Monday, April 28, 2014

4-28-14: The Length of Days‏

This week was long. Seven days to be exact.
As it turns out, every week is that long.
But sometimes the days seem to expand beyond their normal length.

I will start off the week by sharing why my companions have repeatedly encouraged me to stop talking to African men. Last week while I was waiting for my companions to finish their emails, I started talking to an African also waiting for something. I gave him a card and we went on our merry way, only to wake up the next morning to read this text:

"hi how are you sleeping well and it starts your day well lady I oumar and I want to know if you are married and if you have children you really be beautiful I want a very serious relationship between you and me"

Here's we pause and think, would such a text work on anyone?

Anyways, we thought it was funny and chose not to respond. (Parents do not be alarmed at the amount of marriage proposals in the past few months; I took that self-defense class for a wise purpose and have bodyguard companions plus I always have the option of ceasing to shower so my stench will drive others away).

After laughing about that, we went to help a member in our ward paint the inside of her house. She is from America and married a man from Fiji who is a member of another faith and they have two little kids that are artists in the making. They practice by drawing on all empty wall space within their reach. We destroyed their art by painting over it and Alicia was really grateful (#notsoproudmother). It was so good to be with them and feel a little like I was in America again J.  Plus that's the first service project I've done in a while, so it was double joy!

Saturday night we traveled to Hannover and stayed the night with the STLs there because on Sunday, all the missionaries in the Hannover areas went to church in a little city called Stadthagen in order to invite the missionary spirit. It was actually pretty cool to have so many missionaries at church and the Kosaks were there too.
Sister Kosak gave a great thema about "the Mormon glow." Meaning people often recognize members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints because of the way we look. Apparently radiating with peace or happiness or whatever other positive energies we sweat. We should explain to people why we glow (so they don't think we were born under radiation or something) so others can find that warmth as well.

Which leads to a quote from President Monson that I read this week.
"There is absolutely nothing in this world that will provide more comfort and happiness than a testimony of the truth."
That's why we glow in a non-radioactive way; we know the truth that God lives and has restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ to us today J.

On another random note, I just wanted to let you know our dritt (trio) isn't going to last after this week. President Kosak told us yesterday that one of us is leaving, though we don't know who.
So if you wrote me a letter, send it to the address in Berlin or wait until next week to see where I go.

Also.  I have ten weeks left on my mission.
I'm not freaking out yet, but I am a little too time conscious. Anyways, I thought every week until I go home I'd share something I've learned from my mission. So go.

10. I have learned how to pick and choose the battles that are worth fighting.

Tune in next week for number nine. Love you all J.
-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

4-22-14: You get used to it‏

There are lots of things you get used to as a missionary. Most of which I've forgotten by now but am occasionally reminded of by the absurdity of some situations.

So what did I get used to this week?

Rocking the Tricycle!
Yeah, we figured out how to assemble our companionship “tricycle” so that all three wheels are being used and our uptight little dritt (trio) has become a happy little dritt. The wheels started turning in harmony as we all made an extra effort to be more open with our feelings and try to be friends instead of just co-workers.

What else did I get used to?
Oh there’s a lot.

Like getting hit on by our investigators. I thought it was just a sister missionary thing, but Sister H kinda freaked out a little bit when some Africans we found last week began asking about our marital status. For some reason, that was totally normal for me. Possibly because my African senses begin to tingle whenever we see a black person and I just have to talk to them. However, I also know that not only does every African man love God, but that they all have a strong desire to get married. Our friend John from Nigeria unfolded the sad, traumatic tale of his past life and how everything would be solved if only he could get married to a German so he could stay in Germany forever. You German people watch out.
Anyways, we can usually overcome this problem by making clear our purpose is to talk about Jesus Christ and passing them off to the elders if their motives are questionable.

You also get used to awkward appointments of all sorts. Like our Monday Easter lunch, which kind of reminded us of Christmas dinner in "A Christmas Story" where they go to that Chinese place. An older lady in our ward wanted to make sure all five missionaries had somewhere to eat for Easter (which includes Friday, Sunday, and Monday here), and asked us to meet her at the church on Monday afternoon. We thought she would drive us to her house because she lives kinda far and the trains aren't super regular on holidays, but instead she took the sisters in her car and instructed the elders the walk two blocks to a Chinese buffet--possibly the only restaurant open on this day.
Because Germans take their holidays seriously and everything is closed.
Excepts Chinese buffets.
Maybe because they're Chinese and not German.

Anyways, she took us there and instructed us all to stuff our faces.
After the elders had eaten about 5 plates (being commanded to go back and get more every time their plates were clean), the member asked if we were full.
We all nodded vigorously and then she said, "I don't believe you."
To which Elder L inquired, "How much do we have to eat before you believe us?"
Which question she ignored.
It is hard to explain the awkwardness of our Easter Monday, but just think of "A Christmas Story."

What else am I getting used to?
Losing things.
Because not only have I lost two Monatskartes (monthly bus/train passes--price value 180 euro), a marked-up city map, a ward list, a new water bottle, and face wash, but also my camera with three full camera memory cards.
Which beautifully recorded the past six months of my mission.
Which I have been dreaming about scrapbooking since the first day of my mission.
Schade (ie so sad).
But to quote the famous words of Sister Kosak, "Life is about sucking it up."
So you get used to it.

Also, due to things both in and out of my control, I am once again returning from my mission at the beginning of July. I’m getting used to changed dates and plans of all sorts, and you should be too by now. J

The Chinese are growing are me too. We met with Ting yesterday and had a great lesson about Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. At the end she takes a minute to think and then says, "I have a question......I like beer." And then she starts giggling nervously and looks expectantly at us. How beer connected with our lesson and how that was a question, I don't know. But I think it showed she was thinking about what it would mean for her to believe what we do and to give up things that are hard.

But like I said, you get used to it.
You get used to keeping God's commandments and being happy because of it.
You get used to having the same schedule every day yet with new people.
You get used to saying goodbye.
You get used to introducing yourself, telling how long you've been on your mission, how many siblings you have, where you're from, where you've served, if you have a boyfriend/if you're married, etc.
You get used to having assigned best friends and learning to love them.
You get used to life never being easy, but never being too hard for you.
And to end with a quote from Elder M. Russell Ballard, "Never lose sight that nothing is too hard for the Lord."
He is the one who helps you get used to it.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, April 14, 2014

4-14-14: British People and Things That Bring Me Peace

Week 2 in Bielefeld and I still have all my appendages! Not that I had a fear of losing them, but in case that irrational fear crossed your mind, you need no longer maintain it.
We had teaching appointments this week, so that was a good thing. We are starting to gather our people. Because there's this weird thing as missionary where people become "yours" as you work with them and you feel displaced without them (Dustbowl style). So I'm glad I'm starting to feel “placed” again.

Who helped me feel placed?
Well British people for one.
Actually, I think one lady was from South Africa, but she wouldn't talk about her past, and she sounded British. She actually didn't like us that much, but we found her bluntness slightly endearing.  We also ate with a family from England in our ward, though, and it was really quite the refreshing cup of tea. For some reason, British English is the most amusing thing for me; plus they were a really funny family with four active children. I thought I'd include some excerpts of our conversations (cue a British accent in your head, otherwise it's not funny):

--Six-year old daughter falls down after getting chased by her brothers with nerf guns.
Sister Hansen, trying to comfort her, asks: "Do you want a gun?" (offering her a spare nerf gun given to us by the boys), while the six-year-old's mom asks, "Would you like a cup of tea?"
What does that tell you about how Americans solve problems compared to English people?

--Dad talking to ten-year old son: "And why will you not do that?”
Son: "Because you'll kill me if I do.

--Dad to same son: "I will always be your father, so I will always be your dictator."

I was a fan of them.

Then there were the other random things and people that helped me feel peace this week.
Because it was another hard week.

My companions and I work at different speeds and I was kinda that awkward third wheel rolling in front of the bike instead of trying to figure out how to attach myself to it. We talked for a while last night about how to work together better because we all know we aren't really unified, which just makes missionary work 24x harder. It’s still a work in progress.

I was therefore especially grateful for the peace the Spirit brought to me this week through things like...
· Meeting with Nigerians and feeling completely at home and in my element with them as they called us "you people" and I knew it really just meant "you guys"
· Walking through the boonies (aka lots of green fields) in a place called G├╝tersloh just outside of Bielefeld with a Seventh Day Adventist man we found last week and talking about the restoration of Christ's church.
· Traveling on trains and busses and thinking about the beauty of the earth
· Being with families from our ward and getting excited to have a family someday and to see my own again.
· Meeting Ting, a Chinese student we also found last week. She is cute like Annie, but a little less air-heady. When asked how you build a relationship with someone to try to help her understand it's important to talk to God, she said, "Well, to build a relationship, you play badminton together." Unfortunately we can't play badminton with God, but now I know how to make friends :) Maybe my comps and I should start up some weekly badminton.

So, yes. The world is lovely. This week was hard and most days I really just felt like I wanted to survive. President Kosak gave words of wisdom to us a few months ago when he said, "Not shrinking is more than just surviving."
I don't want to merely survive or endure the end of my mission. I want to grow and to enjoy.
Working towards that.

I appreciate your thoughts and prayers and emails and notes :)
Love you all.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, April 7, 2014

4-7-14: Everlasting Beginnings

My move to Bielefeld has left me feeling more or less like a new missionary again, back at the beginning of my mission instead of the aged missionary I'd become. Vulnerable, exposed, prone to getting lost, torn from my cozy home in Berlin. That's about how it goes. Which is good for strong bones (just like calcium) and ideally, it should (and likely will, with time) help me be in a focused state of growth for the next few months. Unfortunately, that didn't happen this week and it was kind of hard. At every wrong turn and knocked on door, I just thought of home and missed it dearly. Whatever home is now. I was most homesick for Berlin and my peeps there at the beginning of this week, but then that changed to homesick for my family and America this weekend. But then you can't really do anything about that when it comes except buck up and keep going because someday you'll be home, but right now your home is here.
So we did that.
Three by three.
Normally, missionaries go two by two, but sometimes you get uneven numbers of missionaries and so you go three by three. Which is actually more different than I thought it would be.
Here are the pros:
·  we can accept rides from men because we meet the proportion rule
·  we can also visit and teach men without awkwardly standing outside the door because of aforementioned proportion rule
·  we can talk to three people at a time when we are street contacting

Here are some of the cons:
·  we don't all fit on the sidewalk so someone walks awkwardly ahead or behind
·  it takes more effort to unite our thoughts and ideas
·  it's slightly overwhelming (to others) to approach a person on the street when there are three of you

None of us know how long we'll be together, so that's where that's at.
Bielefeld Beauties
The good news is that Bielefeld really is beautiful--a lot smaller, quieter, and more rural than any of my other cities. There are little dorfs (villages) around Bielefeld where a lot of members live so we take real trains to visit people fairly often. Or at least we will as the ball gets rolling. We all came to this area new and had approximately zero investigators left for us. We went to work and found eight people this week, so hopefully we'll be able to build up a teaching pool pretty quickly and I won't be so dang trunky. Despite taking the wrong bus an hour away to a wrong address anyways and also losing a 114 -euro monatskarte (train pass) that I'd bought the day before, I am glad to be here.
Also....I would like to introduce Bielefeld as the mini-Nigeria.
How Ghanaians picked Hamburg, Cameroonians Berlin, and Nigerians Bielefeld, I'll never know.
But rest assured, Africa lives strong in the smaller western cities as well.
and lastly.
General Conference.
Like usual. General Conference really is like Christmas for missionaries. And maybe some normal people too. It will have been my last time watching it in Germany and I got to watch it in English again J. I really loved President Uchtdorf's talk about gratitude and how we should be grateful in things and not for things. Sometimes it's easy to be grateful and see our blessings and sometimes it takes more effort, but gratitude increases our happiness. There are a lot of things that end in life that we tend to mourn, but really we just have a bunch of everlasting beginnings.
So I didn't end my mission when I left Berlin.
I'm just starting another everlasting beginning in Bielefeld.
Love you all J

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward