Thursday, September 19, 2013

Elder Ballard Lights a Flame in Rome

Elder M. Russell Ballard
The Sassari sisters arrived on Saturday, bringing the grand total of sisters in our apartment to 6, which I think is some kind of record.  Since our flight to Rome was leaving Cagliari at 6:30am, we were up dark and early at 3am. Yes!  And it's a good thing because Large Group of Missionaries (elders and sisters) plus very Small Car equals 4 trips the Anziani had to make to get us all to the airport.  But, alas, no fear, we all made it on time, and our flight went well.  Inflight snacks included a beverage and crackers.  I had apricot juice and super good crackers from Taranto.  Fun Fact: they call crackers salty cookies here.  After an hour, the plane touched down in Rome at 7:30am, and since the meeting started at 8am, and they only had one van, the Anziani very chivalrously told us sisters to go first.  In a mad dash, we shot through town and ended up only missing the opening prayer and first speaker.  The 8am meeting was actually a pre-meeting EXCLUSIVELY for MISSIONARIES with ELDER M. RUSSELL BALLARD.  So exciting!  We were blessed to have this opportunity because not all missionaries in the mission were invited to attend.  Only the ones that work in the Rome East and West stakes.  SO COOL.  Some of the major points of the meeting were these:

"We're Not Here to Take Away, but to Add to"
In a Catholic country, Lesson 1:  The Restoration is the most important lesson.  They need to understand about prophets, dispensations, and the pattern of apostasy.  They need to understand about the history of the priesthood and how the Catholic church does not have it.  The best response to someone who says, "We are not interested, we are Catholic," is to say, "That's great, and we are not here to take away your faith, but to add to it..." and then transition into discussion on the role of prophets and dispensations.

Raise Your Sights
"The future of the Church in Italy," he said, "is found in the youth." Apparently, nearly all leaders in Italy found the Church when they were between the ages of 12-40.  This is the age bracket we should target.  He suggested going to universities, cafes, and to places where youth and young adults hang out, but they must take priority when doing Finding.  He ended his remarks returning to the idea of raising our sights and our expectations of ourselves, our leaders, of members, everyone really.  Greater faith in the Savior's Might and Power will spearhead the work from here on out.  Emboldened with this perspective, he rallied us to Go and Do.  A rockin' talk!

That Makes Two!
Then he shook the hands of every missionary as we left the room.  That now makes 2 apostles' hands I have shaken.  The other being that of Elder Neil L. Andersen at a BYU devotional a few years ago (though my younger brother, Landon, has me beat.  He hugged Elder Andersen when he made an Apostolic visit to the Saratoga, California Stake a few years back.  Then, during the following General Conference broadcast when Elder Andersen was speaking from the pulpit, Landon pointed to the screen and declared, "I've hugged that man!")  It's a great feeling to have a personal encounter with an Apostle of the Lord.

Lighting the Flame: New Stake Leaders Announced
Then for Stake Conference, the new stake leaders were announced.  Here is the presidency for the new Rome West Stake:
Rome West Stake Presidency
Piero Sonaglia (1st Counselor), Alessandro Dini Ciacci (President), Giuseppe Viglietta (2nd Counselor)
All the new leaders for both stakes bore their testimonies, which was super cool.  Elder Ballard then spoke of the need for everybody to now step up.  Having a temple built in Italy is a very big responsibility.  The Lord expects a lot of the leaders and the members.  He then had the new stake presidencies stand up with President Waddoups and told them, in essence, "In your calling and areas, you are now charged with building up people and leading them in building up the kingdom of God."  He asked for a  raise of their right hand to signify that they agreed and were ready for this call.

Are You With Me?
He then asked the full time missionaries to come and line up in front of the pulpit (I was off to the far left).
photo from Sister Waddoups' Mission Blog
I think Ashley may be outside the boundary of the shot
Elder Ballard (at the pulpit) looked out to the members and said, "These missionaries are here as full time servants of the Lord.  They are here to work.  Use them.  You leaders, put the missionaries to work.  You members, work with them. Let them help you share the gospel with your neighbors and friends."  We, too, raised our hands in agreement.

Rally Call
And, in a sweeping rally call for the work and a rallying together, he then had all of the branch presidents and bishops stand up in the audience and told them that they were charged with working with us all to build up the wards/branches in which we were working.  "The Lord is expecting every one of you to prepare people for the Temple," he said.  Elder Ballard emphasized that if we work together, these 2 stakes could expand to become 3, 4, 5, or even 6 new stakes.  But it will take a unity of heart, mind, and might.  Quite a sight...and a feeling!  The Spirit was powerful, the room's energy - exciting.  Everyone felt it.  But the feeling only seemed to crescendo to an epic moment of reverence when Elder Ballard pronounced an Apostolic blessing on the members in Rome.  The exquisite sweetness of the Spirit was incredibly palpable.  What a moment.

It was a magnificent meeting, and it was fun to look out into the audience and recognize lots of members from Cagliari.  Every branch president from the island was there.  I was proud of our group of Sards!

Fanning the Flame
Not too long after, we headed back to Cagliari.  On the plane, I was able to chat with the two ladies sitting next to me, and got both their phone numbers.  Speriamo bene!

In the wake of that awesome rally by Elder Ballard, we have been really working on setting up appointments with members.  We want to fan the flame while it's hot and get these members to work with us.  Yesterday, we went through a long list of meno attivi (less actives) and ex-simpaticos (dropped investigators) and set up lots of appointment for this week and next.  We're hoping that we can get this ward pumped up (yes, we are now a ward - don't know what's going to happen with a possible leadership shift - the stake president has a long list of interviews, I will update you).

Warming Up to the Gospel
Rita and Sara had another lesson with us on Monday (initial intro in post Feragosto in Agosto).  We taught Lesson 3 - The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Super good.  The Spirit was there.  We also gave them the 20 October as a goal for baptism.  We asked them to think/pray about it.  They said they would.

English Course is on Fire
I love teaching English Course!  In the course re-structuring, we now teach in small groups of 5-10 people.  For 20 minutes, we speak only in English and work on building people up.  Then we ask questions and have them talk about themselves for a sort of get-to-know-you time.  Next, we do some practice activities, and then end with a spiritual thought.  Often the spiritual thought turns into a mini lesson as people start asking questions about scripture and/or the gospel.  We teach twice a week.  It is the coolest thing!  In my first lesson with my new companions (Sorella Caramia teaches with me), we offered a mini Lesson 1, and every student in the class took a copy of the Book of Mormon!

My Companions are the Coolest!
I love my companions!  Even though we're technically in two companionships - we feel like a companionship of four, which is why I call them all my companions.  Sorella Rost (who is from southern California, Valencia) is so great!  She can approach anyone and instantly generate frienship.  She can get anybody to talk to her - a real gift.  Also, she is a great cook - she was actually training to become a personal chef before the mission.  The other day, she made the best salsa I have ever eaten (sorry Brother Perry).

Sorella Caramia and Sorella Marquis are rock stars.  I am so glad to be working with three great sisters. We have become fast friends and love spending time in each other's company.  Sorella Caramia does not know English super well, but she does know a few songs in English, including one about peanut butter and jelly that is consistently stuck in my head (no pun intended).  Part of it goes like this:

         I'm peanut butter and you are jelly,
         sitting oh so happy on our little piece of bread.
         I remember the first time that I saw you,
         sitting 'cross the cupboard with your other jelly friends.
         You're so sweet, and I am chunky.
         You're low fat - well, I'm working on that -
         Cuz, I'm peanut butter and you are jelly,
         And we're oh so happy on our little piece of bread!

Cute song.  She found a recording of it on her phone, and in dull moments, we break it out to lighten up our day.  So glad to be in a companionship that works as well as peanut butter and jelly.  Here's the link to Peanut Butter and Jelly Song by Insideout a Capella:
The flame has been lit.  We're attempting to fan the flame in working with our good members so that we can spread the warmth and light of the gospel.  

L'amore e il Calore di Tutti!
Sorella Ashley Nef

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