Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Catania Conference and Agrigento Ruins

The city of Catania rests at the foot of smoking Mount Etna
Conference in Catania - the highlight of the week.
No doubt about it, missionaries love Conferences, and the mission conference scheduled for Sicily's eastern city of Catania was going to be a good one. President and Sister Waddoups would be there along with Elder Patrick Kearon of the Quorum of Seventy.

Photo bomber Barrow 
Our Zone rounded up in Palermo and we set out at 4pm for a 3-hour bus ride, arriving in Catania at 7pm.  (Right) This is what happens when you try to take pictures of Mt. Etna from the bus going to Catania with Elders. Anziano Barrow (serving in Trapani) photo bombed the shot. Nice, Barrow.

The eastern coast of Sicily is defined by the looming presence of Mount Etna, the largest most active volcano in Europe. Remove Barrow's head, and you'd actually see smoke coming from the mountain.

Next generation of missionaries: Anziano Peachey and me
Peachey-Keen Reunion
We had a nice reunion that evening with a bunch of missionaries from the "old days."
     Anziano Wortham - from my first transfer. 
     Sorella Rossell & Sorella Felice - from the MTC.
     Anziano Peachey - his dad and my dad were
        missionary companions in Honduras, and his
        grandfather, Jim Peachey, was in our stake 
        back in California (Peachey is now serving 
        in Malta).
The next day, we gathered in the Catania building where even more people were waiting: Anziano DiCaro and Hurlburt, and Sorella O'Connor. We had the greatest pow-wow (pics coming).

Connections with the Visiting Authority
Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy
1st Counselor in the Area Presidency
Elder Kearon is from England and has a super sweet British accent. Turns out, he is married to Jennifer Hulme from Saratoga, California (my stake at home). Small world!

Double Fun Fact: My dad has just begun working for her uncle, Paul.

Triple Fun Fact: Her father, Dr. Russell Hulme, delivered my mother into the world!  Thank you Hulmes!

Elder Kearon greeted us all personally (hence my knowledge of his wife). Then he gave an AWESOME addestramento.

"Always Do Finding"
He talked about Finding.  "Always do finding! Never stop. Every day go on the search. Always testify. Always teach!"

"Speak of the Spirit"
He talked about the Spirit and spoke of his own conversion experience when he was in his mid-20s, and how we need to describe the feelings of the Spirit clearly.  "What are the words your investigators use when they speak of the Spirit?"  Answers: Warm, Peaceful, Like Home, Familiar, Sweet, Happy...
"The Spirit is overwhelming at times to those who have never felt it.  They don't often know how to identify it because it is a startling new feeling to them.  Be sensitive to that."

Break the Pattern
"Break the Pattern"
He talked about the importance of planning as a means to fulfill goals. "However," he said, "Don't get so caught up in the rigidness of schedules that you follow the same pattern all the time. Break the pattern!" He said this more than once. "Don't be robots. You are human missionaries, you know."

I totally agree. Missionaries must keep themselves open to the flow of the day, the random opportunities, and casual interactions.  How else can we follow the Spirit?
     If we're sticklers with schedules, we'll miss the Spirit's guidance.  
     If we're solely driven by Day Planners, we won't find those who are seeking.
     If we betake the day with blinders, we wont see detours leading to who is ready for our message.
Most of the time, the greatest successes are when people and situations just happen to emerge amid the schedule. So the moral of the story: Plan the day, but be open to throw it all out the window and follow the Spirit's plan.

"Follow-Up and Be a Friend"
He talked about us needing to follow-up with people every day. Follow up with investigators and the newly baptized - especially. "If you do not follow-up, you are shallow, fickle, poor Christians." True. Missionaries aren't just serving for numbers. We are here to befriend.

Great Conference all the way around. Lots of really good thoughts and inspiration, but the biggest thing I got from it was that I need to be more diligent in my schedule in getting out precisely on time everyday. And, I need to be better about Finding. Those are the biggest changes I need to implement.

By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
Speaking of befriending. Gaspare says he knows the Plan of Salvation is true. "And," he says, "I know the Book of Mormon is true. Not because I have read it all, but I know it must be true because of the fruits.
Like it says in the Bible: By their fruits ye shall know them."
Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,
neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.
Matthew 7:17-18, 20
"I can see from watching you," he said, "that this must be true." Sweet Gaspare.

Let's Swap: Urchins for English Course
Francesco and Mario, Urchin handlers
Marsh and I wanted to talk to our local seafood vendors, Francesco and Mario, about the gospel, so we meandered over to their stand. As we approached, they simply cracked open two sea urchins and handed them to us.
     "You lick them out," they said.
     "They are soft," they said.
     "They are like eggs," they said.
Oh boy. Never tried sea urchin before. We couldn't offend them, so...down the hatch! It was salty, fishy, slimy, weird. Since we tried their product, we invited them to join our English Course. We'll see if they're brave enough to try it.

Pasticceria Mille Luci

With mouth essenced with raw fish, no better time to cleanse the palate - and no better way than with a cannoli. Besides, Marsh had never tried one, so we headed over to Mille Luci Bakery.

Mille Luci is famous for its Mafia cannoli, so named because the Mafia has been seen ordering them en mass here.  I can see why the Mafia would be bingeing on this little delectable cream and cheese filled pastry. They're dangerously excellent!

Day Trip to Agrigento
Monday for P-day, we ventured south to the city of Agrigento. AWESOME.
A bit o' History:
Today's Agrigento was originally the Greek city of Akragas, which was settled by people from Rhodes and Crete around 582BC,  and quickly became prosperous in the cultivation of olives, grapes, and cereal, among other things.

At the height of its glory days, this area was one of the most important and most culturally advanced Greek cities in the Mediterranean.

However, as it grew more successful, so did its rivalries with other Greek colonies. And, for the next several hundred years was conquered and ruled by a variety of cultures and rulers.

The goal for our day's outing was not the actual city of Agrigento, but the site just outside of the city that holds some of the most amazing ancient ruins: The Valley of the Temples.

Valle dei Templi - The Valley of the Temples
The plateau on the right is the Valley of the Temples
Valley of the Temples (which is somewhat of a misnomer since it is not in a valley at all, but on a mountain ridge) is a large sacred area holding 7 monumental Greek Doric Temple ruins built during the 5th and 6th centuries BC.  Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece.

The fact that Sicily is home to Greek ruins should come as no surprise.  After all, the island was once a critical component of the Greek Empire. However, we were told that what was surprising is the quantity and quality of these ruins, so we were anxious to step back in time.

A smooth 2-hour train ride from Palermo dropped us off in modern, bustling Agrigento where we took a city bus for a 4 km journey to the site of the ruins.  I've got quite a few pictures - are you ready?

The Temple Ruins
Temple of Concordia, built 430BC, with statue of Icarus
Upon entering the site, we were greeted by the fantastic Temple of Concordia - one of the best preserved Greek Temples in the world.  The majority of the 34 columns are still intact, standing 22 feet high, and spanning 4.5 feet wide at the base.

Legend says that this was the location Icarus fell to the earth. The massive bronze Icarus sculpture (a modern one) supposedly marks the spot of his fall.
Inner structure was built when they converted the Temple into a Christian Church 500AD (100 yrs after it was built)
Mikesell, me, Jackson, Marsh.  I love these gals.
Temple of Juno, built 450BC
All temples face east, according to Greek and Roman criteria, so that the cella (Holy of Holies) could be illuminated by the rising sun.  Interesting, huh.

Back in the day, this thriving ancient city had, apparently, attracted poets like Simonides and Pyndar who described it as "The most beautiful of mortal cities."
Temple of Heracles (Hercules), oldest temple
A Telamon (Atlas) at the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Although the Temple of Olympian Zeus is all but gone today, a particularly evocative part does remain: one of its Telamones (known as the Atlas). Dozens of these huge stone figures once held up the temple roof.
Temple of Castor and Pollux
Even though they are "ruins," what remains is nothing but exquisite rugged elegance.  The Temples are nestled among ancient olive and almond trees on a ridge near the sea.
This ancient Olive Tree dates to the time the temples were built.  It is over 2,500 years old.  Crazy!
Didn't someone say, Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel?  Looks like a Flintstones wheel to me, "Wilmaaaaa!"
Part of the ancient city wall
In the Necropolis (burial tombs): Elder Romano (from Boston) and Elder Adams (fellow Sard from my 1st District)
Necropolis (burial grounds)
My awesome sisters: Mikesell, me, Jackson, Marsh
This week:  Rich in the Spirit. Rich in connections. Rich in history. Rich in blessings.

Grazie All for your Love and Support,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

Lead, Kindly Light by Simon Dewey
Erika is our very cool 17 year old we started teaching last week. She's been to Church and really likes our faith, but, she has this tolerant, pluralistic approach to faith, thinking we can make it back to God by any way, as long as we are good people. "Why follow one religion?" she said, "We are all different, so God devised many ways to get back to Him. If we had to look for just 'one' way, no one would make it back!" She believes that as long as a person is serving their idea of God, that it all works out in the end.

I don't think Erika is alone in this thought. Belief in one God and one Way doesn't set well in our day of tolerance. One "strait and narrow path" leading back to heaven smacks of exclusion. I mean, we don't want to make anyone feel bad.

Can't all paths lead to heaven? Can't Salvation come in many forms?


We bore testimony that God is a God of order, and so has made one simple way for us to return. And, that Way is Jesus Christ. 
I am the way, the truth, and the life;
No man cometh unto the Father but by me.
John 14:6
Now, Christ could have been more politically correct had he said, "I know the way," or "I'll show you the way." But Christ wasn't just speaking of what He does. He's speaking of who He is. I am the Way. So, He established His one true Church upon the earth and provided a way for others to follow. The apostle Peter even identified Christ's position and mission.
Neither is there salvation in any other:
for there is none other name under heaven given among men, 
whereby we must be saved.
Acts 4:12

Do All Roads Lead to Heaven?
But some, like Erika, think this sounds out of date. In our era of broad mindedness and modern technology the world is shrinking, cultures are blending, and borders blurring. In this day of inclusion, don't all roads lead to heaven?  But can they?  Can all approaches to God be correct?  Let's just compare a few beliefs:
     •  Some say that Christ was not the Messiah, yet Christians say he was. Both can't be right.
     •  Some have plural, impersonal gods, yet members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe "there is 
          but one God the Father...and one Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 8:6). Someone is making a mistake.
     •  Non-Christians say, "You can save you." But Jesus says, "My Atonement, death, and resurrection 
          saves you." Someone is wrong.
How can all religions lead to God when they are all so contradictory? We don't tolerate that kind of logic in other things. We don't pretend that all roads go to Canada, or all ships sail to South Africa, or all flights lead to Rome.  

Imagine conversation with the travel agent who claims they do. You approach the desk requesting a flight to Rome, Italy. He looks at his computer, "There is a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico departing at 8am."
     "Does it go to Rome, Italy?"
     "No, but it offers great in-flight service and blockbuster movies."
     "But I need to get to Rome, Italy."
     "Then let me suggest Delta Airlines."
     "Delta flies to Rome?"
     "No, but they have won an array of awards for safety."
     "Listen," you say, trying to be patient, "I need one airline to carry me to one place: Rome."
The agent is terribly offended, "Miss, all flights go to Rome!"

Christ is the Way
Strait: Because it is void of worldly definitions (ie: strict, rigorous, difficult)
Narrow: Because it is framed with Commandments and Covenants.
You know better. I know better. Different flights have different destinations.  Every flight does not go to Rome.  Every road does not lead to God.  Jesus blazed one path: "strait and narrow." 

And in paving the way, creating one Church and one doctrine, Christ actually became the Way. There is no alternative.  No detour.  No shortcuts. 

So, with Erika, we are focusing our lesson on Jesus Christ because no other man or doctrine or catch-phrase can get us back into God's presence. Christ wasn't just a nice teacher or philosopher, as Erika seems to think (her idea is that Christ came to teach God's word, that it is God's word that saves us, and that Christ died because men sinned in killing Him, not that He died for our sins).

God is a God of order. His Plan includes one simple Way back to Him. This is the reason I am here on my mission for a year and a half, talking with a people I've just met, in a language I've just learned. Why else would I be away from my family? Nothing less than Salvation itself is my reason for being here. I feel honored to be taking part in this work.

Gaspare's schedule does not permit us to meet with him often, but we hear from him almost every day. "I just like to hear from you, is all," he says. Most of his questions center on the Pre Existence and the Book of Mormon.

"I Actually Lived with God Before? That Makes So Much Sense!"
During the Plan of Salvation lesson, Gaspare exclaimed, "I never thought there was a preexistence. It makes so much sense!"  

Then he expounded. "When I was little, I always felt out of place, like I didn't belong in the world. Something seemed off - like this world wasn't real. It was a weird feeling to have, but now I understand what it was - you're telling me that I actually lived with God before. That makes sense!"

I See!
Unfortunately, due to failing eyesight, Gaspare has difficulty reading. His glasses are in need of an update. He came to Church again on Sunday, is constantly asking the right questions, and has a clear view of what is right and wrong. His eyesight may be compromised, but he is beginning to see with eyes of faith. Sometimes seeing by faith is the keenest vision we can possess. In any case, he has been working through the Book of Mormon slowly. I feel that that book will be the Key to his conversion. We extended to him a "soft" baptismal invite, to which he said yes. We set the date of 29 March, to which he also agreed, provided he receives a testimony by that date.  Praying hard for Gaspare!

Marsh and Me from last week's Palermo Zone Conference
photo: Sorella Waddoups' Blog
This week has been an interesting one - busy at the beginning, then pretty open towards the end.

Relief Society Birthday Celebration
Aren't they cute? Yay Relief Society - 172 years.  We're the smiling heads in the very back, right.
We had an adorable Relief Society birthday party on Wednesday. We missionaries were in charge of the activity, so we played a dice game where everyone has a piece of paper, but there is only one pen for the whole table. Each person takes a turn rolling the dice and when you roll doubles, you starting writing numbers 1-100. As soon as someone else rolls doubles, they take the pen from you and start doing the same. When you roll doubles again, you take the pen back and continue numbering where you left off. First one to 100 wins.  THEY LOVED IT. Then we had delicious cake. Mmmmm.

Fire Extinguisher Anyone?
Torch in the middle of the cake is a Roman Candle
We attended a birthday party for an investigator's mom and a friend. The torch in the middle of the cake is a Roman Candle.

Roman Candles are fireworks in a tube. Once ignited, a succession of stars shoot out like bullets, followed by showers of sparks, exploding shells, and balls of fire. Forza Italia!

Morbid Fact:
Roman Candles get their name from an unfortunate past. Crazy Nero, who ruled Rome 54-68AD, held elaborate garden parties during which he would show his disdain for Christians by tying them to a pole, dousing them with tar and flammable oils, then igniting them with fire for his guests' amusement. Yikes!

The Queen of Slime. The Queen of Filth. The Queen of Putrescence
This last week, we wanted to take a torch to our apartment. Our refrigerator was infested with cockroaches and had a dead animal rotting off the back of it. No joke.

We knew there was something wrong when, despite cleaning the apartment and especially the kitchen every day, we were still smelling mounting infernal fumes of decay.  Gross right?

For a while we were wondering if it was in the walls because we couldn't find the source of noxious putrescence. Our landlord came and checked it out, and said that it was all in our mind - it was nothing - probably rotten food. "EXCEPT THERE IS NO ROTTEN FOOD, LUCA!" said Mikesell as she let him have it. Since he wouldn't do anything about it, we sat on it for a few days.

Finally, this last Friday, the REVOLTING FOUL RANCIDNESS WAS TOO MUCH. We couldn't take it anymore! The stench directed us to the fridge. But if it is not in, or under, or beside, where must it be? Behind! We pulled out the appliance, and what to our horrified eyes did we behold? A DEAD ROTTING MAMMAL MESS OF I DON'T KNOW WHAT on the back of the fridge.

Every mission needs this kind of story. Makes for good journal material.

Cockroach: Does this look like a butterfly to you?
Anyway, we had to hold back from vomiting. And to make the experience more delightful - cockroaches! We found some scurrying around the apartment a few times, and got really good at annihilating them on the spot. But, guess what? We located their NEST...in our dwelling!!!  Can you say heebie-jeebies?

Again, we pointed it out to the landlord who basically said it wasn't his problem and tried convincing us the cockroaches were not really cockroaches but something called "Mangiapane, little flour weevils that turn into butterflies." :|
How stupid does he think we are?!

That's when I let him have it. I won't go into the ridiculousness that ensued (Luca's excuses, and my systematically breaking down every single one), but suffice it to say that the mission office got involved and said we had to move to the downstairs apartment. But now Luca is saying we can't do that until April 6th. The Anziani are in an uproar. Now Mikesell has a rash that is a result of Luca spraying our kitchen down with all kinds of toxic bug sprays and not having us leave the apartment.

As all of that was happening, I said ALOUD, "Guys, all I want right now is my Mom and Dad and my mom's Italian Lemon Cream Cake!!!"
     Mikesell promptly yelled back (with a crack in her voice), "NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT MOMS OR LEMON CAKE!!!"

Me and Mikesell at last week's Zone Conference
photo: Sister Waddoups' blog

Where's a Roman Candle when you need one?
Sorella Ashley Nef

Monday, March 10, 2014

Marzo Pazzo Standard of Excellence

Suzy radiating happiness with friends and our District (we're her friends too)
Marsh, Suzy, me
Suzy's Baptism
What a great evening! - even though she had to be baptized three times (1. Her foot popped up; 2. The words were said wrong; 3. Third's a charm!). Suzy is super crazy happy. The more she learns about the gospel, the more she loves it.
     Visiting Teaching? "Can't wait!"
     Callings? "That's the best!"
     Member Missionary Work? "I CAN DO
She's going to be stalwart. Her aunt and cousin came to the baptism (but her mom, no sadly).  Love this girl.

Green Magic
Kermit the Frog got it wrong. "It's not easy being green"? Only sometimes, my amphibious friend. I was always told about this unnamed power around new missionaries (greenies) who just enter the mission field. I haven't believed it because I don't remember having anything special happen during my first several months in the field. In fact, those were my most difficult times. But the day greenie Marsh and I step out on the streets - shoot! Potentials popping up everywhere. Investigators coming out of the woodwork. Apparently, the Lord blesses new missionaries. I just happened to be one of the special ones who needed to learn more by not having the surge of success.

Well, she's got the magic, for sure. Maybe it's because she's personally connected with the head honcho.   I don't know. I'm sure my mom's prayers being put on turbo don't hurt either. But, whatever it is - I'll take it, because it's magic right now, and it sure is nice having work to do that really feels like it's going places.
E magia!

Che Graziosa! How Wonderful!
Chiara (pronounced Key-ara) is charming. Her favorite line is "Che graziosa!" She has a mouse named Puzzino (little stinker). She loves saints and the madonna (not that there's anything wrong with that) but we're working on it. She likes everything about the Church so far, and because of that, we're going to shoot for a baptismal date. Fingers crossed!

Erika is a new investigator, a 17 year-old student from English Course, who seems very prepared because she has been steadily moving away from the Catholic faith. She has some friends who are members who are helping with her lessons. Attending Suzy's baptism was a positive experience that motivated her to attend Church the next day, and she enjoyed it. We have a lesson with her tonight.

Mmmmm.  Pane Panelle
Gaspare is a new investigator we found one interesting morning. I was awoken by thoughts of a less active (no particular reason), so I knew that the Lord was either telling me something or I needed to get more sleep. I assumed it was the first. So, we got ready and went out to pay her a visit, only to find that she had no interest in meeting with us. But right outside was a man selling pane panelle, my favorite Palermitano food.

Pane Panelle
Ah, pane panelle. It's a Sicilian street food fave: Panini stuffed with chickpea fritters and potato croquettes and served with salt and lemon. It's all deep fried. Oh, ya. Delicious.

Anyway, I figured that Sorella Marsh needed at least one good thing to show for the morning, so we got some pane panelle and started talking to the vendor, Gaspare. He's evangelical, full of questions, and seemed more interested as we talked about prophets and the Book of Mormon. We gave him a copy with a Plan of Salvation pamphlet, and he gave us his number.

A couple of days later, we called to invite him to Suzy's baptism - and he came. When we talked, he revealed how he'd been feeling a little lost, faith-wise. He was converted at 18, but now in his 50s he's been searching for, well, more. This led him, the other day, to pray in his truck that he'd be shown the way to go...and then we showed up. "I saw something different in you," he said.  Looks like someone is ready for the gospel. He came to Sacrament meeting and liked it. Today, we just got a call from him requesting to meet this week!

Gionata Internazionale della Donna - International Women's Day
Palermo Sisters with our Mimosa Flowers: Jackson, Mikesell, Marsh, Moi
March 8th is International Women's Day.  Everyone wears purple and gives flowers.  Yes, just walking down the street, people greet you with, "Auguri!" (Best Wishes or Congratulations!) as they hand you a small bouquet of bright yellow Mimosa flowers, the first blossoms of Spring.

Zone Conference
Palermo Zone Conference
photo: Sister Waddoups' Blog
Zone Conference was really good. The theme?  Finding. Anziano Prete and Kasper, and Sorella Mikesell were giving addrestramenti. Following the talks, they wondered what to do with 2 hours of leftover time, and I proposed that we all go out Finding. They actually liked the idea, so for the remainder of Conference, 12 companionships set to the streets for 10 minutes of Finding.

Missionaries went in completely different directions, and all came back with a phone number and a story to share. Marsh and I stopped the first person we came across and talked with him about the Plan of Salvation. Got his number. He lives in a paesino (town) called Bolognetta (about 30 km outside Palermo), so we are passing the number to the Anziani there.

Conference in Catania
Next week we will be having a Mission Conference in Catania. Missionaries from all of Sicily and Bari will be there. Should be a BLAST. Even cooler - it's going to be on the day of my year mark as a missionary. How's that for sweet!

Marzo Pazzo - Crazy March!
March Hail and Sunshine in Palermo
March is called La Pazzarella (the Crazy One) here in Palermo because the weather is Schizophrenic! In the time it takes me to get ready in the morning (1 hour), we will have had hail, rain, sun, more hail, more sun, more rain, more sun, hail that sounds like it will smash the roof in, and then more sun.

Palermo weather can't figure out whether it wants to have a nice Spring day or the Apocalypse. So we are learning the value of layers. Layers that can be put on and removed as the weather's personality changes. Crazy March.

Standard di Eccellenza: 40 Baptisms
Marsh and I with Gelato and Oranges!
The President believes March is the month.  The Standard of Excellence has been set for our mission to reach 40 baptisms in one month (for the entire mission).  We've never hit 40 before (I think the record is 23 baptisms), but we see a LOT of potential in these early days in March, so I think this is the month we can do it.  Here in Palermo, we've already been blessed with 2 baptisms (better than last year), with many other potentials waiting in the wings.  It's getting exciting, and the Lord will help us reach goals that we are willing to work toward. Crazy March could be crazy good.

Che Graziosa!
Sorella Ashley Nef

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Purpose of Scripture

I know what you're thinking.  The title of this post coupled with this picture make it look as if the "Purpose of Scripture" is - Ta-Da! - my fabulous birthday cake.  Hahaha. No.  Anyway, I'll get to the "purpose" later in the post.  First things first.

A lot of members wished me a very happy birthday.  Sweet.  Monday, John (future apostle), Susy (investigator), and Riccardo (investigator) all threw me a birthday party.  Isn't the cake fantastic?
Sorella Marsh, Susy, John, Riccardo, Birthday Girl, Sorella Jackson (Mikesell's taking the pic)
It was cute because they tried to make it a surprise. I knew it was happening (Mikesell blabbed - oops!), but I played along with it as they sent me out to run errands and yadda-yadda until they brought me into the room and yelled "SORPRESA!" It was great!

We ate cake, drank Spuma (Sicilian soda kind of like Ginger Ale but spicier).  These guys are the best!  My companion bought me candy for my birthday, and Mikesell bought me a burger and milkshake.

I threw myself an Avenger party at District Meeting from the stuff my family sent from home.  We ate my pink cake - YUM!!! and had fun with my Avenger stuff.  (ASSEMBLE!!)

Don't Put Gloves in the Wash
Mikesell laments the shrinkage

Don't Eat Leftover Lentils
Me and Marsh
Thursday, my poor companion ate some leftover lentils we thought were still good, but apparently weren't because only a few hours later she was really sick.  Food poisoning.  We ended up staying inside and missing a meal appointment with the Simoncinis. The other sisters went, and turns out the family was throwing me a birthday party!  Warms my heart.  So, the sisters brought home the leftover food.  All kinds of Crostate - a type of pizza pie thing.  SO GOOD.
I'm spoiled.

My companion is darling.  She also happens to be the granddaughter of Elder Russell M. Nelson.  Cool, huh?  Anyway, she is really very sweet, and feeling better - no more sickness (though, I don't suppose she will be eating lentils for quite some time).

Band of Brothers (and Sisters)
Even though this week's work was slow, a bunch of potentials miraculously popped up.  New people showing up wanting to meet with the missionaries.  Fantastico!  A few appointments are set for next week.

We watched the Joseph Smith film with investigator, Veronica (who has to wait to be baptized until she is 18 in May).  We figured she could use some reinforcement.  It was really, really good.  I haven't seen the film in a while, but am always inspired by Joseph's life and character.

Susy's baptism is this weekend!  She's quirky, cool, and really loves the missionaries.  Her baptism has caused a bit of a riff with her disapproving family, but she's determined to follow what she believes.  The ward has been terrific in banding around and supporting her.

Best Correlation Meeting Yet
Ward Council Meeting from Hastening of the Work
In fact, things are improving a lot with the ward.  I just had the best Correlation Meeting of my whole mission this last week (the ward Mission Leader AND Ward Missionaries were there, and ideas were flying.  It was great!).

Then this last Sunday, we had a kick-butt Testimony meeting that was super great.  So, our work with involving the members these past months is finally paying off.  They're getting it!

Tanino's Questions
Tanino, our Church Opera Fireside organizer, is a character.  He was given a Book of Mormon as a gift, started reading it, and asked if we could answer his questions, so we set up an appointment.

We planned to teach the Restoration, but threw that out the window when Mr. Inquisitive hammered out a barrage of questions.  They weren't bad questions;  Just about footnotes, references, background info, and if he should read any prologue to the book (like the Bible) - anything that might help him understand.  In essence, he wanted to know everything about the Book of Mormon and he wanted to know it NOW.  So we went with it.

Part of his questioning involved opening the Book of Mormon to a random page, pointing to a verse and saying, "See? How am I supposed to understand that?!  It's talking about Ammonihahites.  Who are they?!"  After more random pages and a few more I-don't-understands, I told him a little history about the book, said he could read the Introduction ("But I already have") and told him it was an historical story and if he wanted to understand the events, it would be best to start at the beginning.

Scripture: Historic Record or Reference Book?
Tanino assumed scripture was like Jesus' Parables (mini lessons), or like Proverbs and Psalms (bites of poetic wisdom) that could be taken out of historic context.  He supposed scripture was a kind of quick reference book.  That's a viable thought.  Is scripture an historic record, or a reference book?  Answer: Yes.  It's both.  But to understand the reference, it helps to know the history.  Puts it into context.  For our next appointment, we will explain the purpose of Scripture.

The Purpose of Scripture
photo: lds.org
So, what is the purpose of scripture?  One word: Salvation.  God's highest priority is to get His children Home.  The Bible and the Book of Mormon, together, describe His Plan of Salvation.  That's the reason these books have miraculously endured through the centuries.  They tackle the tough questions:
     Where did I come from?
     Is there a God?
     Why am I here?
     What do I do with my fears?
     Where am I going after this life?
The scriptures offer answers to these crucial questions.  Through centuries of people and prophets, the record reveals how God works with and nurtures His people.  And, since the human condition will always be the same (regardless of time, race, culture), we see how their story becomes our story.  And, in their experience (every stumble, fall, success, gambol, heartbreak, and triumph), we find a treasure map that leads us to Heavenly Father's highest treasure - eternal life.

How Do We Use Scripture?
Ask, and it shall be given you;
Seek, and ye shall find;
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Matthew 7:7
The first step in understanding scripture is asking God to help.  Before reading, pray.  Invite God to speak to you. Don't go to scripture looking for your idea; go searching for His.

Read prayerfully, but also read it carefully.  Seek and ye shall find is the pledge.  Scripture is not a newspaper to skim but a mine to be quarried.
How's About Trying This:
Study scripture a little at a time.  Hunger is not satisfied by bingeing 30 meals in one sitting once a week. The body needs a steady diet to maintain strength.  So does our spirit.  Don't be discouraged if some days you get less inspiration than others.  Some days a little is all that's needed.  What's important is that you seek everyday for that day's message to your heart.  A steady diet of God's Word over a lifetime builds a strong, healthy mind and spirit.

After asking and seeking, comes the knocking.  Knock, and it shall be opened.  To knock is to stand at God's door and make yourself accessible.  To climb the steps, cross the porch, stand on the doorstep, and volunteer.  Knocking goes beyond just thinking and into the mode of acting.  To knock is to ask:  
     Here I am.  What can I do?  
     I'm just me.  How can I obey?  
     I'm lost.  Where can I go?
It's one thing to read what to do. It's another thing, entirely, to do it. But for those who do it, those who act on what they know, a special award awaits.
Whoso looketh into
the perfect law of liberty (scripture),
and continueth therein, 
he being not a forgetful hearer,
but a doer of the work,
this man shall be blessed in his deed.
James 1:25
Blessings await those who read the Word and do it.  Ask.  Seek. Knock.  Simple, isn't it?  Want to give it a try? 

The New Testament, Parable of the Good Shepherd

Speaking of scripture: A good number of the New Testament videos the Church just put out were filmed in Sicily.  Quite a few members from Palermo are character actors and extras in the episodes.  For instance:
     •  The Bishop of Palermo 2 is the Pig Farmer in the Prodigal's Son.
     •  Walter di Salvo is a Party-er in the Prodigal's Son.
     •  Simone Pellegrino listens to Christ preach in one episode in an Olive Vineyard.
     •  Fratello Pulverenti is the dad of James and John when Christ calls them from their fishing careers 
         to be Apostles.
     •  A group of members are in Centurion Cornelius' house when Peter comes to baptize them.
Our Palermo peeps are stars.  Super cool, huh?

Between the Rock and a Hard Place
Apostle Peter by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
While on the subject of Bible characters, lately I've been pondering the life of the Apostle Peter.  I am an enduring fan.  Peter is one of those guys that most of us can relate to.  Impetuous, outspoken, fiery, courageous, and...human.

This is the Peter who left his fishnets to follow Christ, staunchly bore testimony, and defensively chopped a guy's ear off in Gethsemane.  His gutsy faith had him walking on water, casting out devils, healing the sick, and preaching the gospel to his prison guards.  Yes, this is the Peter who was strong in handling persecution, yet, fallible when 3x he denied knowing Christ.  If Peter could have changed anything about his life - that night would have been it, Change the night I turned my back on Christ.

Peter knew what it was like to go through tough times. Taunting.  Imprisonment.  Beatings. False words.  Failure.  Storms.  Satan continually on his heals trying to "sift him as wheat."  Yes, folks, Peter had seen enough to know how to stay strong in tough times.  Staying strong meant staying close to Christ.

And, in his story we find a gem of hope, because after Christ Resurrected, he came to Peter and offered the sweetest, most loving, complete forgiveness.  Despite the denying, Jesus knew Peter's heart enough to trust him with leading the Church after His death - so He entrusted this lead apostle with the keys of the kingdom, and charged him with bringing the gospel to all the world.  After that, Peter never fished for fish again.  He spent the rest of his days telling any and all who would listen, "It's never too late to repent and try again."  Yah, Peter the Rock, I'm a fan.
(Thoughts on Peter inspired an article on family blog nefchronicles.wordpress.com Beginning to Sink March 2014)

Scripture, whether it's relatable characters, doctrine, poetry, life-lessons, profound answers, or feeling peace - life just makes more sense when we read God's Word.  That's the purpose of scripture.

Chiedere, Cercano, Bussare (Ask, Seek, Knock.  Oh, and stay away from the leftover Lentils!),
Sorella Ashley Nef