originally met weren't there, a handful of other Serbians lived there and they were happy to talk to us. There is a huge language barrier because all of the women (two young, cute moms with a bunch of kids and then the older mom/grandma) can't speak very much German. But the husband of one of the women understands pretty well so we speak slowly and go through him. Not only did they let us in for a nice lesson once this week, but they said we could come back and then we did and they were still there.
It's been a long time since one of our new investigators has met with us more than once.
Our second lesson was also lovely and their family has had some hard times but they are so humble and listen so intently when we talk, even though I'm pretty sure they don't even understand. Yorshka, the only man who is there when we've gone, asked us if he could be baptized when we showed him a picture of it. Our conversation went like this:
Yorshka: "I want to be baptized.
(speaking to the women and children) Do any of you want to be baptized?
No? Okay, just me. When can we meet this week to do it?”
We explained it takes some time to be ready to make this special promise with God, but that we were here to help him prepare.
We are so excited for this family we get to help. J
Random though still important other people
We got a call from the Greifswald sisters this week asking if we could meet with someone they made an appointment with but somehow they didn't realize it was in Berlin. We ran to the place where we were supposed to meet this guy and got his phone number to call and...surprise! He was already a contact from us--a Jewish man Sister Kriser found on exchanges who we had kinda given up on. But we met him and explained our purpose and he fell off the earth the rest of this week, but....crazy things made that first appointment happen.

Another surprise: we found another less active African church member from Congo on a bahn who said he got baptized 20 years ago by an Elder Smith. The man’s name is Mike and Mike is the loudest man I have ever met. Our conversation went like this (I shall use all caps for imagination's sake):
Us: Yes, have you heard of our church before?
Us (confused): In our church?
He also thought everything was absolutely hilarious. People moved away from us on the bahn because they felt uncomfortable, but it was so funny. We're giving him to the elders to take care of, was another missionary moment.

And then the bug came....
That all was just at the beginning of the week. Because in the dark of the night of Wednesday, evil found me and I threw up approximately 15 times in five hours and had a fever to boot (is that a real expression?). I know you all wanted to know that. And I had no brother to serenade me with his hits from last year's Stomach Flu Album, including "You've got a puke in you" and "Hey Mrs. Pukeface." So I was pretty miserable. Actually I probably would have been miserable regardless of the singing or lack thereof. We had a leadership meeting on Thursday though and I really wanted to be there and because I am stupid, I thought I could still go late. After surviving the longest bahn ride of my life (one hour stretches interminably when your stomach wants to die) across the city to Tiergarten, I realized I was dumb. I made it approximately 15 minutes in a classroom before being moved to a couch. I was then moved from that couch to another couch after Sister Kosak came up to tend to this not-so-wise, whimpering sister. President Kosak gave me a blessing actually and then I passed out in a room for a few hours until the meeting was over and then the Kosaks drove us home rather than sending us back on the bahn. I love them so much!
Because I was still kind of dumb, we went on an exchange to Neubrandenburg (a couple hours north of Berlin) on Friday afternoon to work with Sister Miller and Tolman, who are awesome. They have so much energy and are so positive. I was kinda dead on Friday night and they actually just toted (is that also a word?) me around in the back of their car (yes, they have a car! ahh!!!) as they visited people. So it worked out okay and Saturday I was feeling mostly better.
And today I am feeling even more better.
Huzzah for Israel and scattered emails!
Keep the faith.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Happy companions:

Monday, January 13, 2014

1-13-14: Farewells and Hellos

Because that's what we do when transfer calls come. Despite trying to live on a month-to-month schedule like the rest of the world, we missionaries are helplessly locked into six week periods of time when everything changes.

And it's weird getting a new companion. Your companion is like a combination of every relationship ever--your best friend, your sibling, your coworker, your roommate, and your spouse. So transfers are kinda like a traumatic divorce sometimes.

Sister Rasmussen is great though; her sweetness and craft skills are well needed. Plus she makes the world cleaner by picking up trash when we walk places. She leaves traces of pixie dust, sings beautifully, and is very thoughtful.

End of comp section.
In case you wanted a warning before a change of content.

We gonna find you...
We sing that song a lot in case you were wondering. Yes, the song from that YouTube video of that black guy threatening to find someone who broke into his house and then someone made it into a song. We are always looking for people and when appointments fall out, like they often do, we just get to talk with strangers who want to learn more about Christ and happiness and then they forget that they want to be happy so they forget about our appointment but then we keep calling and trying to share joy and sometimes it works out. I wish people would just tell us no if they don't want to learn more about Christ and happiness though, instead of us stalking them for months to try to make an appointment they don't really want. We kind of have a weird program where we have just a bunch of floaters all the time. Maybe Sister Rasmussen's pixie dust will help them stay though.

One of our new investigators this week was a 13-year-old who we actually ended up praying with on the street because she asked us how to pray. Which sounds weird but I think she actually loved it. Our appointment fell through later (probably because of parental concerns), but she knows how to pray now, so...success.

We also found a couple who said they wanted their daughter to grow up with religion and the man asked if we were like holy beings that came to serve people. Alas, we are just people, but we are representatives of Christ and help people to come unto to Him!

Plan B
Because appointments fall through quite a bit, it's important to have backup plans. I read an article in the Liahona [a magazine published by the LDS church] this week that I've been thinking about a lot. It was about what we do when good plans don't work out and I’ve been thinking about it mostly because we've had to use a lot of plan B's lately. But sometimes those plans are better than our original plans and we are able to help or touch people we normally wouldn't have come in contact with. Stephanie J. Burns, the author of the article, said, "Regardless of the turns life's journey may take, the final destination of eternal life is what Heavenly Father plans for His children. We may find that 'plan B' was simply a way of making His 'plan A' a reality."
I know God has a better plan than I have for everything, because, well, God is God and I am not (God, that is). That's always good to remember J.

I thought I'd include a list this week of things I want to do as member missionary when I get home because there are so many things members can do that missionaries can't. Therefore I shall title it:

Member Missionary To-do's
  • say hello to everyone at church and look for visitors
  • invite investigators to eat at my house with the missionaries
  • invite missionaries over when I have friends over to eat. not awkward style though.
  • tell the missionaries I want to be a joint-teach [go with them on teaching appointments] and it's okay if the appointment falls through
  • tell the missionaries I can give rides to investigators or less actives for church and activities
  • have FHE [Family Home Evening] with missionaries and investigators and friends
  • give missionaries specific ways they can help/let them know about visiting friends
  • write missionaries letters. with stickers.
  • pray for missionaries and ask for names of investigators I can pray for
I love you all and hope you have an awesome week! J

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, January 6, 2014

1-6-14: Happy New Year!

A.k.a....the week after Christmas.

This last week of transfer blew by as we ran around the city finding people to teach, gathering with other missionaries, and meeting with people of all sorts and sizes. Transfer calls came yesterday and and my beloved Sister Kriser is finally leaving Marzahn after ten months, heading north to Kiel tomorrow to bless the people there. Expected and needed, but still sad for us. The good news: I met my new companion on Friday at our Leadership Council and she is super sweet--Sister Cassandra Rasmussen from Sandy, Utah. And guess what else? She runs! How I lucked out for my last four companions that I can run with I will never know.
Other good news about transfer calls? Sister Schwantes, the one I trained for a transfer in Altona, is coming to Berlin which means I will get to go on exchanges with her! Woot woot!

How to start a new year in Germany...
The start of a new year in Germany sounds similar to the start of a small war. It was insane! We had to be home early that night and still went to bed at 10:30pm, but were awakened by deafening explosions at midnight that lasted for a couple of hours. Somehow I felt like I was at Hogwarts. Minus the part that I do magic. But it was so insanely bright and loud and there is surely nothing like it in America.

How else did we start the new year?
Denying more proposals for marriage of course!
We found a Muslim guy named Adam from Mali in Africa a couple of months ago, but only met with him twice because he wasn't really interested in changing his beliefs/learning more about Christ. We ran into him last week though and he said he'd love to meet with us again and he had a friend who wanted to learn too. So we took them up on the offer and set a time for New Year's day. His friend only spoke French and I made the mistake of pretending I could speak French at the beginning (the only time I will curse Pimsleur language programs), so he continued to smile and try to talk to me in French. During our meeting in a restaurant, because everywhere else was closed. Which meeting also turned out to be an attempt to convince us that God sent us here to meet them. And to marry them. We repeatedly explained what we do and don't do as missionaries and the poor French guy just happily grinned at us the whole time while we managed to reach past language barriers and get our message across.
Poor saps.
We told them to pray to know if Christ is the Son of God, and then maybe we'd talk again.
But by "we," we meant the elders.

The Magic of Bahn Talk
On exchanges last week in Tiergarten, I talked briefly with a guy from Camaroon on the bahn and gave him our card as he got off. We got a text later that day from this guy, whose name is Samuel, and he gave us his address. Not knowing exactly if he knew what we were doing in Germany and not wanting another Adam-repeat, we were slightly weary when we called to make an appointment. We didn't have a joint teach so we couldn't meet in his apartment and the place we thought we could go was closed, so we ended up meeting with him just on a bench outside. In the dark winter. Which is a miracle in itself for an African to bear the cold with us. Despite these humble circumstances (or perhaps because of them), we somehow had one of the best lessons we've had in a long time. Mostly because Samuel was great and asked so many questions and was interested in our experiences with this Gospel and we invited him to be baptized and he said yes! The Spirit was so strong there and it was definitely a tender mercy from God. The only problem will be finding time--because students study a lot and making follow-up appointments are so hard. But we have faith!

Now contrast that with...
a guy we found this week named Reinhard. Who I thought was mildly crazy when we were talking to him on the street. He learned English from the BBC so has a voice like British actors but he was really smart too and has studied a lot. We did have a joint teach for his appointment, but he didn't want to meet at his house and instead took us to a pub, and then we asked if we could go somewhere else, so we found a different restaurant (with less smoke) where he could order a beer but we had already started our fast for Sunday so we didn't eat anything and then he just kinda nailed us with a billion questions without really listening to our answers. It was kinda rough.

Let’s just say I am grateful for the many humble souls I have met with who are excited to learn, who know they don't know everything and know that we don't know everything either, but that God does.

Bike Wipeout Number 2
Despite it being winter, I refuse to give up the freedom of riding a bike. But sometimes I feel like a six-year-old that keeps crashing and then getting up and going again. This morning the streets were pretty icy and I braked at an intersection and my bike promptly slipped out from under me and then I ended up sideways on the ground with cars coming at me.
But I didn't die, nor even spill any blood. Just got a few good bruises. J

Quote of the week…
comes from Elder Holland, in talking about the new year and choosing to move forward with faith, confident in a bright future:
"I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone nor yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from, but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. FAITH IS ALWAYS POINTED TO THE FUTURE."

I'm excited for this new year, for the time I have left on my mission in Germany and for the many adventures that will come.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Berlin Mission Leadership Council