Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Family History in Siracusa

One day, Ladybugs came out of nowhere
A good sign

photo: wikimedia
Siracusa (pink) on Sicily's southeastern coast 
Tuesday we left for Siracusa, and had planned to return on Thursday buuuuuuuut it turns out that 1 May is a holiday and the bus system does not run on holidays.  At all.  So we were in beautiful Siracusa until Friday, which is the best thing that could have happened!

Let me share a little Siracusa History
This now quaint seaside city, founded by ancient Greek Corinthians and Teneans in the 5th century BC, was once the largest and most powerful in all the Mediterranean.  Ruled by famous tyrants like Dionysius, and home to one of history's greatest mathematicians, Archemedes, Syracuse's power extended far beyond the Greek Empire.  It comes as no surprise, then, that Siracusa was once the capital, but its influence waned during the Arab occupation of Sicily, when the capital was moved to Palermo.

Apostles Peter and Paul both came and preached in Siracusa. Paul made note of it in the Bible.
"After three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria,
which had wintered in the isle,
whose sign (name) was Castor and Pollux.
And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days."
Acts 28:11-12
Paul was there for three days (hey, like we were there for 3 days!).  Siracusa is a beautiful town with strong Greek influence.  It is much smaller than Palermo.  A lot smaller - and calmer.  Traffic is restricted here and walking around the town's quiet narrow lanes was nice.  Let me share some pictures.

Siracusa's Amazingly Preserved History
Ancient Amphitheaters.
Greek Amphitheater, 3,000 years old!  Seats 15,000, is 138 meters in diameter.  Greek tragedies are still performed here.
Roman Amphitheater dates to 3rd or 4th century AD
Centuries-old Wheel marks embedded in the rocky road. Cool.
Ancient Cathedrals with gorgeous statues.
The Duomo was built in 7th century AD on the remains of the Temple of Athena
Statue of the Apostle Paul
Cool architecture, quaint streets

Ancient Ruins.
Remains of the Temple of Apollo 570 BC
Fountain of Diana

This stunning fountain, in the middle of the Piazza Archimedes, was created by sculptor Guido Moschetti in 1906

As amazing as the history is behind this great town, this is not why Siracusa is cool...

Four Amazing Siracusa Sisters
In Siracusa are 4 awesome sisters: Sorella Rossell (from my MTC group), Sorella Williams, Sorella Vickers (from Sorella Marsh's MTC group), and Sorella O'Connor!
(back row) Mikesell (crouching), me, Jackson, Rossell, Williams
(front) Marsh, O'Connor, Vickers
When we paired-up, I was originally going with O'Connor (my comp from Sardegna days), but then the STLs (who decided on the scambi pair-ups) changed it at the last minute and put me with Williams and Vickers.  It was the best decision!

Sorella Vickers is awesome. Vickers is older than me by a few months, but brand new in the mission. She and I have something in common - a passion for Family History work.  Her story is like this...

Saved by Saving Others: Family History
photo: mormonwiki
She had gone inactive for a few years, and had absolutely no intention of coming back. But then, one day, she decided to look into her family history. So she started going to the genealogy center and researching.  The more she researched, the more her desire grew to learn, seek and find - taking genealogy courses, and working more diligently on her family tree. When she printed off the first temple ordinance cards for the names she had found, she said "I had never wanted to go to the temple before until I was holding those cards in my hand.  Suddenly, I wanted to be the one to take their names through the temple."

So she started preparing to become worthy, and put that card on her mirror so that every day when doubts and discouragement came, she would remember this wasn't for herself, but for the person whose name was on that card - a member of her family.  And so she made it, and here she is on a mission.  Even cooler: her family ancestry traces back to Bari, Italy, in our mission!

Siracusa Family History Center
A Free online Family History Site
So, Vickers took us to the family history center, and gave us a tour of familysearch.org, which has been completely overhauled since I've been on my mission.  I like it.  It makes a lot more sense, and everything is together on one site instead of spread out over several.

I logged into my pedigree, shared my family line, and explained how we've only been able to trace my Italian and Polish lines back only so far.  She then showed me how to search for Italian records that have been recently uploaded into the system.  Turns out, there are more records online for Italy than for any other country!  In fact, the top 3 countries with the most uploaded records may surprise you:
3.  Portugal       2.  Germany       1.  Italy

More Family Found!
My ancestors: Maria Anna Gagliani, Salvatore, Graziano Meschi
In browsing the records, we came across something that was previously nowhere to be found - the marriage record of my ancestors from Tuscany, Graziano Meschi and Maria Anna Gagliani!  What a miracle.

Not only did it have the marriage date and their ages, but also their parents' names and the identity of witnesses to the wedding (a Michele Da Ponte was present - I wonder is he is related to the current assistant to the President here, Anziano Da Ponte from Northern Italy).

Super awesome!  Unfortunately, I didn't have time to poke around the site, but what information I found, I updated on our family pedigree.

Sicily is the Starting Point
Vickers told Marsh and I that when Elder Patrick Kearon (of the Area Presidency) came, he told her in an interview that Italy stands on a precipice and will either fall or explode with work - and it all rides on family history work. "And Sicily is the starting point," he said, "We need to fill this temple not only with people, but with names."

Family History Work Eliminates the Power of the Adversary
When I was thinking about that during my studies, I came across inspiring quotes from Elder Scott and Elder Packer about the spiritual protection that comes from doing family history work.
"Do you...want a sure way to eliminate the influence of the Adversary in your life?
Immerse yourself in searching for your ancestors,
prepare their names for the sacred vicarious ordinances available in the temple,
and then go to the temple to stand as proxy for them to receive the ordinances...
I can think of no greater protection from the influence of the adversary in your life... 
This work is a spiritual work... Begin now. 
I promise you that the Lord will help you find a way.
And it will make you feel wonderful."
Elder Richard G. Scott, October 2012
What a promise!  But, you know something?  I can say that I have in fact received this protection on my mission.  And how much does Sicily need this blessing?  A lot.  

Getting Youth Involved
Awesome Palermo Members.  I LOVE these people!
With the scads of uploaded Italian documents that are now available on FamilySearch.org (for free!), Italy is prepped.  Now we missionaries must be the driving force.  The problem is that the older Italian generation, with hand-written family records, is averse to using the computer to input it.  Which means we need to teach the younger generation.  Get the Youth involved.

Sorella Vickers said they've been working on it in Siracusa and seeing some really cool things. Missionaries from nearly every area on the island have come to Siracusa to get the low-down on Family History and take it back to their area.  Now Palermo has been educated, and we are brainstorming on how to implement it.  We have some really stellar youth here, several of them new converts, so if we can get them going, we're going to see Palermo explode with the Spirit of Elijah.  Hopefully, it all begins tonight, because tonight we are having a Family Home Evening Family History kick-off.

Mostra in Siracusa
Statues of Peter and Paul flank the front stairs of the Cathedral
Then we toured a little of Siracusa, visiting Ortigia, the island next to the coast.  It is BEAUTIFUL.

I got to stand on the steps of the Duomo, between the statues of Peter and Paul and look up at the stars. Then I ate my favorite gelato of all time - ricotta and pear.  Yum.

The next day was  Il Giorno dei Lavoratori - Italian Labor Day (hence the lack of buses).  But we had a lesson, and a mostra (display table) outside the church.  It was the best. The mostra was to take advantage of the foot traffic coming from a party being held in the park across from the Church building.  We handed out millions of bigilettini (flyers) for Church, English Course, and for Genealogy Course, etc.

The Lesson that Turned on a Dime
For the Lesson we taught, something happened to me that has never happened in my life, let alone my mission.  I broke down and cried in a lesson.  We met with three older women, 2 non-members and 1 less-active member. She had left the Church because of something the bishop had done to her.  Now she's kind of bitter.  In our lesson, we we talked about the Book of Mormon, and at one point, one of the investigators asked, "Do you believe the dead will rise again?"

The less-active started yelling, "No. No. NO!" as she went on and on about how she did not believe in resurrection.  I calmly testified that I knew the resurrection was real.  She said her son had died at 17 and therefore "knew personally" that he would never live again, and that she would never see him.
     "Oh, but you will see him again," I assured her, "that is why Christ resurrected in the first place."  But she wouldn't hear it and kept shutting me down and getting more adamant.

This, apparently triggered past ill-feelings, because she began to divulge all the horrible things the bishop and other members and people had done to her.  The other 2 ladies joined in the rant, almost like they were ganging up on us, even though we did nothing to warrant the anger.  Our whole discussion began, innocently enough, with talk of recipes and then asking if they knew about the Book of Mormon.  Now, minutes later, they were full-on erupting with a rage.

Overcome with Emotion
Then, I don't know why, but suddenly, out of nowhere, I burst into tears and could not stop.  Like sobbing crying.  Weird.  I'm not a crier!  This has never happened before.  Apparently the emotion was just as astonishing to our three ladies, because they instantly calmed down.  The tension immediately disappeared, and at once they became calm, kind, and gentle.  I understood what the Spirit was doing.  In opening these floodgates, an environment for teaching was miraculously prepared.

The Atonement is Not Just to Save us from Sin
The Christus found in LDS Temple Visitor's Centers
For, in the quiet of that moment, I bore testimony of Jesus Christ, the Atonement, and Resurrection, explaining that the Atonement was an act that was not performed just to "save us from sins" - a phrase often dished out without thought or feeling here in Italy - but it saves us from so much more.

The Atonement also saves us from death, from sorrow, pain, and despair that can come from the awful facts of life or the horrible acts of others.

Christ resurrected not just for Himself. He resurrected for us all. That is the promise of His great suffering, death, and return to life and body. Christ is important - not only because of what happened 2000 years ago, but because what He did is relevant now, and it will be relevant tomorrow, and for all time.

Vickers then pulled out The Living Christ which we read to conclude the lesson, and then we left the house with the Spirit present.

Eating Stighiola - Roasted Lambs Guts (Marsh is giving her brave face)
A Call to Lead All Nations
As we were walking back, Vickers told me that her relief society president (who helped bring her back to activity) had served in the Rome mission 4 years ago when they dedicated the grounds for the temple.

At that time, one of the apostles, who had come to the ceremony, took the missionaries aside and told them that missionaries who serve in the Italy Rome Mission are not called to "preach to all nations", but to "lead all nations".  This mission is apparently a training ground.

Ladybugs.  Lots and lots of ladybugs  :)

Well, this week has been one of historic significance for sure.  In a city with amazing history and in learning the significance of Family History in our work.

This next week will prove just as blessed. Our District is having two baptisms! Slowly, but surely, Palermo sta crescendo in being a part of history in the making.

Can't wait to Skype my family on Sunday, Mother's Day!  YYYYEEEEAAAAHHHH!!!

Love to you all,
Sorella Ashley Nef

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