Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Buona Pasqua - Happy Easter

If  you're gonna graffiti, have something important to say - Yahweh (Jehovah)
The Boscia family has really caught the spirit of missionary work.  What's great is that even though they are timid about sharing the gospel, they're throwing caution to the wind and giving it their best shot.  First on their list of people to share with: a farmer friend who they knew to be a religious man, but wanted to see if he would be interested in learning more.  So, we (along with Brother Boscia) headed on over to the farm.

Sharing with the Sheep Farmer

The farm was mainly sheep and goats, but he also has a large garden, chickens, geese, ducks, bunnies, and he makes ricotta cheese.  So, he is a man with a lot to do.
Farm Tools
Cactus in the garden

He didn't seem very interested in hearing about the Church: he's old, set in his ways, and very Catholic.  But the cool thing about the appointment was in helping Brother Boscia see how simple missionary work can be.

We casually meandered around the farm, and realizing that the gospel didn't magically come up in conversation, Brother Boscia decided to call it a day, "I'm ready to go whenever you are."

"I Can See You are Religious"
Making Ricotta Cheese
His picture of Mother Teresa
That's when I turned to the farmer and said, "I can see you are religious," pointing to a picture he had up of Mother Teresa and other saints.

The farmer looked at me (mind you, he spoke 100% Sicilian, not Italian) and replied, "Yes, I am. Always have been." Brother Boscia remarked that he had picked up on that fact a few days before when the farmer had borrowed the movie Jesus of Nazareth.

"You know," Boscia said, "I am not a Catholic. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - a Mormon."  And from there, he told of his conversion story, how he had been searching for the truth, but wasn't satisfied by what he saw in the Catholic church, or in other churches. Then one day he encountered the missionaries.  From there, he came to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon was true scripture, and thereby gained a deeper testimony of Jesus Christ.
His sheep dog has gold eyes

Chickens lay very large eggs here

He was doing such a great job, I didn't really say anything else the rest of the time except in asking if we could offer a prayer together to conclude our visit.

As we drove away, Boscia said he could see the farmer was set in his ways, that the only difference between his pre-conversion self and this farmer was that he, himself, had been looking for the truth.  The farmer, on the other hand, didn't know he needed to be looking.

Was I Supposed to be Looking?
Isn't that a dilemma that most of us encounter? Not looking? Closing ourselves off?  Scripture has a phrase for that: hard hearts. The barrier we encapsulate ourselves behind - sometimes as a protection, other times as a defense, but always as a way to keep things out.  The only problem with keeping things out - good stuff can't get in.  Kind of like this egg the farmer is holding.  The chick inside can only find its purpose by coming out of its shell.  Sure, it's protected and the hard layer is necessary for a time, but its destiny is not to stay cocooned.  Just beyond that hard exterior is greater light. Just outside of the hard casing is a grander world of truth, if it will only break the barrier.  I was hoping our visit would help our farmer friend to make this discovery. Until next time...

"But it is interesting to me," Boscia said, "that none of the conversation would have happened if you hadn't said something, sister.  All it took was a simple statement, 'I can see you are religious', for dialogue to open so we could talk about the gospel!"

"That's the Gospel Truth"
Then the Boschia's invited us over to their home for pronzo and a visit with their 82 year-old aunt.  She grew up an orphan, raised by her older brother during World War II, never went to school, but figured out how to read and write on her own.  You can tell she is a highly intelligent woman.  She was given a Book of Mormon not too long ago, started reading it, and declared it to be "the gospel truth" (told you she was smart).  She likes our Church a lot, has come in the past, and would like to know more.  Problem is, her two sons living with her want nothing to do with it.  We straightforwardly told her we are there to prepare people for baptism, "The decision is yours," we said, "if you want to progress along this path or not."  Her family jumped in, bore testimony, and invited her to Church with them.  She agreed to come.

Family Home Evening
That evening, Marsh and I handled Family Home Evening.  Since we had no investigator to direct a lesson toward, we asked the other missionaries if there was a specific message they wanted. Anziani Kasper and Prete said they'd like Riccardo La Carta (who is being baptized this week) to hear thoughts on commitment: commitment to Baptism and in living covenants after baptism.  So, we decided to teach Testimony vs. Conversion. And we used cookies as our example.

We All Know Cookies are Great!
"You all like cookies, right?" YES was the general response. "I could go on and on about how much I love cookies. Cookies are the greatest." Everyone agreed.
     "Since you know cookies are great, then that must mean you don't need to eat cookies ever again. Tasting is no longer necessary since you already have cookie palate understanding. Isn't that knowledge enough?"  The room exploded in an uproar.  "Aspetta!" "Non si fa!"
     "Ok, then. It's wonderful to know that cookies are good.  But it's even better to be eating the cookie!" They nodded.  "Well, the same is true with the gospel of Jesus Christ." Let's compare the two.

Conversion is Like Eating the Cookie
A Testimony is like knowing cookies are good.  To have that belief that the gospel is good, that it's true. But Conversion is like eating the cookie.  You not only know the gospel is good, but you experience it.  You internalize it and live it.
It was appropriate at this point to pass around a bag of cookies as we talked about Conversion and read excerpts from Elder David Bednar's talk about how Conversion means "consistently being true to what you know."

Testimony is terrific, but Conversion puts testimony into action.  The more you act upon what you know, the deeper the conversion. And, conversion, by definition, means to change.
Since living the gospel is a way of life for all disciples of Christ, this process of conversion will be a life-long pursuit of growth and change.
The Challenge:
So we put forth a challenge that I'll pose to all of you, my fine readers.  Think of one thing you could upgrade.  Think of a true principle that you need to apply more effectively to improve your life (family relationships, honesty, patience etc.).  Now think how you could go about changing that behavior.  What principles you should apply, what mannerisms you could omit, what thinking patterns you might change. Then, put it into action and see what happens.  The more you see positive changes the more you will be converted to that principle. And, oh how sweet it is.

Super Missionary Meets His Kryptonite
Anziano Kasper is a bit of a legendary missionary in the mission.  He was AP (assistant to the president) for 5 months of his mission, and a Zone Leader for the rest. He's a good guy who literally talks to every person on the street.  Highly dedicated.  Also an authoritative presence - tall, calm, cool, collected.  But he has two fears:
1) Singing solo in public.  2) Girls.
He is TERRIFIED of women. Painfully. Will actually run in the opposite direction if a girl so much as looks at him (I've seen it happen...more than once).  HILARIOUS.

So, Sunday, he and his companion were at a park during the Festival of Colors (a hippie-fest here) when they passed by a group of girls speaking English.  Kasper's companion, Prete, turned and said, "Hey, you speak English!"  "Worst mistake of my life" he said afterwards. Turns out, it was a group of drunk/high tourists. The girls immediately moved toward the elders and started groping them, offering drinks, and climbing on them.

When we met the elders afterwards on the street, and they explained what happened, Prete said Kasper, bright red and sweating, was stiff-arming one girl, keeping her at bay at arm's length, though she kept wrapping herself around his arm.  Even rehashing the episode, poor Kasper was beside himself, nervously folding his arms and turning red again. "That's the closest I've ever been to a girl in my life - on my mission."  Sorella Marsh and I laughed for the next 2 hours straight.  SOOOooo funny!  Of course, of any elder in the mission, stuff like that keeps happening to him every day.  Clearly, the Lord has a sense of humor.

Hold it Right There!
Speaking of keeping someone at arm's distance.  Because Gaspare was getting a little too chummy with us sister missionaries, we had to pass him over to the Elders for continuing discussions.

Domenica delle Palme - Palm Sunday
Triumphal Entry by Walter Rane
Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus' triumphal entrance into the City of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover when the Jews welcomed Him by waving palms and lining the streets with the leaves.

Why did they use palm branches? Apparently, the Palm was an emblem of Judea (even imprinted on coins of the day). By covering the ground with palms, they were, in essence, rolling out the red carpet for Christ.

Waving Palm fronds was their way of celebrating their abundant livelihood and blessings.  Since the many varieties of palms were plentiful in Jerusalem, the Jews learned to use every part of the plant: milk, food, seeds, oil, fibers - even the rot-resistant timber was valuable for making utensils and boats.

By surrounding Jesus' entrance into the city with palms, Judea was showing their willingness to give up worldly necessities and luxuries and welcome Christ as their leader.

Palm vendor in front of a Palm-adorned fence
Palme! Palme!
In Sicily today, the palm custom continues.  Palm Sunday (Sunday before Easter) is a day they put up palms throughout the city and bring palm fronds and olive branches into church prayer service and then keep them in homes or gift them to friends and family as a blessing for the remainder of the year.

To aid those of us who are palm deficient, Palermo bristles with Palm vendors.

Purple Easter banners in the Quattro Canti (4 Corners)
Vendors are everywhere - in front of churches, cathedrals, stoplights, open markets, walkways, parks - all hoping you buy their palms decorated with bows and ribbons, some painted, and many braided into fans or formed into gift cone/cups. "Palme!  Palme!"

Happy Easter this week everyone.  I am excited.  We have a couple of easter egg coloring kits, but the real trick is finding white eggs.  All eggs are brown here. Also looking forward to seeing how the most Catholic part of Italy celebrates Easter. Hoping to see some processions and parades.

Wearing Week
Apartment drama. We are moving back upstairs to the old apartment tonight.  Hopefully all goes smoothly and we won't have any more problems (with living quarters or landlord).  Frankly, it is all very exhausting. I'm tired of the drama, tired of dealing with it, tired of living it.  I had a few rough days this week.  Between a beloved fellow-missionary deciding to end his mission early (whom I had been fasting and praying for), ongoing landlord problems, fatigue, and not having much work to do, I was a bit down.  But, thanks to the Lord, prayer, and Marsh's upbeat attitude, I am feeling much better.  But, as I've trudged through the puny trials of my week, I can't help but think of the magnitude of weight that Christ shouldered in His final week.

The Final Week of Jesus
Just think: the week before Easter - Jesus' final days.  I've been pondering the players nearing the stage, the props put into position, and all of Heaven watching.  It was a long-awaited week.  I'm sure a hush fell over heaven as Jesus faced his final days to the Atonement - the zenith of history.  All of the past pointed to it and all of the future would depend upon it.

In the Garden of Gethsemane
Christ in Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann
I'm sure as Jesus approached the Garden of Gethsemane it weighed on him. He knew that what needed to be done, only He could do.
     An angel couldn't do it.
No angel had power to break open hell's doors.
     No man could do it.
No man had perfection to erase sin's damage.
No force on earth could face the force of evil and win - except the Son of God.

Yet, Jesus confessed, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  His human nature begged to be delivered from what His divine nature could see. Jesus, the man, the carpenter, felt the dark, immense weight and asked,
"Is there no other way?"
I wonder, did he know the answer before he asked the question?  Did his human heart hope his Heavenly Father had found another way?  We don't know.  But we do know he asked for a way out - an exit.  We do know there was a time when, if he could have, he would have turned his back on the whole mess and walked away.  But he couldn't.

He Wanted You to Know He's Been There Too
Christ in Gethsemane by Carl Bloch
He couldn't because He saw you and me.  Right there in the middle of a world that isn't fair, He saw you cast into a current of a life you didn't ask for, in the muck of trials you didn't create.
He saw you betrayed by those you love.
He saw you with a body that gets tired and a 
     heart that grows weak.
He saw you in your Gethsemane and wanted you 
     to know you're not alone. He's been there too. 

He knows what it's like to be confused.
He knows what it's like to be turned against.
He knows what it's like to be torn between two 
He knows what it's like to face the filthiest, 
     darkest, and evilest of Satan's forces.

And, perhaps most of all, He knows what it's like to beg God to change His mind and hear Him say gently, but firmly, "No."  For that is what God the Father said to Jesus.
Crucifixion by Carl Bloch

"When life is hard, remember -
 we are not the first to ask,
'Is there no other way?'"
Elder Jeffrey Holland

Jesus accepted God's answer and completed His work; He followed-through with the Atonement. Thank Heaven He did!

Then an angel comes and ministers to Jesus' sin-laden, weary body in the Garden, and He is able to stand. He is able to wipe the anguish from his eyes. He is somehow able (unfathomable to me) to absord our sins, carry them to the cross, and put them to death.

What amazing strength.
What a triumph.

He Lives by Simon Dewey

I don't know how He did it, but I am so eternally grateful that He did.  And, when I have difficult weeks like this last one, I can recall His sacrifice and know He did it, not just for everyone, He did it for me too.

Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter),
Sorella Ashley Nef

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