Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Buon Natale

Christmas lights at the Poletiama; Opera House

Christmas lights along a Palermo street
Days leading up to Christmas have been filled with a chill in the air, warm hearts, amazing dinner appointments, gorgeous Christmas lights, spirit-filled lessons, and teaching of Christ.

Another Giuseppe!
Our teaching pool has found yet another Giuseppe. Yes, this makes Giuseppe #4.  He is a student of English Course and we had a pretty rockin' lesson on the Restoration this week that was only amplified by testimony of the Book of Mormon.
     "The way you can know if Joseph Smith actually saw God and Jesus Christ, and that Christ restored His Church - is through the Book of Mormon," we said.  "Giuseppe, we talk about this book all the time in our spiritual thought session after English Course because the book is that important.  It is another Testament of Jesus Christ.  Through it we can not only come to know more of Christ, but we can know Him personally.  Written by prophets between 600BC and 400AD, the ancient record was then translated by Joseph Smith by the power of God.  
     "The great thing about this is that you don't have to take us at our word.  You can know for yourself. There is a Promise in this book (Moroni 10:3-5) that challenges any reader to ask God.  Ask Him if it is true, and the Holy Ghost will answer.  That is what we are inviting you to do, Giuseppe."  Giuseppe agreed to read. 
"The only problem [anyone] has to resolve for himself
is whether the Book of Mormon is true.
For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ,
Joseph Smith was his prophet,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true,
and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.
Our main task is to declare the gospel and do it effectively...
Every man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith,
and there he must make his stand."
President Ezra Taft Benson
Another Testament of Jesus Christ
Christ Appears in America by Arnold Friberg
In a day when many claim that the "Mormon Church" is not a Christian one, it's interesting to note that the Book of Mormon has nearly 500 references to Jesus Christ by name.  In 531 pages of text, that averages nearly one reference/page.  Of all other scripture, only the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in the New Testament even come close (and that's because the Gospels document the earthly life of Christ). (Charles D. Tate, Research and Perspectives)

Even though the Book of Mormon has 1,349 fewer verses than the New Testament, the Book of Mormon makes 108 MORE references to the Lord Jesus Christ.  So, yes, the Book of Mormon is a Christ-oriented book.  It points the reader to have greater faith in Jesus Christ and greater hope in eternal life.

To those who say we do not worship Christ - we only need to point to the Book of Mormon.  If they only read the last 13 1/2 pages of the book (the Book of Moroni), they will find 215 references to the Savior (and that's in just 13 pages!).  So, the Book of Mormon is a volume of scripture that centers on God the Father and His son Jesus Christ.  It records the Lord's dealings with the Nephites and witnesses to the world that the Bible is true, that Jesus is the Christ, and that God still speaks from the heavens to us, and is actively engaged in our lives.
Christ in the Americas by John Scott
Check out this conversion story of Jamaican born Chris Cook who is now a Bishop in England.

Painting by Heinrich Hofmann
The Abundant Life
That's why, in this Christmas season, we don't hesitate to teach the Book of Mormon, because it draws us closer to Christ.  Someone once called the Book of Mormon the Handbook on the Atonement.  I suppose that is because when we read and live by its truths, His grace reaches into our hearts healing wounds, lifting perspective, lightening burdens, and filling us with love.  Filled with His love, life becomes so much more happy and abundant.
"The Book of Mormon helps us understand
that God's commandments are not
a restrictive list of dos and don'ts
but guideposts to a happy,
abundant life."
Preach My Gospel, page 108

Welcome Sorella Mikesell
The rest of the week was spent helping Sorella Wiltbank pack, and then with the arrival of Sorella Mikesell, to help her unpack.  Mikesell is 26, from Utah, carries a passion for helping the less fortunate, and is a real riot to be around.  We get along super dooper well, and with the District - she's a perfect fit.  She has a hard time with the language, but we will be working on that.  No problem.

Saturday, we showed her the area while we hit the streets doing some Finding.  We showed her the Opera House and Cathedral.  We got brioche, which is a giant ice cream sandwich (and I don't mean the kind we have in America).  This is a scrumptious buttery roll, cut open and generously stuffed with gelato, then drizzled all over with a hardening chocolate.  It's a heart attack in your hand, but so delicious! Yum.  

Ballaro, Palermo's Open Arabian Market
In our wanderings, we stumbled upon Ballaro, a really cool Arabian open Market in the neighborhoods behind the Opera House.  It is probably the oldest of Palermo's outdoor markets (1,000 years old).  The derivation of its name is unknown, though it may have roots in a North African village, Balhara, from which most of the market's original traders came.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables, spices, swordfish, squid, sausages, and meats of all kinds pack the tables that line the streets, leaving a narrow passageway down the middle of the street for the public to peruse the wares.  It's a joyfully chaotic market.

San Nicolo di Bari
San Nicolo di Bari
Bari, Italy: City of Santa Claus
Sorella Mikesell just came from the city of Bari, a fishing town on the Adriatic sea (the back heal of Italy's boot). Bari, Italy's patron saint is San Nicolo.  As in, Saint Nicholas.  As in Santa Claus.  Poor thing was forced to leave Santa Claus' city a week before Christmas!  She says it was like having the North Pole in Italy.  But she also told me a few things I didn't know about the original Santa Claus.

San Nicolo was born 260AD the only son of a wealthy Christian family in Patara, a Greek-speaking colony of the Roman Empire located in modern-day Turkey.  One account even said that he was a Moor.  As a young man, he became bishop of Myra, Lycia (modern-day Turkey) and later, under the direction of Constantine, was one of the Bishops to sign the Nicene Creed in 325AD. Because he spent his life serving others, he is known as the patron saint of sailors, merchants, children, and the unjustly accused.

San Nicolo holding a trio of gold balls
The most famous of all the legends surrounding Nicolo became the basis for his popularity as a gift-giver.  There are numerous versions of the legend but they all begin with a poor man that could not afford dowries for his three daughters, which made them unsuitable for marriage.  With no prospects and no promising future, the man thought of forcing his daughters into prostitution.

When Nicolo caught wind of this sad news, he used his inherited wealth to help. On three occasions (one for each daughter), he came in the night and tossed a gold ball (or bag of coins) through the window which landed in shoes or stockings that were drying by the fire.  Word spread of San Nicolo's generosity and, as they say, the rest is history.

So, how did San Nicolo become associated with Bari, Italy?  Funny you should ask.  San Nicolo died from old age (a rarity for most saints) December 6 in 343AD and his bones were laid in a Greek sarcophagus in the Myra cathedral, which quickly became a popular pilgrimage site, and there they remained for 700 years.  But when the city fell under Seljuk rule, Christians feared not being able to visit the famous shrine.

So, in 1087, sailors from Bari boarded 3 ships and headed for Myra where they snuck into the cathedral, crow-barred open the tomb, and, in a race against the Venetian sailors who wanted to do the same, they spirited the saint's bones away, narrowly escaping the townspeople who were also in hot pursuit.  En route back to Italy, they built a beautiful box to hold Nicolo's remains, and the casket was eventually housed in a massive cathedral built specifically in his honor: Basilica di San Nicola. So, the Adriatic port city of Bari, Italy, is in fact the final resting place of Saint Nicholas.

Merry Christmas to Me!
Italian Ceramic Nativity
I received a shipment from the mission office of letters and packages!  I got a package from the Stake Young Women for Thanksgiving (pumpkin spice cookie mix - YUUUUMmmm) and something from the Campbell Ward, which I am opening on Christmas.  I got Christmas cards from the Erskines, Betty Magnilia (whose letter was adorable), Zion's Choir, Grandma (beautiful card!), and the Middletons.  Really sweet of everyone. Makes me WAY happy!  And I got my other set of luggage (that they had me leave behind in Cagliari, Sardegna) FINALMENTE!! Which means I finally have the bulk of my winter clothes. Warmth!

What a wonderful time of year - celebrating Christ's birth.  Christ wasn't just born - he was sent.  Sent to this earth to not only bring life, but bring it more abundantly.

CAN'T WAIT TO TALK TO MY FAMILY ON THE 26th!!!  Love to you all.  
Have a Christ-Filled Buon Natale,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Breaking Boxes and Break-Ups

Our Miniature Nativity (I like how Jesus is just as big as Mary and the Angel)

Breaking Point:  "Temple Marriage, like Salvation, is Free"
I and my companion run the English Course - Basic Level Class, and the other set of sisters teach
Intermediate English Class.  As mentioned in the previous post, all of the district's investigators have somehow managed to move into the Intermediate Class.  Josie and Guiseppe are in there, Francesca, Angela and Allesio and several other promising individuals are in there.  So they have a lot of spiritual potential sitting in that room.  For spiritual thoughts lately, they have been doing question and answer sessions.  They open it up for any student to ask questions (usually Francesca asks something that leads into good discussion), and everyone shows interest and asks further questions.

On Tuesday, Josie starts off the spiritual thought session by raising her hand and telling everyone about her experience of coming to Church and how wonderful it was and how everyone else should come. Francesca, at one point, gets to talking about the Book of Mormon and testifies about it (again), and Josie interjects that she too is reading and believes it is true.  Angela then raises her hand and says the same thing - she's been reading and believes it's true (she's only taken 1 or 2 lessons).  The Temple was then brought up, and the sisters began explaining Temple marriage.  They had the temple magazine with pictures that they showed the class.  The students were struck by the beauty of it all and started asking lots of questions.  Francesca stepped in and testified about it as well.

That's when another student blurts out, "Sure, Mormons are married forever, but they don't tell you how many times!"  
     Before the missionaries could even respond, Francesca turned in her seat, looked at this student point-blank and said, "NO.  This is their Church.  Their English course.  Their spiritual thought - and you don't even know what you are talking about!"
     Josie leaned into Francesca and asked, "What did she say?"
     "I'll tell you later," Francesca said,  "but it was something very duro."  Francesca and Josie are friends now.  Things at that point got a little loud and the sisters had to calm everyone down.
     Marriage is something you have to pay for in Italy, so the sisters reverently mentioned, "Marriage in the Temple, like salvation, is free."  Instantly, everything in the room hushed as the women sat in awe.
     "How beautiful!" was all they could say.

Brigham Young Women's Club
Usually spiritual thought segments run 5-10 minutes, but this was easily 20-30 minutes that this discussion was going on.  Francesca, Josie, and Angela all were bearing testimonies all over the place and taking on all the other students that were being a little rude or downplaying the beliefs of the Church.  The trio were testimony-bearing Ninjas as they were "breaking everyone's boxes" (explanation on that expression in a second) that the sisters have named them the "Brigham Young Women's Club" (because Brigham Young here has the reputation for taking people down with his words).

Rompere le Scattole - Breaking Boxes
Rompere le scattole - "Breaking boxes":  idiomatic expression in Italian for chastising/scolding/shutting people down/using sheer words to destroy people or putting them in their place.  Actually, it doesn't always have to be with words.  It could be through actinos (actions) as well.
Alma Arise by Walter Rane
painting: ldsart.com
Christ and the Moneychangers by Carl Bloch
painting: ldsart.com

For example:
•  Twice, Jesus drove out moneychangers from the Temple and broke their boxes.
•  The Angel confronting Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah broke their boxes.
•  Jesus fasting in the wilderness 40 days and Satan came to tempt him - Jesus broke Satan's boxes!
•  Brigham Young was known to verbally break people's boxes.
•  And, if I were to spend another week sick, President would probably break my boxes.
That is your Italian tip of the day!  Rompere le scatolle.  It's basically the favorite expression of every missionary, ever.

Cold-Flu Breakthrough
And yes, I was sick again this week!  I thought I was doing better, then I crashed and burned.  Wednesday was pretty rough, as was Thursday.  So, I got a blessing from the elders on Friday and, BOOM!  Better the next day.  I spent Friday evening inside with my companion, and we watched a DVD of Mormon messages that Anziano Duffin's dad put together and let us borrow for the evening.  I am feeling WAAAAYY better now, so I really should be good to go for the week.

Breakout Mini Zone Conference
The Zone.  I'm the angel with the sagging halo.
My Dayplanner is the one with the hat puffball
When I say mini, I mean mini - it was only 2 hours.  We talked about the Spirit, and Sorella Bradford and Anziano DiCaro gave a super great addestramento (talk) on making sure we live our lives so we "lose the battle against the Spirit" - meaning giving-in to the Spirit instead of fighting against it. Then for President Waddoups' addestramento, we re-enacted the Nativity.
     I was an Angel with Bradford
     Nickle and Wiltbank were Narrators
     Duffin was a Sheep
     Hurlburt was a Wise Man
     Robinson was Mary
     DiCaro was the Donkey :)
These roles were assigned to us by the President, by the way.  It was very nice, and we sang Christmas songs.  Our District came with matching scarves for the girls, matching ties for the guys, and our planners - when puzzled together - create a giant Christmas picture.  All in the fun of unity.

Christmas Break-Up
TERRIBLE NEWS.  Because Christmas flights are basically impossible, missionaries going home this transfer have to go home before Christmas (Merry Christmas for their families!).  But this means that there are some missionaries who need companions, which means some people must move around.  President originally told us that our District was safe, we didn't have to worry.  Then at Zone Conference on Thursday, he reneged and said we might have to worry.  Sure enough, we got the call on Friday.  Sorella Wiltbank is being transferred to Rome 2.  Her plane leaves Wednesday morning. :(((  Dang it!  I only got
1 1/2 transfers with her!  We were all surprised and pretty bummed.

But the good news is that her new companion is - drumroll please...Sorella O'Connor!  So cool!  I told her all about Sorella O and I just know they are going to be best of friends.  Roma 2 is like the paradise of the mission - it is the most established area with a million missionaries, the mission office, the Temple grounds, all the cool sites of Rome, and a great ward that has been growing so fast it has had to be divided two times in the last 2 years to create new wards.  She is going to have a blast.

Breaking-in A New Companion
My new companion is Sorella Mikesell.  I have heard that she is super nice and an absolute riot - really witty humor.  Bradford says that she served in the same area as her for 3 transfers and thinks we'll get along well.  Mikesell was in Sorella O's group in the MTC and they are good friends.  I remember one time Sorella O saying, "I just hope you get to meet her."  And, looky here, waiting for her arrival as my companion!

So, that is the GIANT news for this week.  Pretty sad for us as a District, but we plan on making our last District Meeting together (tomorrow) a super awesome one as we exchange our Secret Santa gifts. Fun!
Me, DiCaro, Wiltbank, Duffin, Robinson, Nickle, Bradford, Hurlburt
The Wall of Boxes
Bad information mixed with a bad spirit can lead to some prejudiced behavior.  Not that the people are bad, just misinformed.  That's what happened this last week in English Course when a few cutting accusations flew through the room.  What countered them, however, were two missionaries and a squad of bigotry-demolition experts - the Brigham Young Women's Club.
     Their charge:  Blast bias into dust.
     Their weapon:  A fusillade of testimony.
     Their mission:  Break down barricades that separate Heavenly Father's children from each other.
That's something we can all do.  Are there any Walls that separate you from a relationship with your Savior?  There you sit - on one side.  And on the other are gospel truths that others (not of the faith) have twisted or told you to disdain.  What do you do?  Who do you believe?

Jesus was in The Business of Breaking Boxes
The Jews were taught to hate the Samaritans in Jesus' day.  Talk about a Wall of Boxes.  The apostle John wrote, "The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9).  The two cultures had avoided each other for a century.  Jews disagreed with Samaritan behavior, so Samaritans were blacklisted.

Jesus, however, played by a different set of rules.  He was known to walk through Samaria when others walked around.  He visited the Samaritan woman at the well when others would have shunned.  He sent Philip to Samaria to teach an Ethiopian when others would have hesitated, and he told the parable of the Good Samaritan - all to show that he loved to Break down Boxes.

Jesus came to teach that wall-builders separate, but His Church was established to Unite.
Jesus Christ...is our peace, who hath made both one,
and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
That he might reconcile both unto God in one body...
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Ephesians 2:13-14, 16,18
The gospel creates a new people, a people motivated to unify, to help, uplift, and inspire.  And, if someone else's shortsighted comments or actions are hurtful or damaging - then it's time for Breaking Boxes.  Jesus is in the business of Breaking Boxes in order to keep the unity.  His goal from the beginning has been to create one flock with one Shepherd (John 10:16).

On a personal level, if there's a wall dividing you from a relationship with the Savior, how's about breaking a few boxes yourself.

Ask questions from those who know the truth, then pray, and follow the Spirit.  As you follow those feelings that are Uplifting and Happy and Peaceful - that's the sure-fire way to know it's true.  Positive Joyful Peace is the gauge.  And when you KNOW it's true - BOOM - boxes down.

I'm so grateful to have had these past couple of months with Sorella Wiltbank.  She's a Finding machine.  Rome 2 is lucky to be getting her.

One last Gelato together!

Love to you all.

Rompere le Scattole, and Buon Natale!
Sorella Ashley Nef

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Directions Game

Robinson, Bradford, me, Wiltbank
Sick as a Dog (Where does that term come from anyway?)
This last week - not much has happened.  Part of the reason being that I came down with the same thing my companion had last week - a super nasty cold!  It's mostly gone now, just mildly congested at this point.  While it was at its worst, I was needing to stay inside and sleep.  That thing had me beat.

The Directions Game
But I still managed to go to all of our English Course classes, which were great.  This last week, our class theme was on giving people, or asking for, directions.  So we set up a couple of mazes and treasure hunts in which the students had to either give or take directions in English.  Some faltered a bit, needing help and practice, while others made it more easily.  Of course, those who knew English best, breezed through.  But, ALL students had an absolute BLAST.

Holstered Guns
Super good news:  Josie surprised us this week.  We had a lesson in which we discussed Priesthood and Authority, and everything made perfect sense for her.  We were ready to go in with guns blazing and blast the lesson into her, but we didn't need to.  We simply explained the Restoration over again (lesson 1), emphasizing how the Lord has ALWAYS worked with prophets.

The Lord has Always Worked with Prophets
From Adam to Abraham to Moses and onward.  We read a verse from the Old Testament.
Surely the Lord God will do nothing,
until he revealeth his secret
unto his servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7



painting by Rembrandt

Same Prophetic Pattern throughout Time
We talked about how the same pattern has always occurred with prophets throughout the centuries: A man is chosen of God and sent, in the power of the Priesthood, to preach and administer the gospel. People eventually reject the gospel and kill the prophets, which temporarily causes the gospel to be lost among men.  But God loves his children, so he sends another prophet to restore the Truth and Power that was lost.  This occurs again and again in the Bible.

Jesus Christ Established His Church and Called Apostles
Then we cited forward a few centuries (from Old Testament times to New Testament) to when Christ established His Church with apostles and prophets.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners,
but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.
Ephesians 2:19-20
Christ Ordaining the Twelve Apostles
painting by Harry Anderson
And he (Jesus Christ) gave some apostles; and some prophets;
and some evangelists (patriarchs); and some pastors (bishops) and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith,
and of the knowledge of the Son of God...
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro,
and carried about with every wind of doctrine.
Ephesians 4:11-14
Then we talked about how after Christ and the Apostles were killed (an Apostasy occurred), there were no more apostles and prophets upon the earth.  Like in the past, the Authority and Power of God were lost (meaning, it was removed from the earth and taken back to heaven from whence it came).  During those dark ages, Christians tried living the gospel as well as they could remember, but in time, without the guidance of a prophet and apostles, much of the Truth was forgotten and skewed, and many different churches began to emerge.

Truth and Authority Restored
God, the Father, and Jesus Christ
appear to the Prophet Joseph Smith
painting by Del Parson
Eventually, God called a man, Joseph Smith, as a Prophet to restore His Truth and Power to the earth, just like in ancient Biblical times.
     "This is why baptism in the Catholic church is not the same as baptism in our Church," we told her,  
"It's not that baptism in this Church cancels baptism 
in the Catholic church.  It's simply that we believe that baptism must be done with the proper Authority."

We explained further with an analogy:
Just like a man can't decide, one day, that he is a Judge and can mandate decisions in a Court of Law on behalf of the state - the same holds true with the Priesthood.  No man can just decide to be a priest.  He must be called of God and authorized to do His works, and that includes baptism.  "That is why this is important," we told her.

It all made perfect sense to her, and she even re-explained the concepts back to us.  Unfortunately,
our lesson was cut short because it was right before English Course, but we invited her to read the Book
of Mormon and come to Church.  She agreed to read, but said that this Sunday, she was unavailable.

"Why Not Give the Sisters a Surprise"
However, Sunday rolled around and, lo and behold, Josie surprised us by walking into Gospel Principles class.  The lesson was on the Atonement, which captivated her.  She asked the question, "What exactly does the word Atonement mean?" and by the end of the lesson, she was able to define it, "The Atonement, then, is the sacrifice of Christ of His life for us so we can resurrect and become like Him."  Perfect, Josie. She then stayed for Sacrament meeting.  It was the children's Primary Program, which, of course, she loved and even said she'd like to bring her daughter next week.  Her visit was made more complete by making friends with a couple of the members.
     When I asked what changed her mind about coming to Church, she told us, "I was reading the Book of Mormon and the thought came that I should go to Church.  Why not?  I thought, I'd like to give the sisters a surprise!"

The Miracle of Testimony
We attribute this miracle to the incredible Intermediate English Course Class.  Sorella Bradford and Sorella Robinson have somehow collected all of the investigators into their class:  Giuseppe, Josie (from us), Francesca (from Anz. Nickle and Duffin), Miriam, Michela and Valentina (their own investigators).  During their spiritual thoughts, in the past couple classes, they have opened it up to a question and answer session in which Francesca (who is close to baptism) bears testimony on many aspects of the gospel (fasting, scriptures, missionaries, sacrament meeting - you name it), and the others pitch in on what they know or have learned.  Even though she is not yet baptized, Francesca is already an amazing missionary.  She continually bears powerful testimony on the fact that since meeting with the missionaries, her life has been transformed, and she loves helping others to feel the same.  Sorella Wiltbank and I believe it was Francesca's testimony on Thursday that helped Josie feel the Spirit's promptings to come and see.

Utah's Twin City?
That's all the news I have work-wise.  But I am going to take some time now to explain a developing theory of mine.  Hem hem.  Sicily is like Utah.  Yes, after spending some time up close and personal with the Sicilian culture, I can't help but notice some striking similarities.  Let me splain:

There is a Church on every corner.
photo: nytimes.com
Outside the Opera House, they have statues that look like Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.
Politeama, the plaza around the Opera House
Ruggiero Settimo, Diplomat and Patriot
photo: 123rf
Carlo Cottone, Principe di Castelnuovo

Statue on left looks like Joseph Smith from afar.

Statue on right looks like Brigham Young from afar.

This "Y" sweatshirt (color and style of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah) was in Sicily's H&M Store.  Go Cougars!

They have large families.  Not long ago, the average number of kids in a family was about 10.
I have seen many pictures of families with 13-14 kids.

(right)  Christ in Gethsemane by Del Parson

Latter-day Saint artist, Del Parson, paintings are displayed in their Cathedrals!

This made me laugh out loud when I
saw it.  We have this painting in my home.

They make Fry Sauce to put on their French Fries (one of the 4 main food groups at Brigham Young University).

They put odd things like hot dogs in their rice salads.

They play the tune Come, Come Ye Saints to some of their songs (lyrics are different, but still).
Joyful vendor sharing food with a growing crowd.  Party!

If there is food, there is a party.

Yep, there you have it.  The list is actually longer, but this is all I could remember right now.  Utah and Sicily are the same.  That's my theory.  After hearing some of the evidence, don't you agree?

So, obviously, this place is bursting with potential.  We will see what we can make of it these next couple of months.

Hello President Waddoups!
Alpha Scarf
Yes, THAT scarf (Mission President's scarf held hostage - first mentioned in post: What Happens in Palermo Stays in Palermo).  The Santa hat was a gift to the District from Anziano DiCaro.

For Christmas, our District is doing a Secret Santa gift exchange, and I have received one of the Elder's names.  I am only allowed 5 euro to work with, so I will have to get reeeaaally creative.

As far as Skyping home for my family Christmas call, we are not allowed to use members' computers, so we have to find an internet point that has web cams and wont be too inconvenient.  Fingers crossed.

The Directions Game of Life
Sad news: Giuseppe has fallen out of all contact with us. We tried calling him a few times, and he never responded except to say that he would talk to us at English Course.  Only, after class, he left immediately, saying he couldn't stay.  Then, later in the week, he didn't answer his phone and he didn't come to Church.  We are hoping this is a passing phase.

I wish Giuseppe could realize that, just like in the English Course Directions Game, the gospel gives us the proper Direction in life.  When we enter the Path, we are no longer "children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14) because we have Divine direction.  All we need to do is follow.
     When we follow the prophet (the Lord's mouthpiece)
     When we abide by Christ's teachings (found in scripture)
     When we keep the covenant path (living the commandments)
     We simply cannot go wrong.  
Life is a Directions Game.  Our Heavenly Father has not left us here to flounder and blindly feel our way through the maze of existence.  He has a Plan.  And that Plan includes precise Directions to - not only better ourselves - but to get us safely Home.

That's why He restored His Church and gospel upon the earth.  That's why He gives us Scripture.  That's why we have a living prophet.  He loves us too much to leave us lost and alone.

I'm so grateful for this time of year that directs our thoughts to His Son who came, in the humblest of circumstances, to live a life that would show us the Way.

Buon Natale!
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Happens in Palermo Stays in Palermo

Poultry Sum to King's Ransom
Palermo Butcher Shop and Deli
We planned to have our Thanksgiving party on Tuesday during English Course.  We invited our Course students to the party, invited them to bring food, and then on Sunday, the Bishopric announced the activity for members to come as well.  No one signed up to bring turkey, so we decided we would take care of it if we found one at a good price.  So, Sorella Wiltbank and Robinson went to our favorite local butcher on Monday evening to see what the pricing would be.  For two turkey halves, the price listed was 10 euros, but for us it would be 6 euros for one half, and 8 euros for the other.  He also said he would clean and debone - free of charge.  Later on that same evening, Sorella Bradford and Robinson went by the butchers to confirm cost, and yes, he repeated the same numbers.  We all agreed and said we'd pick it up the next morning.  So, the next morning, we go by the butcher, he shows us how he cleaned and deboned, saying, "Sei euro e otto euro, si?" (Six and eight euros, yes?).
     "Yes," we say.  He then said he'd bring the pieces to the Church in 20 minutes, since we were headed to a District Meeting, and he said it was too heavy for us to carry (all together it was 11 kili - about 22 pounds or so.  Not too heavy, but chivalry is chivalry).
     Then he puts the items on the scale and says, "Ok, that will be 80 euro."  WHAT?  THAT'S ABOUT 115 BUCKS!!! (I had been left out of the turkey-bartering up until this point, but as far as I'd heard - he never said anything about a per-pound price).  $115.00!!!  For NOT EVEN A FULL TURKEY!!!  Is the bird dipped in 14 carat gold or something?  For that price, it better come with a pair of shoes or a clutch purse.
     While I stood flabbergasted, my companion scrambled for what to say, "Uh, non abbiamo abbastanza soldi adesso.  Forse torniamo" (We don't have enough money right now.  Maybe we'll come back).
     "No, no, you can pay me when I drop this by your Church."  How helpful of him.
So, we walk out and wonder, how do we handle this one?  First, we see if it might be reimbursable, at least in part, since it is a Church activity (we knew it was a stretch), so we called the mission office.  Not a chance.  Then we asked the Anziani and they suggested we nix the whole turkey idea, but you can't have Thanksgiving without a turkey!  So we all agreed to split the bill amongst the 8 of us.  10 euros each (about $14.50).  Thank goodness for big Districts!

Thanksgiving Party:  Drippings with Success
The Golden Bird.  Does it look expensive to you?
So that was the bad new.  The good news is that we had an AMAZING turn out for the party - nearly all the English Course students (about 80), plus many of our members as well.  By some miracle, there was plenty of food for everyone - and the turkey was cooked to perfection (as it should be :|). Everyone was super happy about the party.  I made pumpkin pie, which was a smash hit (or should I say, squash hit? Ha!).  I also made gravy from the turkey drippings, which was also a hit (despite it being described to Italians as a sauce made "from the inner liquids of a turkey." Well put Hurlburt!). Members hung out and made friends with students, including our investigators.  We were all remarkably pleased.  We just know the hand of the Lord was in this party, because there is no way it went this well just from our planning it.  Despite the $115.00 turkey...and no clutch. :|

Giuseppe's Steps
Giuseppe has made HUGE progress this week.  He has been reading the Book of Mormon and really enjoying it. His mother passed away just 4 months ago, which amplifies his eagerness to learn more about the meaning of life and his place in it.  This week, we talked about the Book of Mormon and the importance of reading the scriptures and praying.
We talked about how to Pray:
     1.  Address Heavenly Father - speak to Him like a Father.
     2.  Thank Him for blessings - talk to him about your day.
     3.  Ask questions - ask for what you need.
     4.  Close, "in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
He offered a beautiful prayer.  We also asked him if he would be baptized when he came to know if these things are true (a "soft" baptismal invite).  He said YES.  AWESOME.

Giuseppe's Fellowship
Wednesday, we gave him the baptismal goal date of 21 December, and he said he would pray about it. SWEET.  After inviting him to Church -  GUESS WHO CAME TO CHURCH SUNDAY: GIUSEPPE!  And he loved it!  It was testimony meeting and the testimonies were awesome.  It was evident that he was greatly touched by what was shared, but even more so by how he was welcomed.  The members reached out, spoke with, and befriended him.  We were soooo pleased.

Right now, every missionary companionship in our District has at least one person with a baptismal date. SCORE!  FORZA PALERMO!

Rosa Anna and Josie
Rosa Anna and Josie are our only 2 other investigators making progress right now.  They are both slightly older English Course students.  Rosa Anna is a painter - specializing in art restoration.  Josie is originally from Australia, but has lived in Palermo since she was 14.  They really hit it off and became great friends only after becoming investigators to the gospel.  Because of this, they prefer to be taught together.  We usually meet with them before English Course on Tuesday and Thursday.  We have taught them both a couple of lessons (based around the Restoration and the Plan of Salvation), and they are very interested. HOWEVER, this last week we felt prompted to ask them to be baptized.  They said they feel their baptism in the Catholic church is enough.  Ugh.

Once you KNOW,
What are you going to DO about it?
The Golden Question
I guess we will be re-teaching them about the Restoration and how the authority of the Priesthood was lost, and then restored through Joseph Smith.  We are going to show them how it all comes down to the Book of Mormon.  EVERYTHING.  If the Book of Mormon is true, so is Joseph Smith, and the Priesthood, and the Church, and the prophet today, and EVERYTHING.  All one needs to do is to read, ponder, and pray, and the answer will come.  Personally.

Then... Once the answer comes, what are you going to DO about it? That, right there, is the Golden Question.  This is what it all comes down to.  Once you KNOW, what are you going to DO about it?

That Explains the Crystal Chandeliers
We found out this week that the diseased husband of one of our (non-progressing) investigators, Silvana, used to be in the Mafia.  "Tenants who don't pay their rent should be shot or killed," she said, "My husband always knew the right way of dealing with these people.  He had friends and contacts everywhere, and he would never let anyone get away with cheating him!"  Our ward mission leader confirmed our suspicions. That probably explains the crystal chandeliers, velvet curtains, stained glass, Arabian carpets, oil paintings, and mahogany furniture in her apartment.  You probably think I'm joking.  I'm not.

Pie and Potatoes Make it More Thanksgiving-y
Our District with the Alders
Thanksgiving Day itself was an odd day indeed.  Sorella Wiltbank was really sick, so we had to stay inside and give her some time to rest and recoup.  I cleaned up, studied, did some area book, and then made snow flakes to decorate our neighbors' doors.  I must say, the snowflakes turned out pretty cool (no pun intended).  In the evening, we taught English Course, and then the Alders (American family) invited us over for cider.  We brought pie, ice cream and potatoes to make it more Thanksgiving-y.

Evening at the Opera

Sunday night the ward in Palermo 2 was putting on a free concert featuring opera pieces and arias from Verdi's Rigoletto and La Traviata, Puccini's La Boheme, Bizet's Carmen, and Mascagni's Cavelliera Rusticana etc, etc.  Professional singers and performers came to put it on.

They asked our District to not just attend, they wanted us to SING at the event.  Us.  Sing.  Among professional Opera Performers....Hahahahaha.  Well, we were game, so we went and participated.  We opened the concert singing "God of Our Fathers," and closed with Janice Kapp Perry's "I Am a Child of God."

During the closing song, we sang one verse in Italian, and another in English (Anziano DiCaro had fun with that).  Needless to say, we felt very humbled by this experience, but the Spirit was at least present during our closing song.

Wiltbank Leaves No Stone Unturned
Sorella Wiltbank is a Finding machine.  On our way home from the concert, she started talking to some gypsies about the Book of Mormon.  Fun Fact: Gypsies are also called Romani because they originated in Romania.  Unfortunately, she didn't know they were gypsies (because she's never encountered them before), and gypsies are known to ransack and rip-off chapels when they get an address for one.  Oops. Hopefully they decide to leave us alone.
     But I really, really admire Wiltbank's drive to talk to everyone about the gospel.  She is so good at it.  We usually just do a lot of street contacting - stopping people and inviting them to English Course or asking them straight-up if they want to take the lessons.  Not much usually comes of it - our best success comes from talking to students at English Course, especially after they hear our spiritual thought.  Giuseppe is our latest example of that - he was originally touched by our explanation of the Plan of Salvation, which we later came to find out was because of his mom's recent passing.

Would You Prefer Your Chocolate Dry or On the Rocks?
Amarena Mon Amour Bonbons
Earlier in the week, my companion was already not feeling so great, and we went to the grocery store to pick up some necessities.  In the check-out line, she spotted Cherry Chocolate Bonbons that reminded her of Christmas at home, so we decided to get some to help brighten her day.  Once outside, we opened the package and took one. She took a small bite, while I shoved the whole piece in my mouth.  Bad idea.  A bitter, burning taste filled my mouth.  Oh joy, I thought to myself.  We got Those kind of chocolates.  I didn't have the heart to tell her.
     "Ugh - gross.  It's burning my throat!" says my companion.
     Sorella Bradford (who has lived in Europe) said, "Oh no, you didn't try the Vodka chocolates!"
     "What?"  said my companion.
     "Ya, those chocolates have alcohol in them," Bradford said.
     "OH NO!" Wiltbank was aghast, "WE BROKE THE WORD OF WISDOM!"  Now, before my comp repented to the President or entered both of us in a 12-Step Program (Hello, my name is Sorella Nef. I'm a recovering Vodka Chocoholic), I reminded her that it was unintentional.  But I mentioned it to President anyways. Hahahaha.

What Happens in Palermo Stays in Palermo
President Waddoups is going to start wondering about us Palermitani missionaries.  Between the fact that we are holding his cashmere scarf hostage (he left it here at Zone Conference and we're taking pictures of us wearing it), and the 80 euro Turkey, fraternizing with the mafia, tipping-off gypsies to a hot lead, and guzzling Vodka chocolates, he's probably wondering what in the world is going on down here.

Naw, President loves us.  He wrote me this week that the Lord is going to bless our District these next couple of months, and he expects great things of us.  Great things.  What happens in Palermo may stay in Palermo, but I'm hoping that will be - not the shenanigans of goofy missionaries - but a swelling of the Spirit and the expansion in membership.

Well, I am out of time again.  We are celebrating a member's birthday today: John Arrias, turning 18, baptized a year ago.  I am convinced he will be an Apostle one day.  He does everything for the missionaries and is very wise and mature for his age.  Super awesome.

Forza Palermo!
Sorella Ashley Nef