Monday, May 26, 2014

5-26-14: The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy

Let's start with the good.
Namely, Ting. Who is just the cutest Chinese girl ever.
And this week...she agreed to be baptized on July 20th! (date subject to change)
How did that happen to someone who didn't believe in God a week ago?

Well it started with lots of stress at work/school (whatever you call it when you are getting your PhD) as she felt like she couldn't meet with the varying expectations of supervisors. As she thought about the rising pressures, she said, "I remembered what the sisters told me, that I have a Father in Heaven, who loves me even if I don't meet others expectations. And then I felt a lot better."

She also committed to living the Word of Wisdom, giving up her coffee and tea and the chance to drink beer at parties (since she said she doesn't drink it alone). Her simple faith that she hasn't even noticed changing is so inspiring and we just adore her. We told her we would be there every step of the way to help her be ready for her baptism and she got a concerned look on her face and said, "So you won't be there afterwards?"
Then came the awkward part where we both had to explain we were going home relatively soon (as in before her baptism...) but that there would always be missionaries for her. Plus God, who is the most important J.

Some other memorable things she said (insert thick Chinese accent):
"I was reading a study about chocolate and they said chocolate has become more expensive because the Chinese discovered it was delicious!"
"I don't actually want to be a supervisor. I just want to be a mom. So if you know any open housewife positions, let me know."

To celebrate after our appointment, we went out to eat at Vapiano's and Ting ate Italian food Chinese style, crying out every few bites, "MMMHHH! DELICIOUS!!!"
She's our pride and joy, if you couldn't tell J.

And now for the bad
A member asked if she could cut our hair and we foolishly agreed. I felt a little like Samson as large curls fell from my head and I realized it was more than a little trim. Except I didn't lose any supernatural strength and though mildly saddened at first, it really wasn't that much hair (because I have an abundant amount to begin with). It’s probably the same length as when I came on my mission, which is actually not that bad. But I needed a bad thing in the week so I could still use my chosen email title, and I had been so proud of not cutting my hair for over 16 months.

So on to the crazy.
Fact: Missionaries are crazy-people magnets, thus leading us to many crazy experiences.
Such as sitting on a bahn (train) and having a man come up to us and ask how we are doing as we are about to get off. We say we are doing well as we all get off. He then proceeds to point to where he lives and invites us over for coffee and then clarifies he doesn't want any violence but the very presence of a statement like that indicates otherwise. We then move away and he takes our hands to kiss them as a farewell. Resisting the urge to run, we walk quickly in the opposite direction.

And where do we walk? Oh, we just go right on to see a crazy lady that a member told us to visit. Except we didn't exactly know how crazy she was. We approach her building and see this lady in a nightgown wandering outside the building looking under rocks and she asks if we want to go inside. We tell her we are looking for someone and then naturally, we find out she is indeed our intended contact. Unsure of whether we are visiting a mental institution or not, we cautiously follow her inside.
Only to walk into a room where we can't breathe because no one has opened a window in a couple of decades. There is no way to describe the scent of mold and cigarette smoke that enveloped us as she shut the door and the feeling as she then stared politely at us without sitting down. We said a brief prayer with her and left rather quickly to avoid any airborne plagues.

But, don't worry, the crazies just kept coming! Yesterday at church, we were happily waiting for Ting to come (which she did of course, since the Chinese seem to be more reliable than the Africans). However, before Ting came, an old lady entered the church and immediately hugged us around our necks (which was awkward because she's smaller than us) and then grabbed our arms and dragged us into Relief Society, where we sat as she continued to cling to us. We had seen her once at a bahnhof before and she's also seen our elders, but somehow knew where our church was. As we sat during the lesson, she made us open her water bottle and punch out a pill for her to take. Then she started shaking really badly and moaning and we had no idea what is going on (insert frantic looks around the room for help), but then she calms down after a 43-second freak out session and asks us to escort her to the bathroom. She stayed all three hours at church, but thankfully our ward mission leader helped take care of her the rest of the time.
And guess what? She called us this morning to say she'll be coming every week.

Anyway, let's move forward to life lessons.

#6. You make time for what is important. I have met so many people on my mission who say they didn't have time to read in the Book of Mormon or pray or go to church. And every time they say that, I don't believe them. Because we fill our time with what is important to us. We make our own priorities. I know people work and have lives and need to sleep, but five minutes is not a big sacrifice- cut five minutes from some other activity. I've also met lots of busy people with so much on their plates and yet they continue to make time for church, for family, for maintaining their relationship with God.
As Elder Bednar put it, "Ordinary people who faithfully, diligently, and consistently do the simple things that are right before God will bring forth extraordinary results."
I will always make time for the little things of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because that's when little daily wonders happen.

And for your reading enjoyment, I thought I'd include a list Sister Hansen and I made this week.

Fears Missionaries Have about Going Home
· relating to normal people again
· how to act with your family
· adjusting to babies born and spouses added (to friends/family back home, not us)
· technology
· dating
· catching up with everything
· feeling a lost sense of purpose
· forgetting everything you learned on your mission
· losing contact with people from your mission
· being awkward and only knowing how to make missionary jokes
· being alone
· realizing you didn't figure out everything out on your mission and your mission didn't make you perfect
· forgetting the mission language
· knowing your dog probably won't recognize you
Fortunately, we can boldly face these fears in not too many weeks.
Have a grand week J.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, May 19, 2014

5-19-14: Life--It's a Work in Progress

This week was splendid with lots of teaching, which is one of the best parts of missionary work especially when you teach great people from China, Africa, Peru, Germany, Fiji, America, England, and Kazakstan.
Because we're in Germany so it just makes sense that we teach so many different ethnicities that actually don't speak German, right?

Thought I'd do a couple of people spotlights this week.
Starting with....

Osa from Nigeria who has a crazy and destructive 15 month-old-son who enjoys long screaming sessions when we try to teach. He also enjoys ripping out cords on walls, tearing up pictures and scriptures, and dumping pots of grease out on the floor (why you would save a pot of grease I do not know....). And when the destruction reaches too great a scale or the floor is too greasy to walk on, Osa takes a blanket and ties him to her back and he becomes more or less sedated.
I guess that spotlight was more about her son, but whatevs.

Ting from China who you already know (vicariously) and love (though probably a lesser love than what we have for her). She is here working on her PhD and shares an office with our ward mission leader from church (Br. Kennington). Last week she had a friend commit suicide and things like that are not so easy to handle, but we had a really good talk with her about hope in life and things worth living for and the importance of life to God because He loves us. Towards the end of our lesson, she said she should have invited her friend to meet with us, because maybe if she had known that she was a precious daughter of God and there is more to life than worldly success, she wouldn't have killed herself. Ting still doesn't know if what we say is true, but I know she feels the hope that the Gospel brings when we are there.
Ting also came to church this week and liked it; Elder Adler of the Seventy belongs to our ward and he's not always there, but he was yesterday and told her (in his best apostolic, deep German voice) that she came from a great nation and that this church was where she needed to be.
THEN she came to the Kenningtons with us for dinner with their darling little girls and she loved it.
It's really cool to see the little progress she makes each week J.

And since we're already talking about the Kenningtons (yes, I'm classifying this email as a conversation if you are reading because it's kind of like me talking), let's talk more about how wonderful Br. Kennington is. He and his wife are American and have three cute, crazy little girls that he just loves.
And because he loves them, he also loves ponies.
Because they naturally love ponies.
So our weekly correlation meetings usually have various references to My Little Pony. Such as comments like, "Yeah, I wasn't very happy with how the last season of MLP (my little pony) ended...yes I'm 30 years old and play with ponies."
Our ward mission leader assistant is also about 30, but he has three little boys and they wage three-hour long nerf gun wars together.
So we have a good mix of members to help us teach and visit people as well as keep our morale up J.

Also President Kosak is great.
Who knew there were so many great people in the world?
Maybe they all hide in Germany.
Or maybe I wasn't very observant before.
I had my last normal interview with him this past week before our final interview (that will come in a few weeks before I leave) and it was, as usual, uplifting and deeply personal. I asked how to maintain 100% focus and he got a worried expression on his face and said, "Sister Woodward! Do not worry about losing focus. You should be thinking about your future. You should be excited about what comes next. I have no question that you will finish strong."
So that was nice to hear J.

And the next message from my mission...
#7. Life is a process. We are not expected to be perfect immediately, to build Rome in a day, so to say. It is really amazing to look back at the beginning of my mission and see that I am able to do things now I couldn't do then, even though I still have a long way to go. But I think I've always expected perfection from myself, and on my mission, I've learned perfection is process, not a state of being, made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I have two quotes to tag onto that. The first comes from Elder Cardon:
" His mercy, He (the Lord) allows for improvement over time rather than demanding immediate perfection."

and then from Elder Richard G. scott:
"We need not worry if can't simultaneously do all of the things that the Lord has counseled us to do. He has spoken of a time and a season for all things. In response to our sincere prayers for guidance, He will direct us in what should be emphasized at each phase of our life. We can learn, grow, and become like Him one consistent step at a time."

What's important is that we are willing to try, to try to understand, to get answers, to find truth, to keep going, to keep His commandments, to follow Him.

Life: it's a work in progress. And so am I.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, May 12, 2014

5-12-14: Horizontal Planning

Most people do most things vertically.
We are not most people.

We spent many moments this week in the horizontal position, meaning we were on our stomachs on the ground for 72% of our planning sessions. You might ask, how does one end up with such a large percentage of horizontal positions? Well my friends, that comes from
a.) laughter and b.) exhaustion.
Which isn't really a bad combo.
We'll start expounding with the laughter of the week.
And by we, I mean I, because despite doing everything with my companion, I am writing this email alone and therefore should use the singular pronoun.

So yes. Sister Hansen and I laughed our heads off this week (figuratively--never fear, our heads are still intact) and we worked a lot better together as a pair than as a threesome. Sometimes I even felt like my smile was too big for my face. That is always a good feeling.

We met with a lot of less-active members this week (at the present, we have been working with more of those than investigators), one of whom is a lady from Nigeria named Glory. She'd cut off contact with the church after marrying someone of a different faith, but told us that she missed our church and wanted to come back some day. Her husband tried to be nice to us and gave us each huge bottles of maltz beer. Which is a non-alcoholic beer, so technically allowed. It also happens to be utterly displeasing to the taste. And by that I mean truly disgusting. But he was trying so hard to be nice to us and so we politely stomached as much as we could and left without offending anyone.

Here are some humorous demographics. Okay, just one demographic. If that's even the right word.
Sister Hansen is approximately 6" tall.
Our Chinese investigator Ting is approximately 4'9" (meaning she buys all of her clothing and shoes in the children section).
This week she had another urgent question for us, more specifically for Sister Hansen: "What is life like as a tall person?"
We came to find out that life is pretty similar for tall and short people.

Back to lessons.
We spent precious creative energy preparing a Family Home Evening lesson for Alisha and Sai, our favorite American-Fijian couple.We came up with this great idea of bringing a huge chocolate bar and talking about the church Christ set up when He was on the earth and how pieces were broken apart after His death and the death of His apostles and how the only way to restore His church was to re-melt the chocolate to restore what had been broken or lost.
I don't know how well I explained that, but it sounded good to us at the time.
Except we forgot to factor in two small children with enormously large appetites for chocolate. So we tried go a little faster than planned so that not all of the chocolate would be eaten before the lesson was over, but I think they understood our sweet metaphor.
Lesson learned though: chocolate does not make the best drawn-out object lesson.

And now for the exhaustion.
It rained every day (because apparently that's what it does here for the entire month of May) and we got off/on the wrong bus stops twice, which resulted in a lot of side-of-the-highway walking in the rain.
Which is possibly still part of the laughter I think.
It's good we've been able to laugh so much because both of us are a little tired after going for so long and a little overwhelmed by changes we know are happening in our homes but we can't prepare for.
We talked a lot this week about what it means to go home--that it's not the end, it's not a happily ever after, it's just a continuation of a lot of middle. I read something from President Uchtdorf this week that said, "Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not an effort of once a week or once a day. It is an effort of once and for all."
Being a missionary is not just for a day, a week, eighteen months, or two years. It is once and for all.

And so one of the lessons I'll be taking home...
#8. It's okay to talk to strangers. I was always terrified before my mission to make phone calls, to ask for help in stores, but as it turns out, it's not so bad and you get to meet so many new people and maybe make their day by a little cheerful conversation.

Live the dream this week.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, May 5, 2014

5-5-14: The Breaking of the Dritt

We liked her Lord of the Rings reference in her title J

After a short but somehow long 5-week transfer, our dritt (trio) is being broken up and Sister H and I are staying in Bielefeld to once again ride a two-wheeled bicycle. Sister M is going to Marzahn in Berlin (aka my beloved home of seven months). So I shouldn't be too jealous since I got a long time there. She is a lucky one though J.
Speaking of Marzahn, remember blind Daniel who maybe isn't that blind who we were teaching in Marzahn? He got baptized yesterday! And I heard it was marvelous; Sister Rasmussen was exactly who he needed to teach him J.

This week we learned the following in Bielefeld:
· Adam was actually a golem (he was made of clay and was supposed to be obedient so what other conclusion can we make? note: this is a lie told to us by a less active member)
· Drinking away your misery actually only adds to it.
· Always bring an umbrella (for sudden prolonged outpourings of cold rain)
To expand more on the second point, we went by a less-active member’s house this week and left a note and she called us the next day and asked if we could come over asap. So we did and she told us she was too wasted the other day to answer the door and was still super drunk because she'd done nothing but drink and sleep the past few days because her third child had just been taken away from her for his own safety.
Basically her life is just a downward spiral right now and she knows the church is true, but hasn't been able to use the Gospel to lift herself out of that hole. So that was really heartbreaking to see, but it made me think of two quotes from talks I'd read earlier this week.

The first comes from our favorite German, President Uchtdorf.
"The church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling, and the exhausted. It is filled with people who desire with all their heart to keep the commandments, even if they haven't mastered them yet."

And from Elder Holland:
"We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions."

I know that's true. I know that we find strength to keep going and growth in the church and through the Savior. We are more than what we seem.

And now for some random snippets of information:

Top three lies missionaries hear:
--I'll call you
--I'm coming to church
--We can meet next week on this sketchy corner

German language clarification of the day (thank you German in Review)
"Many grammarians think that mit-phrases express agency. But they are really nothing more than simple adverbial phrases."
Okay, actually I just like that there are people who study grammar and get together to talk about what kinds of words express agency. Just thought I'd enlighten you all.

And continuing with my list from last week...
#9. It’s easier to give it all than trying to hold something back. I was terrified of giving everything up before my mission, but I've come to realize that I am so much happier when I just give everything. Plus the easiest time to give everything is right now, when that's all I have to do.
So give your all. Hold nothing back.

Have a swell week.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward