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

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