Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Going Through the Motions Isn't Enough

At the Greek Theater
Teatro Greco
Siracusa holds fantastic ruins of an ancient Roman Amphitheater (dating from 3rd Century AD), and a Greek Theater (dating from 5th Century BC). We decided to meander around the more ancient of the two - the Teatro Greco - Greek Theater.

This huge arena for the arts is home to the first Greek comedy.  It is large enough to accommodate 15,000 spectators, and they still use it today for annual Greek Theater Festivals. How cool is that?!

The Ear of Dionysus
Way up in the nosebleed section are small cave-like rooms that were backstage loitering spots for the writers and actors - one of those being Plato!

Couldn't believe I was sitting where spectators have sat for centuries.

Ear of Dionysus
Not far from the Greek Theater is a huge limestone cave carved out of the Temenites hill. Caravaggio aptly named it the Ear of Dionysus because of its shape and sounds.
The tall, narrow cave has crazy acoustics like you wouldn't believe.

Fun Fact:
Legend has it that the famed tyrant Dionysus (432-367BC) used the cave as a prison, and the cave's awesome acoustics allowed him to eaves drop from the outside on all the conversations of his captives, and then punish them further.  He heard everything.  Hence, the Ear of Dionysus.  Sneaky fellow.

The Date is Set!
Giusi (our 15 year-old investigator) has set a baptismal date!  WOOOHOOOO.  She said it this way,
"I would be baptized, except I am too shy."
     "Whoa - wait - too shy?  Why?"
     "I don't want everyone looking at me when I'm in the font," she said.
     "Is that it?"
We quickly eased her mind and she picked the date of 4 October.  Yay.  But we don't think she gets that this is not just a ceremony, but it is the beginning of a whole new life.  So we have to work with her on that one.  But shoot, if she is already willing, then I think we are on the right track!

Dropping Like Flies
This week investigators have been dropping like flies.  Yep.  Isabella told us over the phone that she still attends the evangelical church and doesn't really need the lessons anymore.  When Kippen and I discussed this with the ward council, the members said they'd like to reach out and contact her.

I am currently illustrating pictures inside a copy of the Book of Mormon for Isabella's 4 1/2 year-old daughter, Allison, as a gift before I leave.  It's looking pretty cute.  I will take pictures when I am done.

Giuseppe and Katia seem to have lost the fire that they had at the beginning, and they have cancelled several appointments.

Sorella Felice and me
photo: Sorella Waddoups' Blog
Catania and Siracusa Sorelle Unite
The Catania Sisters (Sorella Felice and Sorella Cano) came and joined us in Siracusa for a scambio (exchange).  I was paired with Sorella Felice, who will be ending her mission the same time as me.

Three appointments were set, and all but one fell through.  But we managed to teach Giusi's grandmother, Pina, and invited her to Church.

Then we visited a new convert named Salvatore Paretignotti, which turned out to be the most memorable member appointment I will ever have. Let me tell you about it.

I Am a Child of God: Nothing More Special or True Than That
Salvatore Paretignotti (right) with his brother
Only time he has not smiled!
Salvatore was baptized in July of this year.  My first day here in Siracusa.  I met him at the ward activity, and after asking him how he was doing, his first words to me were, "I am doing great. You want to know why?  Because I am a child of our Heavenly Father who loves me.  And there is nothing more special or true than that!"

This man has a light about him, love and warmth exuding from him.  He is incredible.

Boy, did we need this appointment.  The Catania sisters had been having a hard time, as was Kippen and I.  After cancellations and rejections, well, we were all feeling a little down and beaten up.  Enter, Salvatore with open doors, delicious food (pizza, ice cream, and cake), and an inspiring story.

His Story:  Salvatore was walking down the street one day when he saw one of his evangelical friends talking to the missionaries.  Salvatore goes over, greets his friend, and thereby meets Anziano Smith (who has since finished his mission).  They got to talking, Salvatore asks if our church is a Christian church, and when he heard it was - closed the conversation with, "Well, that's the important thing, isn't it." And said his goodbyes and walked away.

Stop.  Go Back and Talk to Them
Graffiti with a great message - "Every Life is Sacred"
He had hardly taken a couple of steps when he heard a voice in his mind - a voice he recognized - say, "Stop.  Go back and talk to them."  Salvatore knew it as the voice of the Lord because he had heard it twice before.

He responded, "Why? - Why go back?"  Before he could get an answer, he was back talking with the missionaries and setting an appointment for lessons. Baptism came soon after that.
     "I was an easy person to teach for the missionaries," he says, "because I was ready to accept the truth.  I had been prepared."

This is where I will leave you in the story because I plan on sharing his full story in my homecoming talk on the 21st.  Sorry readers.  The most riveting part of the story is in hearing about the two other times when he had heard the voice of the Lord.  The Spirit was POWERFUL.

What an incredible man.  We sisters came out of that appointment pumped.  It was a desperately needed recharge.

with Sorella Vinci
Ward Party
The party this week was HILARIOUS.  It was proposed by a sister in the ward named Sorella Vinci who is special.

She loves the sister missionaries.  Loves them so much she writes each of them poems, and picks a different hymn to sing to them.  Mine was "Love One Another."

Bless her heart, she sets up this party, brings an unidentifiable dessert that the Elders described as, "You have to eat this - it's quite the experience," and gets her hair specially done for this party so she can make her presentations.

Vinci Family will Always Be Remembered
After the prayer, she gave a speech addressed to yours truly and recited a poem, gifting me with the written hard copy.  But this wasn't all.  The real present came next, along with another speech as she handed me a silver framed picture of Christ healing Jairus' daughter, and declared, "Now you can have this, take it home, show it to your family.  Your parents will be so happy.  Then you will have it with you when you get married, and keep it in a special place in your house.  And then you will pass it down through the generations to your children, and your children's children, so the Vinci family will always be remembered."  

Then she broke into tears, "Why do you have to go?!"  I swear I have only talked to this woman once before, and it was not a remarkable conversation.

Food table at the Ward Party
Did Someone Say Mangia?
The picture (right) was my first night in Siracusa when I met Salvatore at a ward party.

This is what happens when you have food at a party with Sicilians.  A blessing on the food is offered and every man, woman, and child descends upon the spread of delicacies.

The table looked like this (hovering bodies) until all food was completely consumed.  National Geographic should come and film this.

Food is important here.

Sweet Anna Maria
with Anna Maria
Met with Anna Maria, our friend with multiple sclerosis, for what I think will be the last time.  It was actually a lovely experience.

We read Alma 36, my favorite Book of Mormon chapter, and she was moved nearly to tears.  Then we shared news that I was leaving, and she started to cry, saying, "I don't want you to leave.  You are my friend."

How sweet is that!  We comforted her, and by the time we left, I think she had forgotten all about my departure news.

Fasting for the Temple
Rome Temple September 3, 2014
photo: ldschurchtemples
For the longest time I have said that we must fast and pray the Rome Temple into construction.  Well, Sunday we finally did.  All missionaries fasted for added Heavenly help on the temple's behalf.

Boy has it needed it.  Lately, there have been a slew of problems halting construction and the building has sat for 5 months with no work on it.  5 months!

Apparently, the setbacks have to do with trade unions, re-dos, fitting problems, and costs are sky-rocketing in penalty fees for unmet deadlines.

Sorella Anderson (the cute senior couple I served with in Palermo) had this to say about the Temple: "Some say [the temple's delays] are the Lord's way of saying people are not ready for it, but I think that comment is not in harmony with His decision to do it in the first place.  He certainly knows if it is a go or not before the spade of dirt is turned.  So we hope and pray the problems will be resolved and the work will move forward.  It is man that hinders the work of the Lord."

Our fast was a combined effort of both the Milan and Rome missions - all of Italy's missionaries united in prayer for this one purpose.  What a perfect way to end my mission - with a fast for the Temple.  Pretty special. Please add the Rome Temple in your prayers as well.

Going Through the Motions Isn't Enough
I was thinking this week about how much I have been feeling the Spirit lately, and I feel like it has been lessening as I have been here in Siracusa.  Why would that be?  After thinking about it, it dawned on me that it was because I was not pushing myself as hard as I was when I first arrived in Siracusa.  Reminds me of something President Eyring said.
"As forces around us increase in intensity,
whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient won't be enough."
President Henry B. Eyring
I promised the Lord I would do better, and guess what?  The next day we saw success, both in Finding, and in our lessons.  We even got a baptismal date with Giusi that day!

From this I learned that we are living in a day and age when going through the motions of obedience just isn't enough.  To fight the negative forces that are increasing (especially here in Italy), we need to up our game.  So I recommitted and blessings immediately followed.

Immediate Blessings:  Besides Giusi setting a baptismal date, we talked with Salvatore's brother and he came to Church this week!  And then at my party came two English Course students (Giuseppe and Natale) who I had also invited to Church.  They came to Church.  Yes!  Natale even said, "I feel like God is leading me to be here."

Last P-day in Siracusa
I am gearing up for my final few days in Siracusa.  I leave here on Friday for Rome before flying home next Tuesday.  

Uh - where did the time go?  Gulp. Time is moving faster and faster it seems.  

I am planning on having a good week and looking for people who, like Salvatore, have been prepared.

See You Soon,
Sorella Ashley Nef

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