Monday, February 24, 2014

2-24-14: Called to serve

Just over a year ago, I was called to serve. In Germany.
Though the past couple of weeks I've begun to forget that as most our Germans have gone MIA, yet our Cameroonian count goes ever upward. Remember how I called Hamburg the other Ghana? I think the other Cameroon is growing in Berlin. It's like every time we find one Cameroonian, we show up and he has five friends that want to meet with us too. We came home from an appointment on Friday night with a handful of aforementioned Cameroonians and the other sisters quickly opened the windows and exclaimed that we smelled like fish. Which neither of them happen to like. Which is also the smell of every African apartment. And, on that particular night, also the smell of our clothes, skin and hair.
Sometimes I love teaching Africans. Sometimes it's really hard. They either cling to every word you say or want to fight you (and almost always want to marry you). We had many appointments this week where they mostly just wanted to fight/marry us. It is exhausting to be talked at for two hours. And to smell like fish. Okay, maybe the smell isn't that exhausting. Just a strange side effect. So that's that with our Cameroonians.
Oh also remember the story of Winfred last week? We get texts about all the people who are getting baptized in our mission every week and found out that Winfred is getting baptized in Cottbus. Mystery solved.
Moving eastward in our world cultural microcosm, Annie is still great. Every lesson that we have with her is so awesome somehow, like a perfect balance of true principles, questions, scriptures, testimony, personal experience, and joint-teach-ness. She still hasn't made it to church yet though so we asked her why she thinks we keep asking her to come. Her response: to come closer to the God.
Exactly. Because we go to church to come close to Him and remember Him and to prepare for the upcoming week!
 We found out yesterday that Elder Bednar still speaks really good German. We had a stake conference broadcast that was special for Germany and while they translated most of the talks, Elder Bednar just whipped out his German and gave an awesome talk. T'was sweet.
Back to an every-person-in-the-world-problem. The greatest obstacle I feel like we have as missionaries: busy-ness. Because there is so much to do in the world and so many things that compete for people's' time, but actually, in case you were wondering, we choose what fills our time. There are things everyone has to do, like eat and work and sleep and study, but our lives are made up of so much more than the mundane things of everyday existence. We ask investigators, "Why haven't you been praying or reading in the scriptures or coming to church?" And they almost always respond, "I was too busy." Okay people, you can say like a 30 second prayer. You can read in the scriptures for two minutes. "I was too busy" is not a valid excuse. Please try again.  President Monson said, "Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, God is with us." So are we with Him?
I know I'm a missionary so the only thing I have to do with my time is pray, read, my scriptures, go to church, and meet with other missionaries, but I personally know it’s possible to do those things at home too as a working student who still sleeps. Someone else will have to back me up with the extra responsibility of parenting. But I believe it's true. We fill our time with what is important to us.
I think I got a little stuck on that. Or maybe I really am just angry about busy people. Righteous indignation I mean.
Ok, end of rant.
Make time for the things that matter most. And watch this video while you ponder.
-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, February 17, 2014

2-17-14: Round 5 in Marzahn

First news, mostly for my parents, I'm staying for a fifth transfer in Marzahn with Sister Rasmussen and I am so grateful! Because I really didn't want to leave yet but I didn't want to want it too much in case I had to leave but now I can just want it and have it. Woot! To translate into normal person speech, I will have served here for 7 months, assuming I leave after this next transfer.

Too much cake this week was supplemented by lots of biking. Apparently real winter only lasted one week this year because it's been like spring riding our wild stallions (aka our bikes) all over east Berlin. We learned it is much easier to chase people down when you are on wheels and they are not. Only one guy started running from me after I turned around to try to talk him. Maybe I've gotten kind of intimidating.

Stats for the Week (precursors to stories)
Cameroon count: 18 (up by 37% and enough for a small branch if they all get baptized)
Missionaries in Marzahn: 6 (a drop by two after transfers; all the sisters stay but we lost an elders program)
Cake consumed: 5 pieces in 24 hours (we need to destroy the urban legend that we don't eat if we don't get fed by members--please stop feeding us abnormally large amounts of cake!)
Apartment unity: always upward. I love these sisters J.
Songs sung: 104 (in various housing developments and outside as Sister Rasmussen played her little guitar)

The Tale of Winfred
Once upon we met two Cameroonians named Ben and Alex who had a friend who got baptized into our church a few weeks ago but then they fell off the face of the earth for a while but then they showed up again and asked "when you people" were coming back. So we went back this week and there was another Cameroonian there named Winfred. We talked to Winfred while the other two were cooking and he revealed his knowledge of Joseph Smith, Thomas Monson, Alma 32, The Word of Wisdom, the Law of Chastity, who/what a bishop is, and the importance of baptism with the priesthood, yet he denied having previous contact with our church. We persisted in asking him how he knew our church (or how he knew Ben and Alex because he's from Cottbus--a couple of hours south of Berlin--and he said they just found him the street) and he persisted in telling us he could just see all of this information in our eyes. The last time I checked, I hadn't tattooed all of the lessons we teach people to my face though. It was like the craziest appointment of my life with tall, fit Ben intensely questioning us and Winfred explaining answers in some almost-English-dialogue that we didn't have. We gave him the number of the Cottbus sisters and told him to call them. We left still with no idea who he was (though we did ask if he was baptized and he said no).

Antics of Annie
Okay, she actually had no antics. I just needed an a-word. I love Annie so much! We had another awesome lesson with her about the ten commandments last night and she has the ability to be so spiritual but also so funny. We are good friends but she understands that she is there to learn and she told us we are good representatives of God. Funny things she said were...
"I'm sorry I couldn't come earlier. I puked on the bus. I puked on the plants. I puked on everything!"
"Yeah, my parents practice vegetablism so they don't eat meat."
"I ate some porkage to help my stomach." (she meant porridge, not pork.)

Wunder der Woche
So Tuesday was our biggest bike day where we ditched bahns and busses and rode our stallions (there is no better word to describe the freedom of bikes) to our appointments, even though they were far. We ended up way far away from our house and I remembered going by an inactive member of our church a few months ago here. She wasn't home then, but we are always anxious to meet new people (thus the chasing people down with bikes). She answered our klingle and said she was busy but to come back in a few hours. We obediently did so and found an envelope taped to the building door upon our return. We opened it and read the following (in English):
"I'm verry sorry, but I forgot an important appointment with my son. Please call me back.
I've a testamony of Jesus Christ and our loving Father in Heaven and I've been waiting for them and hoped, they would remember me."
Yeah, we kind of melted. It's amazing how something so small as klingling a door can be a symbol of love. President Uchtdorf said, "In the end, the number of prayers we say may contribute to our  happiness but the number of prayers we answer may be of greater importance." Praying makes me happy and gives me hope. Serving is prayer is action.
So be proactive. With or without a bike. Find your own wild stallion to ride.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

P.S. Birthday shout out to my little brother who turns 19 today!

Monday, February 10, 2014

2-10-14: Trunky for Heaven

Trunky: (adj), wanting to go home, a strong desire to pack one's bags and leave
sl. missionary lingo
There's your dictionary definition in case the title was confusing. I'll come back to that.

Now for your German weather report.
The sun shone this week and it was a marvelous time to be doing missionary work! Not that there's ever a bad time, but it's kind of ridiculous how much of an impact the weather makes on missionary life.
Anyways. Enough talk about the weather. Except I think I talk about the weather every week. whatevs.

Smiley people
I have met some of the most smiley people ever in the past few weeks. I thought I'd give an overview of their smiles.
1. Frenchie Salal from Algeria--who speaks no English and approximately 8 words in German. We chased him down last week and through various gesticulations and props made an appointment. This week we showed up with a French Book of Mormon and a list of points about our church that Eric from Cameroon helped us write. J Except we still couldn't understand him so we called another sister who can speak French and she talked to him and apparently he wanted instructions to the church. So we gave them to him. And awkwardly tried to carry on a conversation using the 8 words that we both understand. He is such a smiley man though and brought us glasses of Coke to drink at his doorstep during this language struggle and continued to grin.
2. Samuel from Cameroon--who we had that awesome lesson with in December but haven't met with since. Except we ran into him walking this week and he was SO happy to see us. I have never seen a happier African and I've met a lot of happy Africans here. He just grinned and grinned that he had run into us and though he hasn't read in the Book of Mormon, his face describes the joy therein.
3. Adrian, also from Cameroon--who happens to Samuel's brother. Except in Cameroon they call everyone "brother" so he is actually his cousin. But he is also a happy soul who speaks perfect German and met with us outside even though it was mildly chilly.
4. ANNIE from China. Ohmygosh she is so funny and cute. She's 21 and is only here for a year on an exchange but she has been making a lot of progress with us and is pretty much just a hoot. I thought I'd make an extra section for things she's said:
·  "Yes, I prayed to the God and I felt a feeling of peace. How often do you guys pray to the God?"
·  "Oh no, do I look old? I need to put on some makeups!"
·  "Careful you don't eat so late because otherwise you'll get fat."
·  (to the members who came with us to teach her) "Oh, that makes sense that you are siblings because you are so beautiful and he is so handsome!"
·  "I feel like my faith in God is growing. I mean, when you guys are here I just see this light in your eyes and I want to keep learning!"
She's just darling. So blessed to have found her. On a bus. Because that's where we find pretty much all of our investigators.

The United Nations...all in one building
So we are often in the area of a special, slightly ghetto building that contains representatives from every country ever. Okay, not every country, but a lot. Somehow we ended up having contact from lots of people who live here and I just thought I'd list off the countries so you can get a sample: Algeria (our smiley Frenchie!), Cuba, Chile, Cameroon, Romania, Spain, Mozambique, Libya, and (surprise) Germany! Woot woot. We go all around the world in a ten minute rotation.

The Lost
Our dear Serbians have had some troubles and have been unable to meet with us and our last phone conversation was short and curt, namely that it was super crazy at their house and with their family was kind of like a goodbye L. But hopefully just a break! We went by a lot and it was too crazy every time for them to let us in. So goes it sometimes L.

Companion Reunion!
I got to go on exchanges this week with Sister Schwantes, my companion from Altona! Ahh it was so cool to serve with and see her again. She's a bomb missionary and though still somewhat reserved, has no qualms about talking to everyone, just like it was when we were in Hamburg together.

The Missionary Purpose...
is to help people come unto Christ through faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. It is also our job to be ready to give themas (spiritual thoughts) and play the piano at a moment's notice (the lovely Sister Rasmussen played a lovely spontaneous musical number during sacrament meeting yesterday). Despite all of our focus on planning, we must simply always be ready to do an assortment of random tasks.

Real Life Fairy Tales
is where my companion comes from. Sister Ricks (the other sister in our apartment) made the astute observation of Sister Rasmussen's similarity to Giselle from Enchanted. Singing, cleaning, crafty, constant joy and all, she deserves to have a Disney movie made about her. Everything about her emanates light, frivolity, and energy. J

Trunky for Heaven
We (my fairy tale companion and I) gave a thema at a Zone Training Meeting this week about families. Weird for a missionary audience, eh? You would think that would make the thirty missionaries in our zone trunky (aka, feeling like they want to go home and be with their own families). Instead we helped them get trunky for heaven. Because that's what we do as missionaries: we help people get trunky for heaven, where they can be with their families forever!  To that I'd like to add two quotes, the first from Elder Nelson: "Priesthood authority has been restored so that families can be sealed eternally."
Then from President Monson, "A mission is a family affair."
My mission is about my family, but it is also about the families of so many others. I am so grateful for the support of my family and for their love and I want other families to have the same joy and stability and hope that I have from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We pack our bags together.

Also I just wanted to say a quick thanks to Herr Taylor, Jenny, and Caleb, for giving me opportunities in high school to share my beliefs (sogar auf Deutsch!), which really helped me with the desire to go on a mission. You are all great.

That is all. Be a smiley person this week. J

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

I can't believe I've been out a year!

Monday, February 3, 2014

2-3-14: Year One‏

And now a musical intro:
Iiiiit's been one year since I left my house
took a plane and said "I'll come back later"
One year since I got my tag
The one that says my name is Sister Woodward….

Okay, that was a (very) rough attempt at what should have been read (or rather sung) to the tune of "One Week," but it's probably okay if you just read it. The goal was to recognize that I've been a missionary for a year. Goal achieved, if you are still reading these emails you signed up to get forever ago.

It has been a glorious, exhausting, rewarding, and incredibly awkward adventure that I have loved and am glad it keeps going (though I have started having bad dreams about coming home, like I usually do before school starts--not that I dread school, but it is something new and unknown every year). I learned from the office elders that my name now has a little sticker with the expiration date of July 8th on it, so I will officially be home for my brother's wedding three days later. Give me a few months and I'll probably start having nightmares about a wedding that isn't my own.

Moving right along past bad dreams and into the goodness of real life! Though sometimes good dreams are interrupted by bad life. But I am fortunate enough to experience the former.

The final exchange. and thoughts on Cameroon
I had the privilege of serving with Sister Hinkle on our exchange this week for the last exchange of her mission, for she is homeward bound in a couple of weeks. It was cool to hear about her mission experiences as a whole and her plans for ever-onward-progression, plus we experience the regular dose of miracles we see when we go on exchanges.

Like finding Eric from Cameroon.
Not to be confused with Eric from Cameroon who is already a member of our church.
But rather Eric from Cameroon who attended a baptism with us yesterday (it was actually Christian's baptism--the one I talked to on the phone in the ghetto apartment complex! Bed and Alex couldn't make it, but we also met with them and had a sweet lesson.).
Between us and the other sisters in Marzahn, we have between 15-20 Cameroonian investigators/contacts. So we are trying to organize a great party where Eric From Cameroon who is already a member can talk with them all about how the Gospel changed his life.
Except most all of our Africans have crazy work schedules where they don't make that much money or get to sleep ever and it's hard to coordinate one appointment, let alone gather them all together. We'll see.

Serbian update
Well, our Serbians are still wonderful, especially the women who are so humble and have so much love. They didn't make it to church again, even with a member coming with us to offer a ride to all of them AND their children, so we might end up pushing their baptismal date back, but hopefully it works out. They have hard lives. Like pretty much every single person I've met on my mission. I know the Gospel doesn't make things easier, but that it does make us stronger. That is sometimes hard for people to accept.

Our lovely Annie from China is doing awesome. She is so sharp and so attentive. We asked her why Christ needed to suffer for us after reading in the Book of Mormon together and even though she's never heard about the Atonement of Christ before, she told us it was probably so he could know exactly how we are feeling and so he can help and comfort us better.

Moment of awed silence followed by the strong desire to clap for her.

I love it when people make connections and discover truth for themselves.

Of many meetings
We also had zone conference and a leadership training this week, which were both excellent, as usual. Because how can the gathering of so many valiant missionaries not be wonderful? And I got to see Elder Lyon from Leipzig again and the Andrus Ehepaar right before they go home. It was a nice trip down memory lane. Also I love President and Sister Kosak. I think I say that a lot, but they are so wonderful and simply beam with goodness and love for us, for others, and for the work.

Seize the day
We tell a lot of people that they need to act now. Because faith leads us to action and applied knowledge is the best kind and if you know something is good, you should do something about it immediately. So I just wanted to end with an old proverb quoted in last general conference: "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
That means NOW! President Uchtdorf sums up my thoughts better than my brain does:
"There is something wonderful and hopeful about the word NOW. The is something empowering about the fact that if we choose to decide NOW, we can move forward this very moment. NOW is the best time to start becoming the person we eventually want to be."

So do it now.
Whatever it is.
And seize the day.
(Cue music and dancing from Newsies…)

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward