Monday, March 31, 2014

3-31-14: Marzahn Memories Before Wandering West‏

The Christmas presents she mentions at the end was a reference to an actual Christmas from Claire's past when Santa brought her a bike instead of another American Girl doll. Santa explained in his letter that year that she would understand someday why he knew she needed a bike more than the doll. I'll have to forward this letter to him :)

Transfer calls sometimes make me feel like I'm on some strange reality TV show and every 6 weeks, someone gets voted off the island. And this time around, it was me that got voted off the Marzahn island and then got voted onto the Bielefeld island. Yes, I'm leaving my home of the past seven months and heading west again to “whitewash” (restart a program--meaning no missionaries are there to welcome/guide/introduce the city to us) in a dritt (aka I have two companions rather than the standard one). Tune in next week to see what adventures the three of us will have on our new island!
Before I leave this island though, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Marzahn memories.
·  Running for bahns (trains). Okay, that's like every missionary ever, but pretty much at least once a day we are running to catch a bahn.
·  Biking! Because I don't like doing the previously mentioned memory, I have had a blast riding bikes all over east Berlin the past few months. Whether in daylight chasing people down or at night trying to translate Taylor Swift in German as we rode (I assume this is some reference to singing some Taylor Swift song while riding), I'm so grateful for the chance I had to use bikes here.
·  Wild fruit and having a companion that always searched for apples for us in the Fall.
·  Africans of all shape and sizes, but mostly men. A new African shows up for church every week--yesterday it was our friend Nana from Ghana! We had an awesome lesson with him on Friday where he said he hoped to join us in the "celestial city."  I've learned a lot about how to talk African-English too. For example, instead of saying "you guys" when talking to a group of people, Africans say "you people." I used to think this was just a way of talking about people in our church, but this week we were with Collivan's family and the kids were being a little rowdy and so Collivan said, "You people need to stop that!" So now you know they aren't trying to distance us when they say something like "You people look so good when you eat fufu!"
·  Frau Möbius. One of my favorite Germans I've met on my mission who didn't get baptized while I was here but was in church every Sunday nevertheless. She does funny things like translating obvious words in English to us and looking around suspiciously whenever we go by to see if any of her neighbors are looking. We went by this morning and and shed many 'a tear. #transfertyphoonoftears
·  Schwester Kremer. Another one of my favorite Germans who got baptized last summer and is such a great example of pushing forward through the hard times of being a new convert in the church. She loves cats and is old and lonely, but so loving and giving. She also loves crossing the street when we aren't supposed to and giggles like a little girl while pulling us across and squealing "Schnell! Schnell!" We had a good sit in the park last night to say goodbye.
·  Schloss Park. A beautiful place by our house where we went running almost every day.
·  Dark days during the winter. Those memories actually aren't that fond, but they helped us appreciate light.
·  Going on weekly exchanges with our sisters. Loved getting to know and serving with so many different sisters as an STL.
·  Löwenburger Strasse--a ghetto building with duct-taped windows and occasional blood stains where we found 20 investigators/contacts. Most of whom turned out to be flakes, but one of whom turned out to be Daniel! Blind Daniel who has faithfully been coming to church and does all sorts of things that blind men usually don't do like going to libraries and playing the piano and harmonica. He has a baptismal date for the beginning of May and though I won't be here, I'm glad I met him. J
·  Joint teaches. All of our best appointments had members with us. I love it when investigators and members tausch (exchange) numbers and just become friend without us even needing to be involved. I love the ward here and will miss each member dearly.
·  Sisters Kriser and Rasmussen, who made me a little more beastly and a little more sweet (respectively). Laughter and love with them both.
I actually got voted off the Marzahn island early--usually we get transfer calls from our APs (assistants to the president) on Saturday morning, but President Kosak decided to give us a call on Friday night. Only missionaries know what kind of panic goes through your head when you see that your mission president is calling. We answered and he gave us our transfer calls early, which is like spoiling Christmas (though the other sisters in our apartment had to wait until morning for theirs). And admittedly, whitewashing was the one thing I didn't really want to do. And it was kinda like opening your Christmas present early and instead of getting an American girl doll, you get a bike, which you didn't want. But just like I learned to love that bike, I was excited Saturday morning for this great new adventure. Bielefeld will be the smallest city I've served in (somewhere between 100,000-500,000 people from what our map says) and this will be my first time with TWO companions.
So basically it's bound to be a great party.
This will probably be my last city on my mission, though the dritt/whitewashing part could throw in a curve ball.
We'll see.

I love Marzahn and am so grateful I was able to live here for so long. We sang in the choir on Sunday and so we sat on the stand and it was cool to look out and see all the people that were there that weren't there seven months ago, even if no one got baptized while I was here. It was worth it.

So, “you people” have a good week and cherish all good things and throw away the bad.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, March 24, 2014

3-24-14: Blessings for and from Africans

So as it turns out, there is an official Cameroonian Society in Berlin that connects the thousands of people who have immigrated here. Which explains why when we tell people about other Cameroonians we meet with, they ask who they are and they often know them.
Mystery solved.
This week we found out that our favorite Cameroonian family (Colivan and Angel plus four kids) and one of the other sister missionaries’ favorite investigators, Declan, are good friends and so tonight we are having a family home evening together. We shall sing traditional Primary songs mixed with soul-filled praise songs J. Woot!

Declan has been to church a couple of times, but often has to work on Sunday. He loves church though and always calls the other sisters to see what he missed. We really wanted Angel to come to church with the rest of the family this week and our prayers were answered because she got work off so it seemed super likely! Except then Emedio got sick and Colivan had to work three days straight without time for sleeping and we weren't sure if they would make it. But good old Declan talked to them and told Angel how wonderful church was and how great the members were.

So yesterday morning, our family of six piled into the chapel to enjoy church together J.
Our blind man Daniel was also there and loved it; he is so dear J.
Plus Frau Möbius. Like normal.
So it was a poppin' party.
Minus balloons.

We were also blessed by an African this week--Pascal from Nigeria. His klingle (doorbell) actually says "The Prophet." We had an 18-year-old member with us after an appointment fell out and were going by some contacts we had in the same building. We klingled Pascal and he came out and was so happy we were talking about God but told us we need to throw our Joseph Smith away and then explained that Obama is a great beast come to destroy us.
How those are connected I don't know.
He then asked if we could pray together and made us all hold hands (ps--we still have our joint teach with us) and began to sing loudly in some strange tongue. The whole situation was so ridiculous and I wanted to laugh so badly, but I didn't want to be disrespectful so I had to use every muscle I develop during morgen sport (morning exercise) to contain my building laughter. Then he took his hands and blessed each one of us, as well as some random girl who tried to walk by us but also got stuck in our circle.
Needless to say, our joint teach went home and told all his friends and family about strange experiences with the missionaries and his enthusiasm to have his own strange experiences all the time as a full-time missionary grew. He's putting in his papers for a mission soon J.

Moving away from Africa and up to Iran, we met with Ali this week, who randomly showed up at church after we had invited him while going door-to-door a couple weeks ago. We aren't allowed to regularly teach people from the Middle East if they don't have a long term visa here, but they are always invited to activities and church and the like. Ali is working on learning English and German, but speaks okay English for right now. He looked up some words for our meeting, including "fetus" and "embryo" to illustrate some deep metaphor. He didn't know the word "missionaries" in English and tried to look it up, but he looked up "machinery" instead, teehee.

So at the end of our meeting, he said "I don't know everything because I'm not machinery like you."

Which is funny too because people sometimes get nervous that missionaries just turn into machines doing the same things over and over again with perfect obedience.
But we are far from robots/machinery. The more missionaries I meet, the more I realize how God uses us all with our different strengths and weaknesses to build His kingdom.

He lives. He loves us. This is His work.
We are not machinery.
We are people J.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Srs Woodward and Rasmussen

 The result of a lesson with an investigator whose daughter 
wanted to use a straightener on some wildly curly hair!

 The new, dark-haired version of Sister Woodward

Monday, March 17, 2014

3-17-14: Early Easter and Little Things

My official release date has been returned to the 29th of July (flying home on the 30th) due to the ill-timed closure of the Denver Temple for cleaning for the entire month of July, thus causing my brother to get married in June.
To make up for the initial sadness and disappointment, we celebrated Easter early.
Except we dyed hair instead of eggs.
Namely my hair.
Dark brown.
And surprisingly, it inspired a sense of contentment and strength.
So that, boys and girls, is why we dye Easter eggs.
Or hair.

Sometimes when I write home, I feel like all my weeks are kind of the same so I'm sorry if you tire of hearing the same pattern of finding a lot of people who oft times get lost again, teaching a boatload of lessons (how many lessons fit in a boat I'll never know), taking care of our less-actives and new members, and getting proposed to by various foreigners. Plus the occasional mentions of hair color change, though that probably doesn't deserve a mention in the normal pattern.

We see a lot of big miracles that somehow quickly fizzle into nothing and we see a lot of little miracles explode into big ones. I think that's kind of how life is. I wanted to talk about three little miracles that happened in about five seconds that turned into three bigger ones.

Miracle #1: Collivan, Angel, and family
Once upon the end of last transfer (4-ish weeks ago), we started up on our bikes after an appointment and I, being the faster biker, passed an African and his son speaking English. Seeing this as a good sign, I attempted to turn around and made the sign to Sister Rasmussen, who still hadn't passed him, that she should talk to him. So she did and said we were talking to people about God and asked if we could visit him sometime. He pointed to where he lived and said we could come to next week. The conversation probably took about 87 seconds and we weren't sure how fest (certain) the appointment would be.
But when we showed up the next week, the man, Collivan, was there with his wife, Angel, and their three little boys and adorable baby girl (seriously, I have never seen a cuter baby in my whole life). They are from Cameroon (naturally) and Collivan actually met missionaries in Belgium a while ago. We've been meeting with them every week since then and yesterday....COLLIVAN CAME TO CHURCH IN A SWEET ELVIS-LOOKING SUIT WITH ALL OF THE KIDS! Angel had to work, so she couldn't come, but it was so great because church is just hard for people to come to.
All the boys had sick (i.e. “cool”--for those of the older generation who may not understand this use of this word), polished dress shoes, and every ward member was tempted to kidnap Emedio, their adorable baby sister. Collivan works from 10pm-7am every day so he basically just went home to pick up the kids after work and came to church. He didn't even fall to sleep J.
So that is the Collivan family miracle.
We're going to double the primary with one fell swoop.
Also, a random funny thing about African children: they only speak German with us even if they speak English with their parents because they only hear Africans speaking English so they assume white people only speak German--haha.

Miracle #2 Nana from Ghana
Here we have an example of another 3-minute conversation on a bahn (train) where we just got his address and a super tentative appointment. Admittedly, the first appointment fell through, but he called us afterwards to apologize and ask us to come back again. We were late the next couple of appointments, but somehow had super great lessons in shorter amounts of time. This last encounter started with him opening the door and saying, "I have seven minutes. Is that okay for you?"
And because missionaries are naturally (or unnaturally) adaptable, we said of course and had an awesome power appointment where he told us he'd started reading the Book of Mormon and how he was super skeptical at first, but as he's read, it makes more sense and it doesn't seem possible anyone could make up such a book.
So he's also great.

Miracle #3 Annie
Okay, so Annie is actually still out of town (which was another damper on the week), but we miss her a lot and she was another quick miracle. We first met her when she gave us her number on a bus and said we should eat dinner together sometime J.

So little things are important. And sometimes when there seems to be so much to do and you don't know how to do everything, just remember Richard G. Scott's advice: "Don't magnify the work to be done; simplify it."
Because simple and small things make up the big things.

I love you all.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, March 10, 2014

3-10-14: Random Thoughts

We taught a bagillion lessons this week. Maybe it’s spelled bajillion. And maybe it wasn't actually as ridiculously high as that not-real number implies, but it was a lot. My memory of the week has blurred into one giant appointment where I can't seem to remember half of what happened. I think we'll go with the bullet point format so I can just spout out random things that happened as they come to me.

·  Like blind men who came to church. And by that I mean one blind man. We found a mostly blind guy named Daniel this week who Sis. Rasmussen fell in love with because he looks a little crazy but is actually normal and super sweet (Sis. Rasmussen seeks for those who need her love J). He came to church yesterday and was eagerly waiting outside his building for us to guide him to church. ‘Twas dear.
·  I learned a lot of things during my time with Sister Darrington last year. Like always wearing something under your skirt (shorts usually) so you are always ready for a service project if such an opportunity arises. #paintinganapartmentintightsandslipshorts
·  Annie was out of town on a business trip this week and we missed her dearly L.
·  We gave Frau Möbius, one of our eternal investigators, another baptismal date to pray and fast over and we've been talking with her a lot about how the Atonement of Jesus Christ can help us leave the past behind. During one of our phone calls with her, she randomly says to me, "If you were a man, I would marry you right now Claire." Yes, she insists on calling us by our first names and yes, Sister Rasmussen died laughing and said Frau Möbius would have to compete with all the Africans who are seeking our attentions. I love that woman though. Frau Möbius I mean. She has had a hard life and is so quirky and so honest (#everygermanever) and feels everything so deeply. It's okay if I don't see her get baptized before I leave Marzahn, but I hope she chooses to involve herself fully in the Gospel by making the covenant of baptism soon.
I'm out of bullet points and will just end with a scripture I read in Joshua 7:10 this week. God is talking to Joshua after the children of Israel made some mistakes and Joshua felt really bad. God says, "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?"
Which was a well-needed kick for me too. Because sometimes when things are hard or don't go as expected, I just want to lie on my face and cry. And I think it's okay to be sad for a little bit, but it's important to get up, to move, to go forward.
So go forward.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, March 3, 2014

3-3-14: Missionary School

This week at missionary school, I learned about expectations. Except I think I learned conflicting lessons about expectations. Because on one hand, expectations are terrible to have because when they get crushed, they are super crushed and mildly devastating. However, it is important for us to set expectations so we can plan and so that other people know what they expect from us. So maybe I'm still not excelling at that class; this week's assignment is to write a 4-6 page paper on how to have dreams without being devastated when they don't come to pass.
Just kidding.
Though the thought of writing a paper after such a long break is tempting... (only Claire would say this!)

So I didn't handle my disappointment so well when our planned overnight stay in Leipzig on the way to a conference was rudely changed and we went to Dresden instead. But that's learning right? Doing something bad/average and then making it better. Which is also kind of like repentance.


The Neubrandenburg sisters came down to serve with us for a day and it was great, as most exchanges are. Our adventures included finding a modern-day Socrates named Raphael (who is German), doing singing-finding in a ghetto building where a Polish man loved it so much that he chased us down after making an appointment with us to give us some chocolate (ps it was his birthday), and eating a döner kebap at 9pm. Okay, actually I didn't eat the döner. I watched my temporary companion eat the döner after a long day :)


Tempelfahrt! (Temple trip)
This week I went to the temple for the first time in over a year! Usually you're only allowed to go if you live within thirty-ish minutes of it, but we had a leadership council on Friday in Freiberg, where the temple is, so we all went after our meeting. That was why I was originally going to stay in Leipzig on the way there but then that dream was crushed. I still lived the other dream of going to the temple so I shouldn't complain. We stayed in Dresden instead, which is where Sister Rasmussen spent the first seven months of her mission, so she absolutely loved being there again.

The temple was marvelous. I remember going through the temple last year and letting myself get overwhelmed with the weight of adulthood on my chest and I am glad to say that I felt a profound peace there this time. When we were in the celestial room, which is supposed to give us a glimpse of Heaven, I asked one of the temple workers how she had gotten answers to prayers by coming to the temple. She said she had never heard a voice there, but rather deep feelings of assurance. Sometimes she's felt nothing coming to temple, but she said she knew it was her fault because she needed to fix something.

I thought that was insightful. Feeling peace and feeling good is great. Duh. Though sometimes that doesn't really seem like an answer to me because I don't know why my expectations haven't been met, what I need to do to change, or what choices I should make. And yet I think sometimes I need to feel that peace just so I know I can make a decision.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:
"A desire to be led by the Lord is strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality...We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment."  

Just another part of missionary school. Peace in a crazy world lets us know that God is there and that we are strong enough to make decisions using our good brains and our emotional hearts.

Her quote of the week:
"I am so tired, I need to go home and take a snap."
She meant nap.

Hopefully there weren't too many all-caps words this week. I might have gotten a little carried away in my enthusiasm.

Make good decisions. Keeping dreaming. Eat some carrots and ginger. That is all.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward