Monday, August 25, 2014

Scambio in Ragusa

Ragusa Ibla, Sicily
In front of the Main Cathedral in Ragusa
This week we went on scambio (exchanges) to Ragusa Ibla, a little town southwest of Siracusa.  The windy 3 hour bus ride is a challenge for even the steadiest equilibrium, but once you've arrived on steady ground, the charm of the place captivates.  It is so pretty.  The shot of Ragusa (above) is just as big as it looks, and it has over 300 churches.  Yeah, 300.

When walking down the main street, we passed by the main Cathedral (right), and there was a wedding going on inside.  The organ was playing (sounded like something from Phantom of the Opera) and people were singing. For a second I closed my eyes and thought about how easily this moment could have been plucked from 500 years earlier.  Awesome.

Every Now and Then a Little Door Must Slam
I was with Sorella Sofia Nagliati from Brazil (her ancestors are Italian, hence the Italian last name).  We did some Finding - street contacting and casa in casa (knocking doors), and Sorella Nagliati got her first official door-slam in the face.  Alright!  We laughed it off and had a good time together telling each other our favorite stories from the Bible.

In the meantime, I got to see a little of Ragusa.  The steep topography of the town makes for a great deal of stairs everywhere.  I suppose that's one of the things that makes the town quaint.

Since Ragusa is inland, the weather is much drier than coastal Siracusa.  Regardless, though, Mediterranean summers are tropical.  I constantly have a sheen of sweat all over me, and my clothes are always damp.
(I think this must have been something like what mom went though on her mission in Puerto Rico :| ).

Let me show you a few more pictures of Ragusa Ibla.
Whimsical Sicilian Baroque Balcony on Palazzo Cosentini

Merchant: Power of Commerce
Nobleman: Feudal Rule
Three Powerful Ones
At Palazzo Bertini, 3 intriguing sculpted Arab heads (encased in mesh boxes to prevent damage) hang over some doorways.  Apparently, they are known as the "Three Powerful Ones," and are meant to symbolize power for a newly rebuilt town that had been devastated by the 1600s Mt. Etna eruption.
     The Nobleman, symbolizes Feudal Rule.
     The Merchant, Power of Commerce.
     The Pauper, Having Nothing to Lose.
Interesting.  They remind me of busts from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion in California, USA.

Southern Comfort
Earlier in the week, Sorella Kippen and I met with a relatively new convert named Giusi.  She is pretty cute, middle-aged and engaged to be married to Luigi, another new convert.

We were going to meet with her because we heard she wasn't quite understanding some doctrine, mainly in regards to the Holy Ghost.  So we planned our lesson accordingly, but once she began talking, we realized she just needed some comfort.

Turns out, she is discouraged about how long it is taking for her and Luigi to save money to be married.  In Italy, the cost of civil marriage is A LOT.  So we talked about patience and the Lord's timing, and how these are troubles that will pass. In the meantime, there are things she can do that will bring peace of mind and the presence of the Spirit.  I think it helped. No - I know it helped.  The Spirit was strong.

Emma from Benine
After that, we met with Anna Maria (a sweet woman with MS) and her nurse/helper person named Emma.  Emma became an investigator in my first few days of being here, so we have been working through the lessons with her, and we decided to follow-up on her prayer to see if she had received a response yet.  Emma ended up bearing testimony and telling us her story.

Her Story:  She has 3 kids living in Benine Africa, while her husband took a job in France.  One family. Three countries.  Rough.  Yet, this is the only way they knew to have any sort of income to live and save for their ultimate goal of building a home in Benine.  She does not have resources to simply rent a house in her country, so she is working to build one of her own.  Good for her!

She said she prays every day that she will save enough to make it back home with her family.  But up to now, her prayers have not yet been answered.  "I must wait patiently," she said, "The Lord has His own design and plan for me.  I just have to wait for when He says it is right.  I know I will be with my family again.  The Lord wants for me to be with them."

Pray with Faith
That's when we turned to the Book of Enos (the prophet who's a great example of prayer).  We read his story with her and explained how sometimes we must pray a long time (like Enos), and pointed out where the Lord answered Enos' prayer because he "prayed with Faith."  We then asked if she prayed about the lessons she has already heard.  She said she had, "But I did not pray with faith, so I did not get an answer." What great understanding.

Anna Maria was sitting with us and pitched in on occasion (but her mind is not really there - she is like a little child anymore).  Then at the end of the lesson, something special happened.  Emma grabbed Anna Maria's hand and one of Sorella Kippen's, and we all prayed holding hands in a circle.  The Spirit was so strong during that prayer, and we all felt incredibly close.  Even though our lives are worlds apart - Kippen and I from the United States, Anna Maria the Sicilian woman with MS, and a woman named Emma from Benine - we, at that moment, were sisters in the gospel, daughters of God, united as one.  Beautiful moment.
Me and Allison

Thanks for the Ride!
Tuesday we were given a ride to a train station by some Jehovah's Witnesses.  That was not expected.

Isabella and Allison
Good news: Isabella finally had a breakthrough and realized how awful her ex-boyfriend was, and said ENOUGH and resolved to leave it (and him) in the past.

Bad news: despite promising to come to Church, she backed out on Sunday.  So we hope to see her tonight to get it sorted out.

Allison, my buddy, is doing great though.  In the picture (right) she was trying to run away when she saw the camera, "Aiuto! Aiuto!" (Help! Help!), but I finally caught up so Kippen could get the shot.

Love this little girl.

Miracle of the Week: Giuseppe and Katia Family
This family of 7 is poor, but they are extremely wealthy where it counts - family love.  The minute you step into their home, the love they have for one another permeates the air and makes you feel like a member of the family.  It is a beautiful thing.  We love being with them (it's just that Katia works every day except weekends, so we are limited on visits).

Giuseppe has read the Book of Mormon up through 3/4 of Alma.  The miracle for the week was when we asked him yesterday if he would be baptized if he felt it was true, he said Yes!  And then he proceeded to ask the same question of every member of his family, and they all agreed.  I LOVE THEM.  IT WAS SO COOL.  Before we left, we all knelt in prayer.

"I Can Feel the Change in My Family"
Giuseppe said he would come to church this week with 2 of his kids (they have 5).  We hope to help organize rides for the following weeks so they all can make it.

They love us.  Giuseppe one time interrupted a lesson by saying, "Can I just say something?  I want to bear my testimony on you sisters.  You do things from your heart.  You are doing a great work and helping lots of people.  I can feel the change in my family.  Thank you."  Wow.  See what I mean?  So that is the awesome Giuseppe and Katia Family.

Speaking of Missionary Work...
The Dynamic Duo
I gave a talk on Sunday!  I was told on Friday of my assignment, and the topic was, appropriately enough, Missionary Work.

Uh, I think I can muster up some info on that topic.  So I talked on the 3 ways members can help with missionary work.
     1.  Being a Friend
     2.  Inviting
     3.  Testifying
I think it went well.  At the very least, the missionaries in the ward were pumped by the end.

Well Friends, I love being here on the Lord's errand in spreading His Light and Love.  I'm working hard and feeling the blessings.

Love to All,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mamma, Did You Know I Am a Daughter of God?

My desk and study wall.  Inspires me.
It's been Ferragosto holiday this week, so we stayed inside and did one of our tri-annual DEEP cleaning days.  Our place is officially sparkly and clean!  It's great.  Now, let me tell you a little bit about Siracusa.

History of Siracusa
Piazza Duomo
I gave a brief history of Siracusa when I visited a few months back, but for those of you just joining this missionary's blog, here's a bit of a refresher lesson.

Once upon a time in 733BC Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian) was colonized by the Corinths and soon became the most powerful city in the world.  Ruled by famous tyrants like Dionysius the Elder, and home to Archimedes (one of history's greatest mathematicians and engineers), it was the last stronghold of the Greek Empire in Sicily to fall to the Romans.

With the fall of Rome came a slew of conquerors: Arabs, Normans, and Spanish, to name a few.  That's when Sicily's capital was moved to Palermo.  Being here is like taking a trip back to the ancient world.  Here are a few pics:
Ancient road with ancient wheel impressions still embedded
Ruins of The Temple of Apollo 570BC
Ortigia, the Heart of Siracusa
Ortigia (Greek for "quail") is the heart of Siracusa.  This island extension of Siracusa is where the majority of historic sites are located: ancients roads, massive Greek and Roman Amphitheaters (I hope to get to those soon), and the ruins of the Temple of Apollo.

In fact, the entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It's amazing so much history still remains considering the fact that it has survived countless invasions, crippling earthquakes, a devastating 1600s Mt. Etna eruption, and World War II.

Ya, this quaint city has staying power.  While strolling down narrow ancient streets, you barely walk a block without seeing another Greek ruin, Roman building, Jewish fountain, or Baroque church.  Fantastic.

P-Day Fun
Sorella Kippen and me

Flying my broom for a Quidditch Match in Cappuccini Park
Church with a giant statue of Mary.  Sign on the left states one of the
10 Commandments: "Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me"

Meet the Investigators
Siracusa apartments
She is a single mom who is trying to overcome heartbreak from a very abusive boyfriend.  Even though he was no good for her, she still feels heartbroken and keeps pining for the dirtbag.  Isabella is a wonderful, sweet girl with a daughter, Ellison, who I adore.  Isabella loves church, is reading the Book of Mormon and really liking it, but she's wishy-washy about what she wants and needs.

Emma is our new investigator from Africa.  She speaks French, so we gave her a Book of Mormon in French.  Yay.

Other investigators
Giusi, 13 years-old, is reading the Book of Mormon.
A family of people on the poor side of town who don't seem to quite get what they need to do yet.
A woman who can't come to Church because she works in a tourist shop on Sundays.

All investigators are in a great variety of situations and backgrounds, and many of them are sooo close, I can feel it, but they just aren't quite there yet.  Fingers crossed and prayers amped.

Obedience = Power
The water is stunning.
I can't help but feel that it was our fault that no one really progressed this week. Satan is the worst.  So we are trying to counter his influence by being more militant about our own obedience.

As a missionary, Obedience = Power.  If you don't have power, you don't get anything done.  So I am really working on getting back to going to bed on time, exercising well every morning, not talking to Kippen during personal study, and not going over on P-day time.

But it has not been a bad week.  Despite the 110 degree, high humidity, freaky crippling heat, our house keeps pretty cool.  What a life saver.  We drink lots of water.  LOTS of water.  And then we sweat ALL OF IT out.

Miracle this Week:  A New Friend
Siracusa street kids
My miracle this week was Allison.  Allison is Isabella's 4 1/2 year-old daughter.  All cute and super wicked smart.  Very, very sharp.  Sharpest 4 year-old I have seen.

The first couple of times I saw her she was turned off to missionaries.  Didn't seem to like us at all.  But then one day, when Isabella was confiding to Kippen about her break-up woes, I could tell I was not needed in that conversation, but noticed Allison needed attention, so I hunkered on the floor and started talking with her.  We became fast friends.

In fact, when it was time to go, she kept hugging me, not wanting me to leave.  Adorable.  Anyway, every time we have since gone over, I have attempted to teach Allison about her precious value.  Knowing the abuse she and her mother have undergone, I hoped to share something that would sink in and help her feel loved.

You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important
The few times I tried, Allison didn't seem to be listening.
     Once, I shared, "You know, God is your Father and is always watching over you.  You can talk to Him whenever you feel alone and He will listen and help you - even if no one else is around."
     Another time I said, "Allison, Jesus is your Brother, and He loves you so very much."
I never knew if any of my words ever reached her.  Then, after our last visit, Allison said to her mother, "Mamma, did you know that I am a daughter of God, Jesus is my brother, and they love me?"

SUCCESS!!!  My heart warmed to the glow of a thousand suns when Isabella, the mom, told me that. Made me the happiest person alive.

Daniele and Sophia Simoncini
So Allison and I are buddies.  For a present, she gave me a flashlight key chain.  Sometimes she even calls me on the phone to talk :).  Love this little girl.  What a treasure (my aim is to let her know she is).

If anything, I hope Allison proves the reason Isabella chooses to be baptized.  She'd be a great member. And the blessings...well, let's just say it would be a Godsend for these two special gals.

A Visit from Old Friends
The Simoncinis of Palermo came to Siracusa on Sunday :).  They were headed to Ragusa, but decided to reroute their journey so they could see me. Wow.  Doesn't that make me feel good!  Daniele and Sophia, the youngest of the family, gave me big hugs.  So good seeing them.  I LOVE THEM!

Happy, Focused, and Buckling Down
My shoes are officially destroyed.
That's what a year and a half does.
That's the biggest news lately.  Wish I had more time.  I watched the most recent Mormon Messages.  They just keep getting better and better.  Check them out everyone.

I am slightly freaking out here in Siracusa with how close I am to going home.  President has been sending some cool messages my way.  Here is the latest (I told him about Lauren's mission call to France):
"France - Lyon is good if you can't go to Italy, Rome. Congrats to her.  I am so excited for Siracusa and the Zone. You two together are just what is needed. You will change the culture and the spirit there. I am so proud of all you have changed and become on your mission.  Keep progressing and sharing. Remember teaching with love is the Savior's way.     -President"

That's the good word this week.  Anyways, I am doing well.  I am happy, focused, and trying my best to buckle down and wear myself out in service (like my shoes).

Title of Ashley's birthday poem for mom
Glad your birthday went well, mom.  I thought about you all day while scrubbing our kitchen down.

(Editor's note: Ashley wrote a fantastic birthday poem published on our family blog, Buon Compleanno August 2014.  She's so great!).

That's crazy that the boys (Ashley's brothers) are already starting their school year.  How is it possible that when I left Connor was still a Sophomore and now he is a Senior?!  And Landon a Junior?!

Ciao Tutti,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Final Six in Siracusa

Siracusa, Sicily
Congratulations to my sister, Lauren, on receiving her mission call to the France, Lyon Mission!!!  OH MY GOODNESS FRANCE I AM SO EXCIIIIIIIIIIITED!!!!  So happy for her you, Lauren, and the good people of Southern France.

Let's start by saying that I love Siracusa.  I have only been here a couple of days, but this place is enchanting.  Very glad to be ending here.  It's weird being on my last leg, but I feel like I have a new wind under my wings here, which feels great.  It is BEAUTIFUL, and we are seeing miracles.  But before I get into that - about farewelling Rome.

Rome Sweet Rome - The Hebrew Ghetto
One of the coolest parts of Rome, hands down, is the Jewish Ghetto.
This is the sector of the city in which Jews were exiled for centuries - no matter their economic status.

Fun Fact:
"Ghetto" is an Italian word meaning "Foundry" and was first used as a word of segregation in 1516 when Venice Jews were expelled to an industrial island (that had once been an area for cannon-making) west of Venice.  Once occupied by Jews, they renamed the place "Gheto Nuovo" - The New Metal Foundry.

Lots of deep roots here.  Some Jewish families can trace back even before the Romans.  Amazing.

Jewish Pasticceria has been here for over 300 years!
We ate at the Jewish Pasticceria (Bakery). Sooo good.  It was a pastry made with candied fruits inside called Jewish Pizza.  I don't even know how to describe it except BUONISSIMO.  I will miss this very cool area of Rome.

Amici Addio - Goodbye Friends
Final goodbyes to some pretty special friends.  Let me introduce you to people who have blessed my life.
The Crew: Vescovo Teodosi (left), Missionaries, and GANS (young adults)
Me and Jerwin.  He is a rascal, that one.  New convert.
with Beth and Elena.  Beth always says, "It's ok. It's alright"
Bishop Gillespie's Family (Rome 6).  They are so sweet and kind.  Love them.
Sorella Bosco and Lia.  She's from Peru and married an Italian
Veronica Valle.  Helped her do her genealogy
Shiela, me, Carol, Jomar, Jerwin

Rome 2 District  Back:  Sorella Udall and me
Middle:  Anziano Philips, Stewart, Ostler, Anderl, Sorgiacomo on everyone
Floor:  Anziano Lercer and Quaresima
Final District Meeting
Monday I called up Sorella Mikesell to say goodbye as she ended her mission. Love her.

Tuesday we had our last District Meeting (DDM) with ice cream provided by a member in our ward, Sorella Salsiccia (which means Sister Sausage, might I add).  A real saint that woman - really old, never married, and loves the missionaries.

Then we had a couple of final appointments and Sorella Udall and I made cake for our own goodbye.

Wednesday was CRAZY!  I started packing, and realized that I needed to make one of my bags weight-worthy for the plane ride home.  So I set aside some stuff to send home (be looking for packages).

Anyway, we get back from an appointment where we taught a Peruvian member how to do genealogy, then continued to try to get my stuff pulled together, but learned that Sorella Udall's new companion was arriving a day early.

Off to the station!

Then we missed the last train home before 9, so we waited for the 10pm, only to find that another sister was coming to stay at our house as well...and I still had to pack!

So on my last night in Rome, I ended up packing until 1:30 in the morning. :( And because my train was leaving at 7:26am, I was up at 5am to be ready for the Anziani to taxi us.

When they arrived, that was an adventure on its own.

Since both me and the other sister heading out were going to Sicily, they assumed that we each would be taking one bag.  That was true in my case, but not for Sorella Henson, who had 2 very large bags. Normally that would be fine with a van...but we had a small car.  President's car.

Mad Dash
Anderl holding my luggage. Or is the luggage holding him?
So Anziano Anderl took it upon himself to hold MY LARGE BAG (which was not much smaller than the car) on his lap.  It looked like an airbag with wheels had deployed on him.  Quite the site. He had to use all his strength to keep from crushing Anziano Sorgiacomo who was driving. Especially on the turns, which can be rough with an Italian driving :| .

We made it right on time though.  No worries. Well...only a few.

To Siracusa!
Journey from Rome (A) to Siracusa, Sicily (B)
On the train, the only experienced missionaries were sisters (everyone else was green, clueless, and out of it - Jet lag), so I was put in charge of making sure everyone and their luggage got on and off at the right stops: Napoli, Calabria, Messina.  It was an adventure.  I don't think we lost anyone in the mix.

Once in Messina, it was our cue to disembark and split off to Ragusa, Catania, and Siracusa.  But since I was the travel police making final checks for everyone else, I inadvertently  found myself trapped on the train when it started moving to head for Palermo!  Hahahaha

It was pretty great because right as Sorella Kippen and I saw one another and I was about to step off the train, the door shut in front of me and began whisking me away.  Uuuuuuuuuh.....

Lucky for me the train happened to be switching tracks and took me back, no problems.  Gave Kippen a good scare though. :)

Tickets Please
Then we made it just in the nick of time to the other train that was going to Catania.  During the excursion Sorella Arnold, Kippen, and I managed to talk to a ticket checker dude on the train about the gospel, and he gave us his number.  His name is Alessandro.  Really cool.

We were picked up by a member named Giuseppe Virgillio who happened to serve in the same mission Lauren is going to.  I got him talking about his mission for a bit as he shared some cool stories.  Now that I know where Lauren is going, I am going to have to plumb him for more info.

Settled In
Siracusa, Sicily
Then we settled in.  Ah, Siracusa.  It is gorgeous, and there is a special spirit here.  Like I said, I feel better than I ever have.  Sorella Kippen and I have done 3 lessons together already, and each one has been ROCKING.  The Spirit is strong with this companionship.  So great.  And we are pumped to be STLs together.  What a breath of fresh air.  The Lord has some good plans for us, I can feel it.

I know the Lord inspired president Waddoups to send me here.  There is a reason, and I intend to discover it.  (There are more than likely many reasons, but I want to know them all).  Our apartment is huge and gorgeous too.

Nephi's Sister
The primary kids here know me as "La Sorella di Nefi" - Nephi's sister - because of a kid named Marco who was being clever.  I am down.  I'll take it!

Surge in Siracusa
The ward seems to have passed through a difficult period, but they are now on the other side with a new bishop and counselors, and you can tell they are ready to expand.  People are coming out of the woodwork.  Less actives who are so far gone they have shrines to saints and Mary in their houses are agreeing to come to Church.  Random people are at investigators or members houses and are agreeing to take the lessons.  The Lord is preparing people, and in the strongest way to date on my mission, I can tell the Lord is using me as His instrument to help these people come to Christ.

Angels and Instruments
Bernini Angel
I keep thinking a lot about the idea of angels and instruments in God's hands.  Ammon says it nicely:
"Behold I say unto you,
how great reason have we to rejoice;
for could we have supposed
when we started...
that God would have granted unto us
such great blessings?
And this is the blessing which hath
been bestowed upon us,
that we have been made instruments
in the hands of God
to bring about this great work."
Alma 26:1, 3
The Lord uses missionaries as His instruments, or tools, to do HIS work, and work HIS power.  In doing so, missionaries become ministering angels.  Or, powerful tools in the hands of God to help others.

Revolving Doors of Missionary Work
Though it was difficult to leave Rome, new adventures (and blessings) await me in Siracusa.  As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens.  With that, here are some doors of Rome.

I love the Lord, I love the work, and I love Siracusa.  I am ready to have the most powerful 6 weeks of my life.

La Sorella di Nefi,
Sorella Ashley Nef

A French PS to my missionary sister:
Je sais che Lauren connais deja un peu du francais.  Je ne le recorde pas tres bien, mais je ferais mieus pour l'etudier.  Je t'aime!  Bonne settimane!