Tuesday, January 28, 2014

From Beauty Salon to Pilgrims Mountain

The Fab Four: Sorella Mikesell, me, Bradford, and Robinson
Splitting Hairs looking for a Salon
Sorella Mikesell has been frustrated by her hair.  It is quite big and void of the beloved blonde highlights, so we've been on the hunt for a competent hair salon.  BUT Italians seem very intimidated by the excess curl.  "Would you be able to cut this?" we ask.
     "Uh...um...uh...It's just so...big!" they respond.
     "Ok, well thank you," and we walk to the next salon.  "Hey, do you think you could bleach this hair?"
     "No.  If we did, it would all be burned off.  She would have no hair left" they say.
     "Ok.  Have a good day."
What exactly Italians do for bleaching that they think it would burn off Mikesell's hair is beyond both of us. But we kept poking around to see if we could find a place.

Salone di Bellezza - Beauty Salon
Little did we know, the perfect salone di bellezza was literally just behind our house.  We peeked our heads in, "Hey, would you be able to cut this hair?"
     "Si, certo" (certainly!)
     "Good.  Would you also be able to dye it blonde?" (we had to specify how blonde since they seem to think that a nice chestnut is blonde here.  Whatever).
     "Yes, of course."
     "Well, cool.  Thanks.  We will come by a little later and set up an appointment."  Which we did.

Giusie Discussion
The day of the appointment, we went in the morning and as salon conversation got going, stylists Michele and Rosie asked questions about the gospel, and so I gave them a mini Lesson 1.  When Giusie (the assistant) asked more questions, I gave a mini Lesson 2 (not your normal salon gossip, huh).  Very nice people.  We finished the appointment and promised to return with copies of the Book of Mormon.

Turns out, Mikesell didn't like how stripy her hair turned out, but was too timid to ask the salon for a correction for fear of being a hassle, so Sorella Bradford dragged her back and explained.  No problem.  As they corrected the highlights, Bradford talked about our beliefs and then the Anziani (who had nothing to do at that point) showed up and started teaching another salon client who had asked some questions.  The client was interested and gave her information to the anziani for a follow-up visit.  A pretty productive day, all told - probably the most productive we have had in a long time.  All because of a hair appointment.
I'm wearing my Godfather shirt.  Don't mess with me!  Capeesh?
That's the Brakes
This week has been a little mlah as far as the work goes.  None of our investigators could meet with us, nor could our less actives.  The appointment we set up with Catarina fell through.  Her neighbors say she moved and neither we nor the members could get in touch with her.  Weird.

True Colors
Sunday we had a fireside for the members about how they can help out in missionary work.  It was great up until the end when we broke into groups and modeled for them the Restoration Lesson (Lesson 1). That's when the evening took a left turn.  A few members told us we were teaching it wrong, that we were bad missionaries, and that they didn't see the need for missionaries if members had pamphlets and could teach the information themselves.  Ok, fair enough.  Mikesell didn't like the way her highlights turned out and some members didn't like the way some missionaries highlighted the Restoration.  But then other members started going off on unrelated topics (like how they still feel Catholic, or how much they like the Pope, or how they feel about Jehovah's Witnesses).  Note taken: member-teaching needs to take place.  In the end, we discovered those members who will be fantastic helps during lessons.

On a More Positive Note
At English Course, the man who organizes the Opera Nights showed up.  His name is Tanino and he had some questions.  "Hey, so do you do other lessons besides English Course?"
     "Yes, of course.  We are missionaries and teach about our beliefs."
     "Great.  Because I have been reading the Book of Mormon and I have some questions about why these Nephites and Lamanites are fighting all the time."  He set up an appointment with us for Tuesday. Fantastico!

Monte Pellegrino - Pilgrims Mountain
View of Palermo with Mount Pellegrino by August Wilhelm Julius
Mount Pellegrino is Palermo's large mountain that juts into the Mediterranean.  Goethe described it as "the most beautiful promontory in the world."

While that may be debatable, it is beautiful and invites many a visitor to hike a trail up to the top and enjoy a spectacular view of Palermo bay and its countryside.  Our District decided to make the trip on our P-day, but since it was raining, we took the bus to the top.

Check out the view from the top:
View of Mondello from Mount Pellegrino
View of Palermo from Mount Pellegrino
Anziano Rigby, and DiCaro strikes a pose
Santuario di Santa Rosalia - Sanctuary of Saint Rosalia
Near Mount Pellegrino's summit is the Sanctuary of Saint Rosalia nestled right up against the mountainside.
The Baroque church is unique - not for the fact that it overlooks the Mediterranean - but for the reason that the inner edifice is a dark, wet cave.  Why would there be a church facade over a cave?

Santa Rosalia
Rosalia painted by Anthony Van Dyck
1625 while the artist was in Palermo
hoping not to catch the plague.
It's a great story surrounding a girl named Rosalia (born around 1130) who, at age 13, rebelled against an arranged marriage by cutting her hair and running away to live in a secluded cave for the remainder of her years (which would be to the age of 33).

Her name, however, wouldn't become legend until 500 years after her death when a plague ravaged Palermo in 1625 and threatened to wipe out the population.

As the story goes, a local soap maker, Vincenzo Bonelli (who had lost his wife to the plague), hiked up Mount Pellegrino where he was visited by the spirit of Rosalia.  Apparently, she led him to her bones in the cave and promised that if he brought her remains to Palermo for a Christian burial, the plague would end.

Well, he took her bones, organized a funeral procession through town, and wadduhyaknow - the plague stopped spreading. Rosalia was instantly instated as the new patron saint of Palermo and the four old patron saints (who sat on their halos and did nothing to stop the plague) were fired.  They still stand stoically confined to the four corners of the Quartto Canti Crossroads in Palermo, while Rosalia is honored in paintings and statues throughout the city.  Locals affectionately call her La Santuzza (little saint).

Follow Me Through our Tour of the Sanctuary
Sorella Robinson walks through the Sanctuary Foyer
Entrance to the Cave
Inside the Sanctuary Cave
Beyond the arched entrance is a dark and damp bat-like cave.  Water drips steadily from the ceiling and channeled by dozens of suspended metal gutters angled in a creative melee that looks like interpretive ceiling art.
Anziano Nickle on the left peering up at the grotto gutters

Rows of pews face an altar with a blue light back lit marble statue of Rosalia (right).

Encased in glass is what seems to be the pride of the sanctuary: Rosalia in all her marble gilded glory, reclining next to her own gold plated skull.
A very cute Priest gave us the tour.  He's in the black coat and beanie.
After the inside tour, we followed a path to the mountain's summit to take in the beautiful view.
Lots of trees and cactus and rocks.  Looks like Rohan from Lord of the Rings
Various gorgeous trees (planted in 1940s) on the Mountain
Mikesell and I with our Tour Guide Priest.  Loved him.
Palermo District: Rigby, DiCaro, Nickle, Garner, Mikesell, Bradford, me, (Robinson is taking the pic)
Great way to end the day, eating pane panelle
Nickle, Garner, Rigby, DiCaro, Bradford, me, Robinson, Mikesell
From beauty salon discussions to a hike up Pilgrims Mountain to hear the story of a girl who cut her own hair in defiance against loveless marital entrapment and lived out her life as a hermit only to become the patron saint of Palermo - it's been an enlightening week (Mikesell's hair is proof).

But through the ups and down and hair-raising events (sorry), our pilgrimage, as servants of the Lord, is a daily adventure in looking for ways to bless lives.

Avventurarsi in Avanti  (Venturing Forward),
Sorella Ashley Nef

A BIG HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Landon (16!), Uncle Chris, and Dad this week!!!!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Adventures in Finding

Remains of the Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo
One evening we had some spare time before our next appointment.  Why not search for less actives?  We selected two that were kind of in the middle of nowhere, but generally where we needed to be later on.  So we set out with our map, ward list, scriptures, coats, scarves, gloves, and walking boots.

We walked tranquillemente to our first address.  Turns out they live in one of those complexes you need a code to get into.  So that was a dud.  Continue on to the second address.

Why Did the Missionary Cross the Road?
Palermo Highway
According to the map, the only way to reach the street of the less active was take a course around a rotunda called Piazza Kennedy.  After about half an hour of walking, we find the Piazza.  Turns out, it is THE HIGHWAY.  But, lo and behold, there is a sidewalk for pedestrians on this highway.  The only catch is that we needed to cross the freeway crosswalk (yeah, didn't know those existed, did you?) TWICE to get to the other side.  I felt like I was the brunt end of one of those Chicken-road-crossing jokes.

We braved the oncoming traffic, in the dark, and made it safely across the highway, partly thanks to a kind Italian man who took the lead and stopped the cars so we could cross.  When we thanked him, he said as he walked away, "e stato un piacere!" (It was a pleasure!).

The Walk to More-door
Albergheria neighborhood, Palermo
Then we found the road where the less active lives. "Ok, here we are at number 1. What number does she live at?" I ask.  "92."  Of course.  It's always at the end of the long, dark, lonely road.

I told my companions we needed The Lord of the Rings music for walking to keep us motivated.  So, whistling the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings (extended version), we walk all the way down the long, dark, lonely road until there is this apartment complex (without a number) right before a private road that leads to a very abandoned looking building in partial ruins.

We look at the numberless complex and don't see the citofono (the doorbell for entrance).  Luckily, a man drives up and we ask him if this was number 92.  "No," he says, "it's over there," pointing to the ruins.  Perfect.

Determined, we hop over the chain marking "Strada Privata" (Private Road) and notice just to the right of the abandoned building that looks like the perfect setting for every horror movie ever (it lacked only the lightning striking behind it) are two cute houses.
Sign reads: "For Sale - Apartment Partially Restored"

So we find the one that has the name of our less active and ring the doorbell.

An elderly man answers the door and informs us that his wife (the member) is 93 years old, slightly out of her mind, and in a house of repose.  He was very sweet.  We asked if there was anything we could do. He told us to pray at home, he couldn't let us inside.

So we turned around and walked all the way back, braving the highway crossing once again, and we survived to tell the tale, while Mikesell video journaled the adventure for her mom.

So began our Adventures in Finding.  This last week, we spent much of our spare time doing some meno-attivi hunting.  Here are a few results.

ADVENTURES in FINDING! (finding...finding...finding) - Less Actives Edition
We met with Catarina.  She hasn't been to church in 15 years and says she doesn't want to come back. But for some reason, Mikesell and I feel that we should still try with her anyway.  We felt inspired to offer a small thought on the Atonement.  We shared a scripture in Alma.
And He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions
and temptations of every kind;
and this that the word might be fulfilled...
And He will take upon Him death,
that He may loose the bands of death...
And He will take upon Him their infirmities,
that His bowels may be filled with mercy...
that He may know according to the flesh how to succor His people...
that He might blot out their transgressions
according to the power of His deliverance.
Alma 7:11-13
We taught that through Christ's power, not only can we overcome all things, our hearts can be healed as well. The Spirit was really strong.  Even the dog stopped barking.  "It's because he knows that God is here," was what Catarina said.
Stone Angel Graffiti
We can tell that Emmanuella is very lonely and very much in need of company.  We hope to get the Relief Society involved to help her feel loved.

Familia La Rizza
We met with a less active family in Bagheria that the Anziani have been having a hard time getting to.  The family La Rizza.  The daughter is a returned missionary who went less active a few years ago.  Mom was less active, but has begun coming back.  We directed our thoughts to both and shared a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants.
Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you;
seek me diligently and ye shall find me;
ask, and ye shall receive;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
D&C 88:63
The daughter knew all the right answers, you might say, but just needed a reminder of applying scripture to her life.  Turns out, she feels that she has not been receiving the blessings due her from having served a mission and from being a member generally.  As we talked, though, she came to realize (even if is was for a moment) that God works in His own time and in His own way, and since He is all knowing and all loving, He clearly knows what's best for her and what will help her grow.  There was a good spirit.
Olga is an ecuadorian member here in the ward who has been struggling to become active once again. She feels lonely and abandoned by the ward and almost left in the middle of sacrament meeting because she was so upset.  We got her to come back.  During our visit, we talked about the importance of persevering even when times are difficult and setting an example for her children (her daughter and son have also been struggling).  We are hoping that in strengthening Olga, she can, in turn, help her kids.

Our new investigator, Luigi, showed up very late to his appointment, apologizing (his work made him stay late).  Even though we only had 15 minutes before English Course started, he said, "Ok!  I'm all ears.  What can you tell me?"  We introduced him to the Book of Mormon, testifying how it is the springboard to faith in Christ and personal revelation.  Luigi is more curious, and not explicitly searching for answers, but we think that he will find very good things in the Book of Mormon that will spark further curiosity.  He agreed to read.
Albergheria neighborhood
Mapping our Course
We have been hitting our map and ward list, searching for those who have lost sight of the Church.  The goal is to work through everyone on the list and see which people are actually still around and which aren't. We found that many don't live at the listed address and others are just so old that they actually cannot come to Church.  It's a process of finding and updating and nurturing.  Some people may have lost sight of their faith, but Heavenly Father has not lost sight of them.

Infinitely for You
I was in bed last night, and through the ceiling skylight, I looked into the night sky at the stars and I got to thinking about how beautiful and GINORMOUS the universe is.  God could have just put us on earth, put earth in a box and we wouldn't have been any wiser.
Instead, He suspends us in this gargantuan infinite cosmos - bigger than 93 billion light years in diameter (and still expanding) - full of stars, galaxies, nebulae, supernova, comets, neutrinos, pulsars, black holes, quasars, etc. etc. etc.  Mind-boggling volumes of matter dangle in a balance of laws, physics, and power while insane amounts of energy fringe our universe, and, look.  Here we are.  Gravitating in the midst of it all.

How small and insignificant are we in relation to everything else?  Let's face it, we are puny, weak and powerless compared with God and His galactic-level billions-of-light-years creations.  Even so, I couldn't help but think about how cool it is that all of this breathtaking enormity was created for you, and for me.

A Chip Off the Old Block
That's right.  God's greatest creation isn't the brilliant stars or the expansive galaxies.  His greatest creations are His children.  We may be miniscule, but we are also children of God.  And what makes us great is our relation, and therefore potential to become like our Heavenly Father.
Lagoon Nebula
Now, there is a vast difference between where we are and where God is, but the coolest thing in the whole universe is that that gap can be breached through the power of Christ.  We have such GRAND potential, bigger than the universe itself (which is a mind-blowing idea on its own), and God is doing everything He can to help us realize that potential.

Yep, the Power behind the rotating seasons and the orbiting planets is the same Power that has enacted a Plan to help His children return Home.  We have every opportunity to succeed because God didn't put us here to fail.

We May Be Miniscule, But We Matter
If anyone wonders if there is a God, just take a look at the order and symmetry of the heavens.  Look at the miracles and beauties of life.  God is very much in the thick of things in our world.
     He has not taken up residence in some distant galaxy.
     He has not removed Himself from history.
     He has not chosen to shut the door on humanity and
     seclude Himself on an incandescent throne in a remote castle eons away.
     He is here.  Among us.
Since He wants us to succeed, He involves Himself even in the mundane 9-5, commute traffic rat race, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, heartaches, final exams, and funerals of our day.  Why?  Because we matter.

If you have trouble believing that - simply remind yourself - the Power that ignites the sun is the same Power that can come into your world and light your path.  Just "draw near unto" Him.  "Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

We may be puny, but we are precious.  We may be miniscule, but we matter.  We may feel infinitesimal and stuck, but our potential is grand and limitless.

And no matter how far some may stray, He never loses sight.  For that reason, I think my companion and I will continue to be on the Lord's errand and search for those who have lost sight, and remind them that they matter.  So resumes our Adventures in Finding.

Where's My Map?
Sorella Ashley Nef

Monday, January 13, 2014

We are All in This Together

Apartments in Palermo
May I Take Your Order Please?
The Fast Food Song
Thursday's English Course was rockin!  The Anziani were gone for the evening because they needed to pick up the new elders at the airport.  So both of our Basic classes were combined to make a huge class with 30 students or so.  Class topic:  How to order at a restaurant.  The students had a blast.  And, we taught them The Fast Food Song - just for laughs. Everybody sing with me:
          Pizza Hut, Pizza Hut,
          Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut -
          Pizza Hut, Pizza Hut,
          Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut -
          McDonalds, McDonalds
          Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut
If you don't know it, look it up on YouTube. Guarantee that the tune will get stuck in your head.  Well, the students loved it - they just laughed and laughed.  There were several new students as well as............... MEMBERS!!!

Member-Help in English Course
Members in front of Church. Notice the English Course Sign!
photo from Paolo Hedfi
For the first time EVER we had members at English Course.  In all of our classes!  It was the best because during our spiritual thought (which was on prophets and revelation), we asked members to bear testimony and offer the closing prayer.  After class, we found that students were more comfortable approaching members and asking them questions that they probably felt too intimidated to ask us. It was super cool!

And the members loved it too.  The more they participated, the more they felt the Spirit, and it finally clicked - why it is important for them to get involved in the work.  By evening's end, the members shared their observations.  Here are a few things they said:
          "The students need to see that members are normal people too.  And that we're Italian."
          "It's good because they feel more comfortable talking to us sometimes."
          "It gives another support to what you say as missionaries."
This is what we have been trying to tell them for months, but it finally fell into perspective as they actually came and participated.  Way to go, members!

Member-Help in Discussions
Members also get the Blue Ribbon in helping with our lessons this week (with the entire District). They attended a number of discussions with our investigators, bearing testimony and just being present.  Result?  Church was filled with investigators on Sunday - at least a dozen.  We have so much more success when members join us in the work.

Fun Fact: Did you know that some Sicilians say the letter "S" the same way Sean Connery says them - with a "sh" sound?  Mostly older people and those who live in the little towns.  Super fun - especially when they teach.

Finding Success
There were a couple of days this week when we hit the streets and people would stop us and ask us questions.  That never happens in Italy - so when it does happen, it's a miracle.  So great!  A couple of call-backs came of it.  One of the young ladies is pretty cool, about my age or so, and runs an antique shop.

Finding Less-Actives
We've also started contacting Less-Actives.  Here are the varying results so far:
          1 wants to meet with us.
          1 didn't even remember she was baptized, she's been inactive for so long (baptized by her uncle
                as a girl and remembered as we talked.  Very nice, but not interested).
          1 wasn't at home.
          1 first said they were Atheist, then said they were Buddhist.
          1 address didn't even exist.
We've put a map together with every member marked on it so we can pace our progress.  Very helpful.

Welcome New Elders
The new additions to our District: Elder Rigby (from Boise, Idaho), and Elder Garner (from Las Vegas, Nevada).  Both have been in the field 6 months, and are very nice.  Rigby said he knows some people from Rupert, Idaho (where my dad's family is from).  Truly a phenomenon - everyone always knows someone from Rupert.

Rigby and Garner are both shorter than me, which means, with Anziano Duffin gone, that I am officially the tallest person in my District. Feel the power, Kronk!  Oh - I can feel it.

The Conundrum of Josie
This is the 3rd week of no lessons with Josie.  She insists that she is too sick to leave her house, but she has been coming to Church!  You know, I don't know how many missionaries in the world can say that their problem with an investigator is in not getting them to Church - but in just meeting with them.  What a strange conundrum.  I talked with her on Sunday and I told her we need to meet with her.  She agreed.  If she doesn't come to Tuesday's English Course, we'll try to set up an appointment for Wednesday.

Introducing, Luigi
Meanwhile, we have a new investigator!  His name is Luigi (not Giuseppe :) ).  He is a 20-something student from English Course.  Nice, genuine, and always a good participant.  We asked him if he would like to know more about the Church and our beliefs.  He said Yes!  Our lesson with him is tomorrow.

A Kinship with Mikesell
The awesome Sorella Mikesell
You know, it's kind of funny how much my companion reminds me of my mom. Her family situation with her siblings is similar to my mom's experience, and she has a lot of the same sense of humor.  Also, she will every morning and every evening serenade me with the same type of singing my mom sometimes does for me and my dad.  :)  It's uncanny. (Editor's note: I like this girl)

She also doesn't put up with any crap from anyone.  One of the stories Sorella Bradford tells is from her time with Mikesell in Rome 6 months ago or so. They were doing internet and the Anziani were there, and one of the elders made a very rude comment about how women are lower than Priesthood holders or something.  Sorella Mikesell immediately turns to this elder and said, "The only thing you have that I don't have is a penis."  He shut up after that while everyone else just laughed.  Way to go Mikesell!  (Editor's note: I love this girl!)

Her favorite thing to do is to change rap songs into show tunes.  Hilarious.  I'm laughing through half my day sometimes, she is so funny.  Oh and hey!  She knows about Mama's Place in San Francisco near the Italian Quarter in Washington Square with the Monte Cristo sandwiches!  (Editor's note: she is officially adopted into the Nef family)

"I, Nephi, Having Been Born of Goodly Parents..."
Nephi, by Arnold Friberg
I finished 1 Nephi today!  Nephi is super cool.  It impresses me every time I read that he:
          1.  Starts the Book of Mormon
          2.  Thereby becomes the first person people meet when they start reading the book.
          3.  He founds a nation.
          4.  He was a punk kid, the youngest (for a long time) of the family, who goes on to take down Laban single-handedly (with God's help), travels through a desert, makes his own bow, and builds a boat.
          5.  He becomes King and Prophet.

Even though he has two stupid trouble-maker brothers, he never lets them drag him down but always tries to pick them up.  He's obedient and radiates the power of faith.  What a special guy to not only influence his generation, but also now millions of people in our day.  Go Nephi!

Fun thing: I am often called Sorella Nefi (Nephi in Italian) because Italians misread the nametag.  I don't correct them :) .

We're All in This Together
I'm thankful for the amount of help that came from our Palermo members this week.  Their presence and testimony and example and friendship made all the difference to those who are curious about the gospel. Because, in seeing them - others see the gospel in action.  The ease of this week's success just goes to show that we're all in this work together.
"We are all in this together.
With fellow ward members and missionaries,
we plan and pray and help one another.
Please keep the full-time missionaries in your thoughts and prayers.
Trust them with your family and friends.
The Lord trusts them and has called them
to teach and bless those who seek Him."
Elder Neil L. Andersen
And, a big welcome to Elders Rigby and Garner in joining our Palermo District Family.  With their help, Forza Palermo will continue strong.

Siamo Tutti Sulla Stessa Barca! (We're all in this together!)
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Profile of a Prophet

What can I say about this week?  The holidays are fun, but they don't make for good news fodder.  All of our investigators were either sick or out of town.  We had English Course for one day this week and ended up combining with the Anziani's class since there were so few of us.  So, missionary-work wise, basically zero things occurred.

We did some more Finding (yay finding!) with no success.  Essentially, we just need to hit the streets more. Tonight we have another Opera Concert in the church.  This makes the third one I have attended on my mission - one of the many things that makes Italy great. :)

Adventures in Food
Sicilian Meatloaf
Monday we had a meal appointment during which the food caught me off guard.  I ate something that I thought was pizza made from dense bread, but when I picked it up it turned out that the "bread" was actually meat loaf.  Sicilian Meatloaf.  Sicilian Meatloaf is made of ground meat (which is beef, pork, and sausage) layered with ham and mozzarella cheese and sauce.  It looked like pizza.  So, I ate the meatiest pizza ever in the history of ever.

French Fry Sandwich
photo: wikimediacommons
Tuesday I introduced Mikesell to a sandwich joint called Al Porchettone (The Big Ham).  They have really good pork sandwiches with peppers. Along with sandwiches, we ordered what we thought were just fries, but ended up being a sandwich made up of french fries on a bun. Sometimes Italians try to be more American than Americans.

We stumbled upon an Indian market with everything you can't find in Italian grocery stores.  Things like rolled oats, sweetened condensed milk, limes, cumin, etc.  Hurray.

New Year's Fiesta - Ole!
Had to come home early New Year's Eve because of safety reasons (as mentioned in previous post). Good thing too because Italy turns into pop rocks on New Years.  It would have been hard to fall asleep for all the noise if it weren't for the fact that we were all EXHAUSTED.  New Years itself was a deep cleaning day - whooo!  Our apartment is now SPOTLESS.  Tapping into Mikesell's love of Honduras, we put on a New Year's Latin spread, because...why not?  I made salsa, refried beans, Mexican rice, and Sorella Mikesell made tortillas and then quesadillas from the tortillas.  It was super mega delicious!
me, Bradford, Robinson, Mikesell, Hurlburt, DiCaro (Duffin and Nickle out teaching)
photo from ward member, Paolo Hedfi
R.I.P. Fairly New Mission Camera
I would send pictures, but I can't because my not-even-one-year-old camera has officially died.  Yes, taken before its time.  A moment of silence, please....  So, I will be looking to adopt a new camera this week.  In the meantime, I'll try to swipe pictures from my companions.

District Dismantled
Sadly, time caught up with us.  Transfer news came on Saturday.  Staying:  all of us sisters (which makes 6 months for Bradford and Robinson in Sicily); Nickle and DiCaro (Nickle has been in Palermo, Sicily his whole time in Italy - 7 1/2 months. In fact, he arrived in Italy with me).  Leaving:  Duffin is leaving for Battipaglia, Napoli.  Hurlburt is headed to Catania, Sicily.

So we have to say goodbye to Duffin and Hurlburt. :(((((  This is going to be very sad, but we know they will do great work in their new cities.  But it is good news, indeed, that Bradford is staying because this is her "dying transfer" (meaning, she's going home in 6 weeks) - so we get to send her out in style!
Final photo together: Nickle, Mikesell, Hurlburt, DiCaro, Robinson, Duffin, Bradford, me
photo from ward member, Paolo Hedfi
Sorella Mikesell and I have become super great friends already, and we are setting goals and making plans to make this transfer great.  For instance, to help her learn the language, we are planning to SYL (speak your language) every day for at least one hour.  Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays we will speak Italian all day.  To keep things lively, we are going to do one crazy fun thing/week (is it kosher to set goals for crazy fun? - anyway, we're doing it).

Joseph Smith by David Lindsley
Profile of a Prophet
Ok - spiritual thing for the week:  I have restarted the Book of Mormon from the beginning, and I absolutely loved re-reading the Testimony of Joseph Smith.  I happened to read it the same day I read a talk from Canadian born lawyer, Hugh B. Brown, who became an apostle.  His 1955 talk, Profile of a Prophet, relays a discussion he had with an English gentleman (a member of the House of Commons and former Justice of the Supreme Court of England). This gentleman had a list of questions about the Church, but he was particularly skeptical about God still speaking to men and the validity of a prophet in our day and age.

During their 3-hour conversation, Brown and this gentleman outlined 11 characteristics that distinguish a man who claims to be a prophet, and he included this list in his talk.

11 Points of a True Prophet
1.   He will boldly claim that God has spoken to him.
2.   He carries a dignified message: no magic tricks,  no clairvoyance, but an intelligent statement of truth.
3.   He declares his message without fear (or making weak concessions) to public opinion.
4.   He speaks for God, teaching new and contrary principles to accepted dealings of the day.   A prophet bears witness to what he has seen and heard and seldom tries to make a case by argument.  His message - not himself - is important.
5.   He speaks in the name of the Lord, "Thus sayeth the Lord," as did Moses, Joshua, and other.
6.   He predicts future events in the name of the Lord, and they come to pass, as did those predicted by Isaiah and Ezekiel.
7.   He has an important message for his time and future times, such as Daniel, Jeremiah, and others had.
8.   He courageously and faithfully endures persecution and gives his life for his message (martyr), such as Peter, James, Paul, and others.
9.   He fearlessly denounces wickedness.  He is generally rejected by people of his time, but later generations of his persecutors would build monuments in his honor.
10. He does superhuman things - things that no man could do without God's help. His works would be convincing evidence of his prophetic calling; "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt 7:20).
11. His teachings are in strict conformity with scripture, and his words and writings would become scripture.
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man:
but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost
2 Peter 1:21
The Prophet Joseph Smith
The Prophet Joseph Smith by Brent Borup
Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the life of Joseph Smith knows that he meets every criteria on this list.  He always made it clear he was called of God. He translated the Book of Mormon - can I just linger on that for one moment?  This was a super human feat for an uneducated man in his early 20s to produce a book with over 500 pages that includes wars, historical chapters, visions and prophecies that correspond with the Bible, ministry of Christ that corresponds with the New Testament, that includes figures of ancient speech, similes, metaphors, exposition, description, narrations, oratory, epic, lyric, logic, and parables, and do it all in the space of about 2 months. Unprecedented!

Joseph Smith was a prophet.  You can see that in his audacious claims, his enormous courage in the face of unrelenting mobs, in his prophecies, his works, his character, and his writing - in the testimony at the beginning of the Book of Mormon.

The Angel Moroni told Joseph that his name would be "known for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people."  Joseph is a prophet alone for the fulfillment of that prophecy.  What I find ultra cool is being here in Italy, testifying of Joseph Smith in Italian - helping to fulfill that prophecy!

I know that Joseph was called of God and became His instrument in restoring Christ's Church to the earth, and I know that because I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  The Prophet Joseph Smith lived and died to preach and protect that message.
"Not in the entire history of America have we had anyone
who can reach Joseph Smith's stature.
The greatest religious minds of America, including for example, Henry David Thorough, William James, Emerson, and others
are by comparison to Joseph Smith - pygmies.
And this is essentially because of the product of Joseph's mind and life."
Harold Bloom, Yale professor and literary critic
(PBS Special, American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith, 26 Nov 1999)

Do we worship Joseph Smith?  Of course not.  This is the Church of Jesus Christ.  It is God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah whom we worship.  However, we do not forget the life and legacy of the man whom Christ called to restore all things.  The greatness of Joseph Smith doesn't begin and end with himself.  No.  His greatness lies in his ties with the Master.  His life, teachings, and death enable us to look, not just at him, but through him to Jesus Christ.  That's what a true leader does.  He reflects, not himself, but his Creator.

Lode all'uomo Che Vide Dio! (Praise to the Man Who Communed with Jehovah)
Sorella Ashley Nef

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Faith is Belief that God is Real and that He is Good

(Back) Robinson, me, Bradford, DiCaro, Duffin, Nickle; (Front) Mikesell, Hurlburt
Let me see: what can I tell you about his week?  I did a lot of walking (walked all the way back from Monreale twice this week.  It takes 2 hours or so, but what can you do when no buses are running?).  I slept when I could (which wasn't much).  I ate lots of food...yeah.  We have had meal appointments every single day (2 on Christmas Eve), and they are continuing through part of this week.  And, it so happens that dinner appointments include our entire District.  Pretty great, huh?  Seems that members love having us all together, and therefore, put on a generous spread for the whole lot of us.  It's a riot!

Bustin' at the Seams
One of our biggest meals was with Sorella Carrera.  She's a super good cook and a very sweet woman, but she stuffs you to explosion point, and gets offended if you don't eat or finish her food.  She made us bread, rolls, broccoli rolls, spinach pastry, crescent rolls with hot dog - and she gave us more than one of each (Italian hostesses fill your plate for you).  We thought that was the first dish.  NO.  That was only the appetizer.  The first dish was a meal-size portion of Pasta al Forno - baked pasta with meat and cheese and sauce.  Then meat rolls.  Then sausage.  Then fruit.  Then cannoli.  Then cake.  Then cookies.  It was RIDICULOUS.  I thought I was going to explode.  Can I just not eat for a week?  Oh, wait - we have member dinner appointments EVERY DAY.  Really, it's a blessing, but if any of them are like Sorella Carrera, I just don't know how I am going to survive.

Saint Stephen's Day
Luigi and Guido from Disney's Movie, Cars
In a land boasting dozens of holidays and holy feasts, Christmas is surprisingly low-key here.  Officially, it's a long season, lasting through the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January). The day after Christmas is Saint Stephen's Day (like the carol, Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen). It's a national holiday.  So, Christmas Eve, Italians don't do much, but the day after Christmas is a big feasting party day.

Our District got together and watched Monster's University (adorable!), and Cars (Anziano Duffin's all-time favorite) in Italian.  Anziano DiCaro says that in the Italian version, the
two Italian cars, Luigi and Guido, have accents from Emilia-Romagna (Bologna) and Venezia (Venice) respectively.  Super entertaining.  We watched the movies on Thursday then headed straight to an internet center to Skype with our families.  AWESOME!  Clearly the highlight of my week.

Auguri - Best Wishes!
Our only day that we managed to have time to work was Saturday, so we went out to do some Finding.  The weather has been getting colder and colder and wetter and wetter. Scarves are my best friend.  I can see why Italians like them so much.  Scarves are necessary here.  Everyone is gearing up for New Years (Capo d'Anno is what it is called).  Like I said, they celebrate Christmas here until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, so everyone still says Merry Christmas as they pass on the street.  Actually, for the season, Italians say "Auguri" ("Wishes," as in Best Wishes, Congratulations). It's really cute seeing people greet each other on the street with huge smiles and cheek kisses saying, "Auguri! Auguri!"

Palermo: Big City Appeal - Small Town Feel
Two people chatting from their balconies
Something I've noticed about southern Italians is that they are creatures of comfort - in a good way.  They live long lives because they avoid stress however possible.  They eat well, sleep well, and they live to be happy.  Charming.

A distinct difference between southern and northern Italians (that I've seen from those who have moved down or visited from the north) is that southern Italians are extroverted.  Northerners are reserved, more business-like. Down here, everyone is friends and family.  They don't really differentiate.
Palermo Women
picture: allposters.com

This familial warmth gives the big city of Palermo a small-town mentality.  Everybody knows most everyone else.  They trust one another.  Take each other at their word.  Palermo is a city of hospitality, for sure.  People greet each other in the streets, stop and chat at local fruit/fish vendors, they call to one another from their balconies.  They know how to visit and enjoy because everyone is considered family. Truly, one of the endearing things about Palermo.

Palermo's Trash Problem
I hate to admit it, but my charming Palermo has a dirty side.  Yep.  A huge trash problem resides in Sicily's capital.  Piles of trash line streets, fill corners, and heap in alleys throughout the city.  In some roads there are refuse-related traffic jams where two-lane streets are reduced to a single lane and the vehicles traveling in each direction have to take turns getting through the bottle neck.
So, what's the deal?  No collection system set up?  A garbage worker's strike, per chance, or a union dispute? No, No, and No.  Wish it were so easy. Apparently the city outsources refuse collection to a company that is actually Mafia Incorporated.  Palermo residents pay the highest rate of taxes for garbage collection in Europe, and the garbage stays where people leave it. Sad.  Where does the money go?  I think you can answer that question.  A local lawyer got a hold of a copy of the refuse collection contract.  It says, in essence, that the city council must pay the collection company's salaries whether the garbage is taken away or not.  It also says that the garbage company will decide how many employees it needs to hire in order to not collect the rubbish.  What?  

With a city that seems to have cornered the market on family ties, you'd think they'd take a little pride in their homeland.  So what does this mean for shabby-chic Palermo?  I suppose she'll have to hold her grunge with grace until some people decide to clean up their act. 

Heads-Up for the New Year
I've learned to duck through doorways
Once a year, however, some mounting rubbish is not from negligent corporations.  New Years is this week.  The mission has a rule that all missionaries must be in our apartment by 6pm New Year's Eve and then in our house all day for New Year's Day.  Reason?  Seems that Italians like tossing pots and pans and furniture out of windows for the New Year.  Apparently, it's a long-time symbol of letting go of the past and looking to the future.  Most of Italy has since abandoned the tradition, but heads up on the streets of Naples and Palermo, Sicily.  They're still in the process of letting go.

Speaking of heads-up.  I had to get a picture of me in front of a typical Sicilian doorjam (right).  I do not understand why they insist on making doors so short here.  Oh well.

While locked indoors for New Year, our District plans on celebrating by having a Mexican food party with nachos and burritos and chips and guacamole.  I know - more eating, but this time we'll be able to control portions.  Bueno!

Random Pics of Transportation in Palermo

Vespas everywhere!

Fruit Truck

The mule can probably pack more than a Fiat

Bread vendor and his wagon

Faith is a Belief that God is Real and that He is Good
I am nearing the end of the Book of Mormon, so it looks like I will finish it in time for the new year.  From personal studies, Faith is a thing I have been pondering.  Faith at its basic level was described by King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon:
Believe in God; believe that He is,
that He created all things, both in heaven and in earth;
believe that He has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth;
believe that man doth not comprehend all the things
which the Lord can comprehend.
Mosiah 4:9
Most have basic faith that God is all powerful, all knowledgeable, and can do all things.  We can get behind that.  But the profound form of Faith - the kind that leads to peace of mind and even to miracles - comes in the next level.

We all believe that God can do all things, but do we believe that He will do what we want or need?  That depends.
     It depends on if our will aligns with His will.
     It depends on if our want is what we need.
     It depends on if our desire is what is best.
You see, before we ask God for anything, an important truth to realize is this: Faith is not only a belief that God is real and all-powerful, but that He is Good.  And since He is Good, He will always have our best interest at heart.  Let me explain further with this verse.
Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name,
which is good,
in faith believing that ye shall receive,
behold, it shall be done unto you.
Moroni 7:26
True, right?  Ask for what is good, believe, and receive!  Sounds easy.  But, what if what we ask isn't necessarily for our good?  What if we ask for something, in faith, and He does not grant it?  Then what?
     What if we ask for healing, and He says, "learn from the pain"?
     What if we ask for an end to financial struggle, and He says, "learn to cherish what you have"?
     What if we ask for the life of a loved one, and He says, "I have greater plans at work"?
What if what we think is good turns out to be inferior to God's Plan?

Faith, then, is a choice to believe that the One who made it all hasn't left it all to chance.  He still heals hurts, guides the lost, sends light into darkness, and is actively involved in giving you a life of growth (not always in ways that you expect).

God Will Always Do What is Right
One thing I've noticed: The big question that Christ usually asks people before He heals or helps is "Do you believe...?"  He is not asking necessarily if we believe He can do the act.  What He is asking is if we believe He will.  It's much more personal and tries a deeper level of faith.  Reminds me of a plaque on my mom's dresser that says, "Faith is not believing that God can, it is knowing that He will."  
Will what?  Grant every wish? Guarantee every desire?  Cater to every whim?  Heaven's no.  Life is supposed to test us.  Besides, we aren't smart enough to comprehend what we need for our optimum growth.

But when He has made a promise and He's slow to answer - we trust.  Trust His timing and believe He will come through with a miracle because He is Good and will always do what is best.                      
"Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want.
It is the belief that God will do what is right."
Max Lucado
Bottom line:  There's no guarantee that He will respond to what we want.  We hope He will.  All we know for certain is that He is Real and that He is Good.  And, because He is Good - He will always do what is right. That's faith.

(This idea inspired post in family blog nefchronicles.wordpress.com You Can't Always Get What You Want June 2014)

Here's to a Capo d'Anno of Greater Faith and Abundant Blessings!

Sorella Ashley Nef