Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Villa Giulia Botanical Gardens and Growth

Sorella Marsh and I in Villa Giulia
The New Companionship
I'd like to introduce you to my new companion: Sorella Stephanie Marsh from Murray, Utah.  I really like her.  Mikesell's new companion is Sorella Jackson from Kanab, Utah.  (I had to tell her of uncle Chris' story of attending the Red Sands Academy of Music in Kanab and majoring in kazoo.  She was impressed!) Already, they've rolled up their sleeves and gotten busy, because when we picked them up at the station on Thursday, they had a referral contact.  Super cool.  Poor Marsh had to unpack and sleep all of Friday. Jet lag is a beast.
Palermo Airport

Sergio's Karaoke Taxi Service
We said goodbye to Sorella Robinson and saw her off to Cagliari - a really interesting morning at that. We missed the last train before her flight and ended up having to hitch a ride from Sergio (the singer) and Susy who had showed up to say goodbye. They bought us cookies and pizza at the airport, and then on our way back home, Sergio played for us "California King" and "Kiss Me," a couple of his fav songs.

The Palermo Airport is nestled between beautiful granite mountains and the sea.
The blue of sea and sky out here is stunning.  That's Monte Pellegrino (Pilgrim's Mountain) in the distance.

Hipster Manfredi
Thursday evening was English Course - it went well.  A couple of families that are showing a lot of potential. We have an Italian hipster in our class named Manfredi who wants to go to Connecticut, of all places.  He played "Clocks" by Coldplay on the piano for us.  Very talented.

Don't Bug Me
Chiara and her daughter were sick all week, so we couldn't meet, but she is still reading the Book of Mormon and says she has lots of questions.

In fact, everyone was falling sick this week.  I had a fever and chills and ended up in bed most of Wednesday, but was back on my feet the next day.  Anziano Kasper was not so lucky.  He's been out of it all week, poor guy.

Villa Giulia (pronounced Vee-ya Julia)
The weather is clearing up and we are seeing the sun and blue, blue skies.  It's reminding me of home.
P-day, we ventured over to the seafront to visit Palermo's most notable formal garden, Villa Giulia.
Opened in 1778 and enlarged in 1866, this geometrically structured oasis was the first public garden in Palermo.  It was named after Giulia d'Avalos, wife of a Spanish Viceroy.

Some cultural arts nuances in the garden are these semi-circular structures known as Neoclassic exedras.  They were built to stage outdoor musical and theatrical performances.

Adjacent to Villa Giulia are the Botanical Gardens created by Ferdinand III in 1785.  The gardens cover roughly 10 acres with paths winding around four distinct areas that hold an array of plants, flowers, and trees (some centuries old) from around the world.
The Ancient Ficus Trees blow my mind
Genio di Palermo (1778) by Ignazio Marabitti
Latin motto of Palermo:
"King's crown, Kingdom's seat, Reigning Head"
Norman declaration that Palermo is the Capital

Enchanted by the park's beauty, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described the garden as "The most wonderful spot on earth."  I can see why.  Amazing statues of people and symbols in Palermo's past only add to the beauty of this outdoor sanctuary, most of which were created by the great Sicilian sculptor, Ignazio Marabitti.  GORGEOUS.  Take a look.
La Maldicenza by Ignazio Marabitti
Theophrastus (371-287BC) "Father of Botany"

The garden is widely recognized as one of the finest in Europe because of its large variety of exotic plants and flowers including bamboo palms, papaya, cotton, coffee plants, and a large collection of cactus.

Apparently, it's part of the University of Palermo and is one of the oldest centers for botanical studies in the entire Mediterranean region!
Loved loved this place.
This Arabian style structure was being used as a janitor's shed.  Go figure!
Happy Birthday to Me
Had a shake for my birthday today (Feb 24th).  The elders called this morning and sang happy birthday.  Very sweet.  Sorella Waddoups called to wish me happy b-day on behalf of her and President (I heard Pres yell happy birthday in the background).  It was very nice of them.  The ward is throwing a little birthday celebration tonight - I'm looking forward to it.  Thank you to everyone for the dozens and dozens of emails, letters, and good wishes.  I'm feeling the love!

Baptism By Immersion
Sunday we went to another baptism for an 8 year-old.  Nice experience.  As I've thought about baptism by immersion and washing away of sins, I love its many levels of symbolism.

Death of Sin and Resurrection of New Life
The Apostle Paul likened baptism to the death of sin.  The immersion beneath the water is like a burial: a burial of the old body of sin, or, the death and burial of your old life.

But once submerged, do you remain there?  Of course not.  Just as Christ arose from the tomb, you arise in newness of life.

And, because you come forth in newness of life, Jesus gave baptism another symbolism and referred to it as a Re-birth.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
John 3:5
Now, think of a baby's birth.  Brand new.  Think of what we all came with as babies: new hands, new eyes, mouth, new legs, and feet.  Who gave us these parts?  Did we make them ourselves?  No.  God made everything.  He was the one who made everything new the first time, and He is the One who makes everything new the second.  All we have to do is come unto Christ.  
If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:
old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Made New
In the process of faith, repentance, and baptism, God remakes our hearts and gives us what we need, again.
     New eyes so we can see by faith
     New mind so we can discern righteously
     New voice for speaking kindness
     New hands for reaching out in service
     New feet for walking a covenant path
     And, most of all, a new heart: a heart cleansed by Christ
We become new creatures.  Don't we need this?  
I mean, we - all of us - have messed up and used our eyes to see impurity, hands to withhold service, our feet to walk wrong paths.  All of us need to be made new again: a re-birth.  The first birth was for earthly life.  This second birth is for eternal life.  But, here's the thing:  with this new life -
     Does it mean we'll never choose wrong again?
     Does it mean that the old nature will never re-surface?
     Or that we will instantly be able to resist all temptation?
No, no, and no.

Growth is a process
Just think of a new baby.  What can a brand new baby do?  Can he walk?  Feed himself?  Can he sing or read or even speak?  No, not yet.  But someday he will.  It takes time to grow.

But, is the parent of that new baby ashamed or embarrassed that the infant can't spell?  Of course not. Parents are proud and full of love for the new child that has entered their family.  They know growth takes time.  So does God.

That's why salvation does not stop with Baptism.  It doesn't end with receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Now that Baptism brings us forth in newness of life, we continue our walk - this time with the Savior.

The Sacrament: Emblems of Renewal
God is often more patient with us than we are with ourselves.
     We assume that if we fall, we aren't born again.
     If we have the old desires then we must not be a new 
If you are anxious about this, just keep going to the Sacrament table every week.  This is where we renew our Baptismal covenants.  Renewing covenants renews blessings.
     •  As we repent (put to death old habits), sins are removed.
     •  As we re-immerse ourselves in His love, we're renewed.
     •  As a member of Christ's family, as we resolve to 
         represent Him well, our worth is revealed.
     •  As we open our heart, the Holy Ghost prompts, inspires,
         and heals.
     •  As we internalize His emblems and remember Him, 
         perspective is restored.
Basically, renewing Baptismal covenants renews you, making you closer to Christ.  More like Christ.  But, this wont happen on just one Sunday.  No way.  Maturing in the gospel is a life-long process of learning and trying and living until it sinks in and changes our nature.  So, I'll see you at the Sacrament table.

Benedizioni e Rinnovando a Tutti (Blessings and Renewing to All),
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sightseeing in Cefalu and Saying Goodbye

Mikesell and I riding the train to Cefalu

Just an hour train ride east of Palermo is the small town of Cefalu.  Cefalu is one of Sicily's finest beach resorts and, in the summer, attracts scads of tourists from all over Italy and Europe.

In February, however, we found it calm, relaxing, and very charming.

We sisters went last Monday.  After an intense week, it was nice to get away for an afternoon.

La Rocca in Cefalu

The Rock
Cefalu is most memorable for the giant granite outcropping, called La Rocca (the Rock).

La Rocca juts up vertically alongside the town and holds the ancient ruins of the Greek Temple of Diana on its peak.  We did not venture to the top to visit the ruins.

Cefalu Cathedral, built 1131
The Cathedral
Prominent in Cefalu's skyline is the twin-towered Cathedral.  The Duomo is reminiscent of Monreale's, built in the same century (12th), by a different king of Sicily (Roger II).

Legend says that Roger II built the church in 1131 as a monument of gratitude to God for sparing his life in a violent storm off of Cefalu's shores.

The Inside
Cefalu's Cathedral is built in Norman style, and like Monreale Cathedral, it features a Christ Pantocrator above the altar, Arabic influences, Roman columns, and Bysantine mosaics (actually older, but somewhat less impressive).  The ancient church is simple (as far as cathedral standards) and beautiful.

The Streets
We spent most of the day meandering through town.  Walking the curvy alleys becomes a very cool experience when it dawns on you that you're on stone streets dating back to ancient Roman times.

The Coast

These Boots Were Made for Walkin'
Sorella Bradford and me

Arrivederci Bradford!
We said goodbye to Sorella Bradford.  She has successfully completed her mission and will be heading back home to Switzerland Tuesday morning.

She has been such a great missionary and an awesome friend so goodbyes were extra tough.

Getting her stuff organized and together, we almost pulled an all-nighter last night, then woke up at 4:30 this morning to leave by 5am to get her to the airport in time for her 7:45 flight.  Now she's off in Rome for the interim before flying home.

I am losing a fantastic companion, but know I have gained a life-long friend.

More Goodbyes with Transfers
Anziano Nickle and me
 Three elders are leaving:
 Anziano DiCaro, Anziano Nickle, and Anziano Garner  (Garner was only here for one transfer! "One and Done"  as we say, poor guy).  Rigby stays.

 Besides Bradford going home, one sister is being  transfered: Sorella Robinson is going to Cagliari,  Sardegna!  I have been telling her all about it.
 Mikesell and I stay.
Anziano Di Caro and me

 I love these guys  -  they're like family to  me.  Truly, the  hardest part of the  mission is having to  say goodbye.

 Super good friends  here.  Great  missionaries.
Anziano Garner, DiCaro, Nickle, Rigby, moi, Sorella Mikesell, Bradford, Robinson
That's Chowder the dog (who is afraid of cats)

Training a Greenie
Even though Mikesell and I are staying in Palermo, we will be getting new companions who will arrive on Thursday.  Her companion will be Sorella Jackson.  I will be training a brand new companion (Greenie) from the MTC.  Woohoo!

I am honored, blessed, and excited to be training.  On the phone, President said, "The Lord has asked you to train a new missionary in the field.  Are you willing to accept that responsibility?"  I accepted, of course.  I like that it is an invitation like a calling. 

Welcome Elder Burnham and Elder Kasper
Palermo District with our Ward Mission Leader
Anziano Burnham, Garner, Bradford, Michele Boscia, Robinson, me, Mikesell, Kasper, Rigby
As DiCaro and Nickle were the first to transfer to Rome, we welcomed Anziano Burnham (who was in the MTC with me) and Anziano Kasper.  Both elders had been serving in Rome for FOREVER.  And, let me tell you, Palermo is not Rome.  The work is very different down here - the character of the people is different, the ward situation is very different - so these elders are having to adjust.

L'autista - The Driver
When Burnham and Kasper arrived, they had to go through Palermo 1 initiation - Sorella Giambona's "L'Autista" (The Driver, in English).

Here's how it goes:
You eat your typical, ginormous Sicilian meal (pasta, meat, veggies, fruit, cheese, dessert) and then Sorella Giambona juices a bunch of lemons - enough to fill a tall glass about 1/3 full, add a little water, and then you set it before the victim who holds it ready to chug as a spoonful of baking soda is very quickly stirred into the cup.  After about 3 seconds it starts to expand and foam and you CHUG THAT SUCKER DOWN!!!

Bar-none, every missionary who comes into the ward is required to experience Giambona's l'autista.  The look of horror on Kasper and Burnham's face was PRICELESS as they drank that thing as fast as they could.  SO FUNNY!  By the look of Kasper's face in this picture, I think he's still feeling the effects of the Driver.
Back: Mikesell, me, Burnham, Kasper
Middle: Ricardo (investigator), ward members
Bottom row: Robinson, Bradford, fantastic John, Garner, Rigby

Sad Songs Say So Much
Meanwhile, students in English Course are having a hard time with the transfer of two favorite teachers. One student named Sergio (who has a wife and kid) is absolutely inconsolable.  He ran through the Church calling for Nickle the day Nickle left.  He came the next day and refused to go into Nickle's former class, but instead attended the sisters' class.  Then he printed off song lyrics and sang them to us, telling us this was how he felt about Nickle ("Everything" by Michael Buble, and "I Can't Live if Living is Without You" by Mariah Carey).  He then came to Family Home Evening and sang "Home" by Michael Buble.

Also at Family Home Evening, another investigator put together a video slide show (from pictures she took from our Facebook pages) expressing love for DiCaro and us missionaries.  Can you tell it was Valentine's day this week? - Amore is in the air!

"God Giveth No Command...Save He Shall Prepare a Way"
On the way to meet us for a discussion, Chiara ran into one of her friends who asked what she was doing.  She told him about the missionary lessons, which sparked some interest, so she invited him to come to Church, and he agreed.  "I hope that is ok," said Chiara.  Uh, YEAH THAT'S OK!  GET HIM IN HERE!  How cool is that?  I am really excited for Chiara because I can see that she really does want to know the truth of all of this.  I haven't yet taught an investigator with this much interest and real intent.  It's wonderful.

When we taught Chiara the Restoration, the Spirit was strong.  She's already read up through 1 Nephi 8 and has highlighted passages that strike her.  One of her favorites is from the prophet Nephi.
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded,
for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments
unto the children of men,
save he shall prepare a way for them
that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
1 Nephi 3:7
When she brought up this verse, she testified to the fact that - no matter how difficult the trial or how trying the circumstance, God always prepares a way for us to do His will.

God Has Done it Before, He Will Do it Again
David fights Goliath
I agree.  Throughout scripture, God, the Master Weaver and Miracle-worker, redeems people in the most crazy extreme circumstances.  And, if He can prepare the way for others, can't He prepare the way for us as well?

I mean, life has a way of throwing curve balls and sometimes we wonder how we'll get through it.  A lot of times we fear we won't.
     We fear the money will never come
     The darkness will never lift
     The pain will never subside
     The strength will never last
We feel cornered, locked-in, set up for failure.  Is there a way through?  Yes!  Scripture is written to show us - God has done it before for the faithful, and He will do it again for us.

The Raising of Lazarus by Jeffrey Hein
There is A Way Up and Out
I have a friend who is left with scars from some pretty intense darkness, and I want him to know - there is always a way up and out.  Recall the stories:
     Out of the pit and prison for Joseph
     Out of the lion's den for Daniel
     Out of the furnace for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
     Out of Jerusalem with the brass plates for Nephi
     Out of the whale's stomach for Jonah
     Out of Goliath's grip for David
The stories are endless and testify of God's power over life's extremes.  I thought of more reminders.
     Out of the storm for the Disciples,
     the Dungeon for Nephi and Lehi, 
     Disease for the lepers, 
     Darkness for the blind, and
     Death for Lazarus
The lesson again and again?  God gets us through stuff.  Through is a prominent word in scripture.  Listen to this verse from the Old Testament.

When thou passest through the water, I will be with thee;
and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee:
when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned;
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Isaiah 43:2
You'll get through this.  Heavenly Father never promised that it would be painless, but He would get us through.  He never said the hard stuff would pass quickly, but He would work it out for our greatest good. He would re-weave the pain for a higher purpose - for our greatest growth and blessing.  All we need to do is ask Him to prepare the way.

One thing is for sure - when we're in the pits, it forces us to look up.

Grazie for your prayers this week.  Man, we have needed and felt them!
Sorella Ashley Nef

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

No Unhallowed Hand Can Stop the Work

Rome Temple Progress
Thank you Anziano Steurer for the beautiful photo
"Why Did God Tell Me to Come Here Today?"
Chiara Magro came to us as a referral from a friend in England that called up the Anziani of Palermo 2 to put her into contact with the sisters.  We received her information on Saturday and got in touch with her the same day.  Because she was anxious to meet with us, she came to Church the very next day, and at one point asked, "Why did God tell me to come here today?  What do you have for me?"  That's the best question there is!  So we talked about how we have answers and the fulness of the gospel - truly the same Church Christ established when He was on the earth.  After an enjoyable experience at Church, she said she'd love to meet with us "if we have time" (ha!) because she has so many questions and wants to learn more.  Looks like the Spirit has been preparing someone!

A Match Made in Heaven
We met with another less-active from Palermo 2.  Turns out Sorella Mikesell actually knows her sister from Bari (Mikesell's previous area).  Crazy!  Mikesell and Palermo 2 is a match made in heaven.

Zone Conference: "Personal Revelation and Following the Spirit"
This was my favorite Zone Conference so far because the addestramenti (talks) were so good.  Just lots of inspiration and upliftment.  It was more discussion based, which was one of the reasons I really liked it.
Blindfold Activity:
Sorella Waddoups for her activity blindfolded four missionaries and sent them outside the room and divided everyone else into four groups (one for each blindfolded missionary).  I was one of the blindfolded ones.  We were not told what to do until we were back in the room with a group.

"Follow the instructions from your group" was the direction from Sorella W, and immediately all of my group (including my companion) start yelling all kinds of contrary information.  "Turn left!"  "Go straight!"  "No, don't listen to him!"  "Listen to me, turn around!"  Obviously, it was impossible and I ended up not going anywhere.

After a minute of that, we blindfolded ones were sent outside again, and when we were brought back in, our new instructions went like this:
     "Ok - in 3 seconds, the designated voice will say 'I am the designated voice.'  Ok - 1...2...3..."
     Anziano Stout (whom I had just barely met an hour before) says, "I am your designated voice."
     "Sorry Nef," says Mikesell, my companion.
Then everyone starts screaming again: "Turn right!"  "Go straight!"  "I am the designated voice, listen to me!"  Meanwhile, Mikesell is just rapping the whole time right in my ear.  Hilarious.

It was impossible to pick out Anziano Stout's voice in all the confusion.  Eventually I picked a voice I thought was him and started following it - it wasn't and I ended up on the stand next to Sorella Waddoups instead of next to the picture of Jesus.  Whoops.
     "Ok ok - that's enough!  Go back to your seats," said Sorella W.  "What can we all learn from this?"

It's a Rap!
Good question.  I responded that I didn't know or recognize Anziano Stout very well - I had just met him - so it was practically impossible for me to distinguish his voice from the others (except maybe from rapping Mikesell).  It's like that with investigators - they have only just encountered the Spirit in lessons, so it must be very confusing and disconcerting trying to work through all the distractions and noise of life to pick out the Spirit and it's promptings.  So we need to help them come to know the Spirit, give them help to pick it out, and learn more of how to recognize it.  A very cool experience.

The Battle Between Light and Dark
Some events this last week have been a sobering reminder of how real the battle is between good and evil. While I will not go into detail, I will say this:  The Lord has dramatically increased his missionary forces, so it should come as no surprise that Satan has done the same.

When it comes to battles fought against seemingly impossible odds, I think of the Old Testament story of the prophet Elisha.

They that Be With Us are More Than They that Be With Them
Elijah Taken Up in a Chariot, Passes his Prophetic Mantle to Elisha
by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1682-1754)
The Prophet Elisha was Israel's secret weapon.  Under God's direction, Elisha gave Israel tactics and strategies that led to their defeating the great Syrian army time and again.  When the King of Syria caught wind of Israel's ringer general, he immediately sent thousands of horses, chariots, and a vast contingent of men to surround the city by night so Elisha could not escape.  Their sole purpose was not to capture the city - they wanted to destroy the prophet.

Elisha's only ally at this point was his servant, a boy.  Not good odds.  One prophet and one kid against a ginormous army.  The boy was petrified.  He saw the enemy everywhere, and in terror he cried, "What are we going to do?  We're surrounded!" Elisha's reply was this:
"Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them."
2 Kings 6:16
They that be with us?  Are you kidding me?  Two.  Against a mass of darkness and evil.  Two!  No math needed here.  There are no others.  One companionship is no match for what surrounds them.  But then comes the prophet's prayer.
"Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.
And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw:
and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha."
2 Kings 6:17
The servant looked up and saw the hills literally covered with horses and chariots of fire and a massive army of heavenly hosts ready to protect.  More, indeed.  The sight changed everything.  Yes, they were surrounded by the enemy, but the enemy and they were encompassed by an awesome heavenly alliance, and suddenly the enemy seemed puny and powerless.  One glimpse of heaven's army and suddenly the boy felt unconquerable.  One glimpse of heaven's help can do the same for us.

Be Strong and of Good Courage
Missionaries aren't the only ones in the thick of spiritual battles.  The struggle between light and dark are battles we all face every day.  

The War that began in Heaven before the world was, is a war that continues today; a battle for the souls of men.  Yet, take courage because angels of Light are fighting to protect you.

So, if darkness is dimming your view of the forces behind you and the powers guiding you forward, recall the prophet's words, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

I have not seen mountains full of horses and chariots of fire, but this week I have seen God's protecting hand.  Seeing Him buoys my courage.  It can bring you courage too, just look with eyes of faith.
Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you.
Doctrine and Covenants 68:6

I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand and on your left,
and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:88

Put On the Whole Armour of God
Very few of the armies we face in life can be confronted with sword or shield, but we are not left without spiritual accoutrements of war.  The Apostle Paul describes the necessary arsenal in the New Testament.
Put on the whole armour of God, 
that ye may be able to stand
against the wiles of the devil.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,
against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with Truth,
having on the breastplate of Righteousness;
And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace;
Above all, taking the shield of Faith,
wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmut of Salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;
Ephesians 6:11-17
Paul wrote this battle speech/epistle to prepare the Ephesian saints for the spiritual battles they would face. I wonder if he knew at the time that his words would inspire troops centuries later. "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.  Pray always with the Spirit, and watch with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Ephesians 6:10, 18).

"It is Not This Day"
Another warrior who unified his brethren and made equally courageous battle preparations is in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.  King Aragorn stands with his Army of the West outside the Gates of Mordor.  They are about to battle Sauron's hordes of Orcs, Trolls, and barbarian Mannish allies who surround a fortress that stands as the last defense of good against evil.

Aragorn's small force of the West is ridiculously outnumbered and completely surrounded by the enemy. The moment is dark.  The feeling - ominous.  It looks as if all is lost.  But before this final battle, Aragorn delivers one of the most epic battle speeches that stirs my soul and moves me to draw my sword in defense of all that is good.
"Hold your ground, hold your ground.
Sons of Gandor, of Rohan, my brothers.
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of men fails,
when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship,
But it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields,
when the age of men come crashing down,
But it is not this day.
This day we fight!
By all that you hold dear on this good Earth,
I bid you stand, Men of the West!"
The events of this week may have become dark and disturbing, and the forces of evil may have hoped to "break all bonds of fellowship," or "shatter shields," or make the work "come crashing down," but, guess what - It is not this day.  This day we fight.  This day we fear not, for the Lord is our Salvation and this work - His work - will continue. 

Rome Temple Progress
Case-in-point: The Rome Temple.  As scaffolding comes down from the Temple, a holy edifice emerges.
Thank you Anziano Steurer for the beautiful photos

A monument to Eternal Life and Salvation.

Already stunning.

The closer the Temple approaches completion, the more Satan pours on the heat.  He knows he's running out of time, and the Lord's forces are only getting stronger.

Captain Moroni Raises the Title of Liberty
by Walter Rane
The Call to Battle
As missionaries hear the call to battle and raise our banners along side the likes of Elijah, Elisha, Aragorn, Paul, Moroni, and countless other commanders in God's Army, In memory of our God, our Religion, and Freedom, and our Peace, we can step up to the task before us without fear, for we do not fight alone.  

As the Temple steadily emerges, we know full well of the help that is increasing from beyond the veil.  Those that be with us are more than they that be with them

Satan may scream and holler, stomp his feet and pitch his fits, but you know what?  God is so much more powerful and in control, and Satan is on a short leash.  Truth is, the devil may land a punch or two.  He may even win a few rounds, but he never wins the fight.  

Spoiler: We know who wins in the end.  The manuscript has been written.  The book has been bound.  God and good wins.  End of story.  So, the work of God cannot be derailed. His work of Salvation will continue - in the world and within you.  Just have faith to stay on the Lord's side.

Battle Cry
Prophets, Generals, and Captains throughout the centuries have had battle cries that have defined an army and determined a battle.  Our dispensation is not left without our defining mantra.

I leave you with the Prophet Joseph Smith's Standard of Truth.
"No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; 
persecutions may rage, mobs may combine,
armies may assemble, calumny may defame,
but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, 
till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime,
swept every country, and sounded in every ear,
till the purposes of God shall be accomplished,
and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done."
(The Wentworth Letter, History of the Church 4:540)
Amen and Amen,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bringing Good News in Bagheria

photo: wikipedia

Seven miles from Palermo is the eastern province town of Bagheria (pronounced Bah-gair-ia), or Baaria in Sicilian slang.  The name Bagheria originates from the Phoenician term Bayharia, meaning "Bay Area" or "Land descending seaward."  Another source claims it's from Arabic Bab al-Gerib, or "windy gateway."  I'm from the California Bay Area, so it seemed fitting that our focus this last week would be turned to this beautiful bay area town.

A Little History
In the mid-1600s, a Sicilian prince built a villa in Bagheria and established the region as an elite vacation get-away for the rich and famous.  For the next hundred years, Sicily's noble and aristocratic flocked to Bagheria, and villas began dotting the landscape.  Gorgeous baroque, Roman, and neoclassic villas with poetic names like Villarosa, Aragona, San Cataldo, and Palagonia are nestled in a town outlined with newer post-war constructions.  Here are a few pictures - evidence of a grand past:
Villa Palagonia built 1715
Villa Inguaggiato built 1770
Villa Cattolica built 1736, now a museum
Ricercando in Bagheria - Finding in Bagheria
Bagheria is in the part of Palermo that belongs to the other missionaries, but since they have a list of less-actives that are more appropriate for sisters to teach, well, we just had to go help out.

Bagheria church at the end of the pedestrian only street
Licia's Testimony
The Institute teacher asked us to help with Tuesday's Institute lesson that would be held in the home of Licia La Rizza, the less-active we met with a couple weeks ago.  Licia gave the spiritual thought and openly shared her desire to live closer to the Lord.  Then she bore testimony on prayer and how God answers us always. The Spirit was there - powerfully.

Calling on Families
The next day, we were able to help the Anziani of Bagheria get in to see a family that hasn't seen the missionaries in who-knows-how-long, and we all bore testimony on the power of Christ to get us through any and all hard times.  The Spirit, again, was very strong.

Second Time's the Charm
Then we met with the Cina family (which was fantastic since this family has refused to meet with missionaries in months).  It was a great teaching opportunity in more ways than one.

Turns out, Sorella Mikesell's brother, Jordan, served his mission in Italy some four years ago, and his favorite area was Palermo.  In fact, our appointment in Bagheria with the Cina family (also one of her brother's favorite families, we just found out) was on Jordan's birthday.  How's that for a coincidence!  It is no accident that Mikesell came to Palermo and that we have the opportunity to work in Palermo 2 area.

Pirbacco! It's Giorgio!
On the street, we found a hilarious old guy named Giorgio.  When we approached him, the first thing he said was, "Pirbacco!" which is an exclamation of surprise, like wow, cool, oh my gosh, golly, jee-wiz!

The funny thing was that Anziano DiCaro had just taught Mikesell that word a couple of days before and challenged her to use it.  Once we heard Giorgio say it, Mikesell exclaimed (in English), "Hey, that's my word!"  Giorgio speaks English and understood what she said.  We laughed and invited him to attend English Course.  And he showed up!

When the lesson was over, he said, "The lesson was wonderful.  No, it was fantastic!  No, it was marvelous! No, it was STUPENDOUS!"  He's a character, but he says he doesn't want to discuss the gospel (yet).
Wall of Graffiti with Love sayings
Call Me Princess Albert
At Institute there was a little boy who wanted to be called a Princess, even though his mom tried really hard to convince him he was a Prince.  He eventually conceded he was not a Princess, but was instead a Queen.  For the rest of the evening, his frustrated mom gently persuaded him that he was an Emperor.

Hot Chocolate: Good to the Last Spoonful
After Institute, we all ate hot chocolate.  I say ate because Italian hot chocolate is thick and delicious like pudding.  Mmmmmmmm.

Michele Boscia
Ward Mission Leader, Michele Boscia, is a painter.  In his family's studio, I photographed one of his pieces.
Michele Boscia painting

Antique Treasure
An appreciation for fine things runs in the Boscia family.  The antique box (right) is from the antique store Michele Boscia's grandfather owns.  The intriguing box can only be opened by sequentially moving a series of secret sliding panels until it reveals a hidden key which unlocks the small chest.  We have one similar to this at home.  Apparently, Sorrento (near Napoli) specializes in these boxes.  I don't know the age of this one.

We are doing lots of less active work and seeing some cool results.  The miracle of the week is Francesca Fernandez.  She was baptized at 19 and has been inactive for 20 years.  She is super sweet, quite humble, and was genuinely pleased to see us on her doorstep because she said she was surprised that her name was still on record, but happy that we found her.  Her husband and four children are not members, but we see a lot of hope in this family.  The Spirit was there.  By the end of our visit, she specifically asked us all to come back and welcomed the idea of our bringing members to join in on her lessons.
View of Bagheria with its vineyards and farmland
And He Shall Be Called...
In personal study, I have been looking for the many names and titles of Jesus and writing them down.  So far I have 118.  There are a lot more.  Looking at my list, I notice titles that are nothing less than resplendent and imposing:
Lord of all, Son of God, Holy One, The Word, King of the Jews, The Bright and Morning Star, The Light of the world, The Everlasting Father, Alpha and Omega.

These titles stretch the boundaries of human vocabulary in an attempt to describe the indescribable - the immensity of Jehovah.  Try as they might to define Him, the language is just too, well, inadequate.  There simply are no words that can describe Him.  Maybe that's why there are so many.  No single name does Him justice.

Frankly, these are titles I find un-relatable.  They may begin to express the grandeur of Christ's role in the universe, but they don't express His relationship to me personally.

That's why I like to look at the many aspects of Christ's character that play a pivotal role in my life.  Just think:  He is our Brother, our Redeemer, our Rock and our Salvation, our Advocate, Mediator, Savior, our Teacher, our Friend, our Healer, and God's ultimate expression of Love for us.  These are characteristics I can relate to.

In Heaven, Christ is certainly all Powerful, Almighty, and Omniscient, but on Earth He was approachable, touchable, and reachable.

The Gentle Healer by Greg Olsen
His Name was Called Jesus
Marry Christ's grand titles with personal characteristics and you have a Deity with muscle and heart; power and compassion.  Isn't that the kind of Savior we want on our side?  One who will fight our battles and heal our hearts? One who will part our formidable Red Seas and weep in our personal Gethsemanes?

In my New Testament studies, I've noticed that those who knew Christ best knew him, not by titles, but by his given name - Jesus (a common name, at that).  I think that says a lot.

When he decided to reveal himself to mankind, he did so by becoming one of us.  People walked with him, followed him, felt his healing touch.  They invited him into their homes and placed their children at his feet.

And, as far as I can tell, there was not a single person who was ever afraid to draw near to him for fear of rejection.  Oh, there were those who misunderstood him, who mocked, who envied and despised him.  But not one person considered him too almighty, too celestial, or too holy to draw close to him.

I like remembering that.

When fears mount and failures try to get the best of me, I know I can call on the One who is Powerful enough to expel darkness and light my path, and Loving enough to bring comfort and fill me with peace.

That's the message I love sharing with the people of Palermo.  That's the Good News we're bringing in the bay area town of Bagheria.

Sorella Ashley Nef