Monday, November 26, 2012

"How did it get so late so soon?" -Dr. Suess ... (aka time is flying!)

We had lots of big events this week!  Since I spent most of my emailing time today sending in pictures for the mission slideshow  (it will comprise of pictures of the entire last year.  Seeing as I have been here all of that time, have had awesome adventures, taken great pictures, and most of the people I've served around have since gone home, let's just say I sent quite a few pictures in haha).  So, yeah, sorry for the shorter-than-usual email (although I am sure some of you are grateful haha)).  Anyways, I will just quickly summarize my week:

We had Zone Training in Miskolc.  After President Richards was here, the zone leaders were told to call these meetings to discuss changes in the mission.  However, after the training, it turns out there weren't really any big changes, like we thought there would be.  Instead, there was more of an increased emphasis on exactly following the white handbook.  I am grateful that I have always tried to do that on my mission!  I was also able to give my departing testimony.  I am not going to type up the whole thing here (maybe later I will type it up in a seperate email), but I can say looking back at my mission, I have learned a lot, grown and matured a lot, loved a lot.  I am so lucky to have had this experience!

The Thanksgiving Dinner was a success!  Our seniors are awesome and pulled through with an absolutely delicious traditional Thanksgiving dinner for 60 people.  We contributed two pies (apple and banana cream).

Our ward had a service project-- we cleaned up the streets and lawns around our branch house.  Sister Behunin picked up a LOT of cigarette butts and gum.  Gross.  We had two investigators come and help, which was awesome.  Service is so great!  I always feel so good after it :)

Sister Behunin and I are still doing great :)  (We have been talking and laughing lots!)  She has been sick this past week, unfortunately, but she is feeling better!  I have been bringing her up to speed on the ward and our investigators, as she will most likely be taking over the area after me.  I really feel like she is going to be perfect for that, though!  Love that girl already!!  Neither of us can believe we have only been together for only a week!

And just as an interesting note, it is apparently becoming tradition for me to last-minute play the piano and perform musical numbers here :P As I was practicing for church (after being told 20 minutes before sacrament meeting I would play), the Cummings and the branch president invited me to join their musical number.  So I ended up playing, translating, and singing in church.  I have to say, I really do feel needed here!  I love it, though!

Anyways, gotta run!

Love you all!!
Kramer Nővér aka McKenna

P.S. Totally decorated our apartment.... and started listening to Christmas music this past week!  LOVE IT :D  Yay for the holidays!!  Part 1 of two Hungarian Christmas days is coming up this week.  Kellemes Mikulást kivánok mindenkinek!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality." -Alfred Painter

Well all, it has been quite a unique week.

We had an awesome zone conference in Budapest with a member of the 70, Elder Kent F. Richards (check out this talk he gave in General Conference last year).  It was so great!  I took pages and pages of notes.  He encouraged all of us to be better, basically.  I was so impressed with his knowledge of the scriptures.  He would teach us a principle and then emphasize it with scriptures, just turning to one after the other from his head.  It was great!  And it was very inspirational :)  I really love that everything we believe is based in the scriptures.  And that they can give us guidance for each of our different situations!  Anyways, I think there are going to be some big changes in our mission because of this conference.  I will let you know more about that next week!

After Zone Conference, the emergency transfer happened.  Sister Watts and I gave each other big hugs and then she took the metro to her new home (my old one) and I brought Sister Behunin (and her luggage) on the long train ride back to Debrecen.  So, Sister Watts and I are no longer companions, which is weird.  But I love Sister Behunin already, so I know it will be okay.  (See attached picture for Sister Behunin and I today eating at a little cafe.)  Some fun facts about Sister Behunin: she is super short (4'10") and totally looks Asian in photos.  (But she is not actually Asian.  So don't be confused when I send pictures of her!)  She's super funny and we have been enjoying talking. She is my first non-greenie companion in 4 transfers.  I realized that I have served more than half of my mission with sisters in their 3rd transfer and under.  So, it is fun to have someone in their 5th!  We will hopefully be able to use both of our experiences to see a lot of good and progression here in Debrecen.  And I am trying to help her get ready for senior after I leave :)  Good all around!  (Also, for those of you wondering, Sister Watts has said she is doing good in Kispest.)

I had a lot of Szeged people in Debrecen this weekend (there was a YSA Institute conference at our branch house, which was awesome, with participants from all over Hungary and parts of Romania).  It was so great because I was able to talk to them a little bit and say my goodbyes.  Evelin was there (she is still so golden-- such an active member with such a strong testimony and such a light) and told me all about her new calling in the Young Women's Presidency back in Szeged.  She was way excited about it!  It is so so so neat to see her making awesome choices and continuing to progress.  I was also able to say goodbye to the Adamses, who were a big support in Szeged and who I love.  So, it was great because it was like having a little piece of home with me this weekend.  But it is totally weird that I am starting to say final goodbyes.

For those of you wondering why I am saying goodbyes, I actually hit my month-left-in-the-mission mark yesterday. That is right, I will now be home officially in less than a month!  (Craziness.)  In case I don't say it enough, I just want you all to know that this mission was the best decision I have ever made.  I love my mission!  I have learned and grown so much personally.  I have seen so many miracles.  I have met so many amazing people.  I have had awesome experiences.  I have worked hard and I will continue to do so.  Missions are basically the best!!!  I encourage anyone thinking about it to seriously pray abou it.  God knows what is best for you.  And, honestly, you will never regret serving!

Also, I wanted to wish all of you a great Thanksgiving!  I love this holiday!  Food and thanks :)  Honestly, we have all had so much given to us!!  The other day, I read this awesome article in an old Liahona from President Monson in which he encourages us all to focus less on the materialistic things and more on the simple, God-given gifts that endure.  (I encourage you all to read the article.)  But, honestly, we all have been given so much by God.  And it so important that we give back.  Love this poem he quotes from The Sound of Music:

A bell is no bell ’til you ring it,
A song is no song ’til you sing it,
And love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay—
Love isn’t love ’til you give it away.

I think this well describes my feelings when I decided to go on a mission and my feelings still.  I remember thinking, "I always say that I believe these things are true.  I really DO believe that this gospel is true!  Well, then, why don't I go and share it?  I need to DO something with my testimony!"  And on my mission, I have just learned this lesson so much more.  We gain so much love and blessings the more we serve others.  So funny that it works that way.  But it is great that love and service are gifts that just keep giving and benefit all who partake!

Well, anyways, I am going to run!  I hope you all take the time to remember (and even write down!) all of the things you are blessed with and grateful for!

Life is beautiful.  Seriously.

Love you all!
Kramer Nővér aka McKenna

P.S. Before Sister Watts left, she and I bought the most epic companion item last week.  (See attached picture)  Yup, that's right.  I am now the proud owner of onesie pajamas.  Pretty awesome :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Life's Little Miracles :)

Hello all!

We have had a BUSY week.  (What's new?  :P)

Some highlights:

Met with a totally golden investigator-- she is actually the friend of the one Hungarian elder serving in Hungary (he is originally from Debrecen).  He had asked us for her number last week and was able to meet with her in his city and give her a Book of Mormon and tell her to meet with us.  We called her up after that and she seemed super excited to meet.  We met with her with Dori (our awesome member) and the program went great!  Rózsa is a super smiling, friendly 20 year old studying to be a nurse.  We were able to talk about God's help with her and how the gospel makes us happy.  She loved it!  And she is so awesome!  She already has a strong belief in God.  She prays.  But she is looking for something more.  (We told her we could help her with that!)  She has been reading the Book of Mormon and has already read up to 2 Nephi.  She said she reads it every night because it makes her feel so good.  And then at the end of the lesson, she asked about baptism!  We will see where it goes (I mean, we've only met her once) but she seems very prepared!

We had a cool experience with the senior sisters.  We often go with them to look up the inactive young sigle adults.  This past time, we went to a couple of the addresses we had and the people there had moved or went home.  Undiscouraged, we talked to those living there now and left newsletters at the others'.  Sister Watts and I had a scheduled program with an investigator that we needed to get to, but I felt impressed to look up one last person with the sisters.  I had a list of all of the names we were focusing on and I had already pulled out a few names to look up.  However, I felt like we should go look up this last person that wasn't on my list of people to look up that day.  His name just kept coming into my mind.  So, we drove out to the outskirts of the city and pulled up to his house.... which was dark and empty.  Totally anti-climatic haha.  But I pulled out the newsletter and begin to write a note on it, expressing that we would like to meet with this young man sometime, planning on coming back in the vague future to check on him again.  As I was sitting there writing, a car pulled up near ours.  I finished my note, hopped out of the car, and went to put it in the mailbox.  However, as I was stuffing it in, the woman from the car called out, "Can I help you?"  I went over to talk to her and turns out she was the young man's mother, just arriving home from work.  She was able to tell us that he doesn't live there anymore and gave us his current address and phone number.  It was just one of those cool little moments where the timing worked out just right!  In this situtation, we would've been totally justified in going back to the branch house, since we had the program.  However, I followed the feeling I had and we showed up at the exact time that his mother did.  I guess some people would call that coincidence, but I have seen way too many "coincidences" in my life.  We were talking with the senior missionaries about how many small miracles we see in our lives.  They were saying that the longer you are around, the more you see God's hand in your life.  I really believe that God cares about this work and these people!  It is awesome :)

Saturday was super busy.  We last-minute went to a baptism over in Nyírigeháza.  We had invited an investigator who is thinking about baptism to go, but his schedule conflicted with the time.  However, he called us before the baptism and told us that his schedule had cleared up and he would love to go and check it out.  We were able to rearrange our own afternoon and we headed on over to Nyíregyháza Saturday afternoon with our investigator, Tamás, and Dori.  We had a nice train ride (complete with Oreo Milka chocolate... yum :D) and arrived about half an hour before the service started.  When we arrived at the branch house, though, the elders came up to me and told me that they needed me to play the piano.  They said they had been praying for someone all week that could play the piano (since their normal pianist couldn't come) and then I unexpectedly showed up!  And I can "play" the piano (at least better than anyone else there!).  The thing is--- I am still not THAT great of a pianist haha.  And they had already picked the songs-- both of which were ones I didn't know.  However, I had a few minutes, so I went and practiced up until the baptism.  And the great thing is-- it went fine!  I really felt God's help with that, too-- I learned two new songs from the hymnbook in a record amount of time for me.  And played tons of prelude music and stuff.  And it all worked out :)  Again, maybe a small thing to some, but I am sure it mattered to the girl getting baptized.  And I sure appreciated the extra help :D  (And, btw, our investigator totally loved the baptism-- told us that he felt that same feeling he gets when he reads the Book of Mormon-- that calm peaceful feeling where everything else fades away.  We told him that was the Spirit!)

Ironically enough, that experience at the baptism prepared me for Sunday, when I showed up to church and was told I would be playing the piano in sacrament meeting that day haha.  Thankfully, I had the option of using the easy hymnbook, so that wasn't stressful at all (if you all haven't noticed, I have been emergency asked to play the piano a LOT on my mission!  I am kind of getting used to it.)  I had a busy sacrament meeting, as I was also translating for the seniors (so I would scurry back and forth from the piano bench to the congregation) and Greaves Elder and I sang a special musical number (which went very well!  Greaves Elder and I are so used to singing together after all of our time in the MTC together... we were able to whip something up really quick (which was good, seeing as they asked us on Friday to do it!)).  We also had a cool moment during Primary.  Actually, no kids showed up, but we were able to have an awesome conversation with the Primary teacher, who used to be branch president once upon a time.  He told us about how some things have happened to make his testimony struggle and how he still is here, but it is harder than it was.  It was actually really cool that we were able to talk to him (I had never really had the opportunity to talk about more than the niceties with him before) because both Sister Watts and I had life experiences that really fit some of his problems.  Also, found out that he has been to Connecticut!  I guess his job takes him there sometimes?  (Mom and Dad, I gave him your phone number, and told him to look you all up sometime while he is there.)  Just more testimony about how God puts us in the right place at the right time to help someone.  That was strengthened even more in sacrament meeting, when Sister Cummings, one of the speakers, spoke directly about some of this man's concerns, without even knowing their existence or about our conversation.  She talked about how as people, we don't know everything and about how faith is a choice.  But when we choose to believe in God and follow him, we are so so blessed.

Last highlight from Sunday-- totally fed three times.  It was awesome!  Had lunch at the senior sisters with an investigator and Dori, went to a members' house and were able to give an awesome object lesson (the kids really liked it-- it was messy and fun :D  One of them said, "This is way better than the elders!"  haha.  We told them if we came again, we would try to bring a comparably fun lesson, but no guarantees that they would be able to get their hands dirty again :P), and then we met with a new lady that we had just met that day after church.  This cute little néni walked into church right after sacrament meeting ended, wondering when our church started.  We told her that she had just missed it, but offered to meet with her before next Sunday.  She asked if we were free that day and so we scheduled her in after our other programs.  We went to her house, where we had a sweet little program about families and the Book of Mormon.  And then she unexpectedly fed us, too!  She was a cute lady, who totally loves her family.  She also apparently is from a really old family in Debrecen.  She had lots of old pictures about her ancestors, who had been mayors of Debrecen when there was still a king.  So that was neat :)

I know that this email is already super long, but there is one last important thing I need to write about.  This one is kind of sad actually.  Sister Watts got a phone call from President Smith a couple of days ago informing her that she will be Emergency Transferred.  There is a sister in Kispest who is having some more serious medical problems, and, as Sister Watts is the misison nurse, President wanted her to go and take care of this sister.  So, on Thursday after Zone Conference in Budapest (we have a general authority coming), Sister Watts is going to leave and I am going to get a new companion-- Sister Behunin.  Total craziness.  I didn't actually think I would have another companion on my mission.  And it is totally sad, since Sister Watts and I have been doing awesome work and get along really well.  But, I know she will be able to help the other sister out and I have been telling her how awesome Kispest is (for those of you who don't remember, that was my very first area in Hungary).  So it will be okay :)  I don't know much about Sister Behunin yet, except that she is really short, a rock climber, and sings really well.  I will give you more details next week!

Anyways, I love you all!  I hope you have an amazing week!

Kramer Nővér aka McKenna

Monday, November 5, 2012

"The worth of the souls is great in the sight of God."

Hello All!

Another crazy week!  The time is FLYING!!!  I can't believe how little time I have left and how much I have to do!  I can say, though, I am going to "die" still kicking :)  Aka we are working HARD!!!  :D

Anyways, this week has had a lot of interesting activities!  Like I said in my last email, we did a service project with the YSA of tying blankets for children, then we had an activity on Tuesday with the Young Women carving pumpkins (I was the carving expert, seeing as I was American and had done it before :P  It was totally fun and the pumpkins turned out great!) and decorating for the ward Halloween party, on Wednesday we had the ward Halloween party (total success!  We had bobbing for apples, cutting-jack'o'lanterns-out-of-orange-paper contest (instead of a messy carving contest), decorating "monster" cupcakes, mummy wrapping (done with toilet paper), a small lesson on the tradition of Halloween (since they don't celebrate it here), trick-or-treating, and topped it off with popcorn and a film (Casper the Friendly Ghost... and Monsters and Aliens (not strictly Halloween, but we couldn't find Monsters, Inc. haha)).  It was a great success!  We had quite a few church members and a lot of friends!  I think everyone had a great time :), Thursday was a holiday (more on that later), Friday we had district meeting (we've had a few changes to our district, including Elder Greaves coming here and Elder Hatfield (my "nephew" (aka Elder Velasquez's greenie) from Szeged) to Nyírigehaza.  It is so fun having old friends and "family" come here!), Saturday we had a big soccer tournament (I am pretty sure I won, seeing as (due to numbers) I ended up playing on every single team at some point haha.  It was great, with members coming from Debrecen and surrounding branches and towns.), and Sunday we had Fast and Testimony meeting, followed by a giant lunch at the Cummings (I told you about their tradition of inviting members over... we had a record-breaking SIXTEEN people there in their tiny apartment) and a program with the Chinese boy I told you all about (we were able to bring Sister Wieberg, who actually speaks Mandarin, since she lived in Taiwan for 6 years.  It was really interesting teaching someone with almost no Christian or religious background.).  All in all, quite an eventful week, filled out with programs and finding :)

But, Thursday deserves its own paragraph, for sure.  It was another holiday here in Hungary (All Saints Day, to be followed by Day of the Dead... they remember those who have passed on and show respect by placing flowers and candles at the graves).  We had planned to explore the city.  Unfortunately it was raining, but we braved the water and wandered around Debrecen taking pictures.  After a few hours (and a lot of pictures), we came back (rather damp) to the branch house and played games.  I had the most random phone call from one of my old investigators from Kispest while there.  I don't know if you all remember Béla and Ilona?  (Béla was the one who read the Book of Mormon in just a few weeks.)  They had a date to be baptized about a year ago, but due to Ilona's health problems and other events, they didn't end up getting baptized.  However, recently, they really felt like they should start meeting with the misisonaries again and called the Kispest sisters up to start meeting.  Anyways, I got a call from Béla because he happened to be in Debrecen (his son lives here); he wanted to know if we could meet.  We were able to meet at the branch house for about 20 minutes and it was so neat to talk to him and reminisce!  (It was also cool because I understood everything he was saying!  Haha, how much has changed since I was a greenie :P)  I still have so much love for all of the investigators I have ever met with!  So that was so sweet to talk to him again.  After, we had to run to dinner at the Cummings, and then we went to the cemetary to look at the candles and flowers.  It was beautiful!  We stayed for awhile, walking up and down the rows, admiring the piles and piles of flowers and the flickering lives, and talking about life.  About 8 o'clock, we decided to leave and went to the gate... but (here comes the adventure) it was LOCKED!  We were a little perturbed (it was NOT that late) and worried (we had the senior sisters with us), so we tried another gate.  That, too, was locked!!!  After a failed search for security guards and agreeing that we had zero desire to spend the night with the dead, we came to the conclusion that the only thing to do.... was climb the gate.  So that's what we did!!  (see picture)  Let me tell you-- it was an adventure!  (Most of all for the senior sisters, I think!)  It was a team effort getting everyone over safely, but I am pleased to announce that we all arrived on the other side none the worse for wear (although Sister Hanson did admit to shaky legs).  We all just basically bust up laughing about it whenever we think of it.  I seriously have the most random adventures!  Who gets locked in a graveyard and has to climb the fence?!?!  (Answer: me.)

Other funny moments from this week: our investigator chided us for not wearing more sturdy shoes while it was raining and told us that if we didn't come in boots next week, he wouldn't let us in :)  We had a random Hungarian from Iceland stop us on the street and later show up at the branch house to talk.  He wanted to be Facebook friends.  We gave him a Book of Mormon instead.  I had an awesome conversation with the guy who cut my hair (FINALLY got my hair trimmed after more than a year of not cutting it) about religion and why we were there.  It was kind of ironic because I looked to find somewher that spoke English (I figured hair was something better understood by all parties), but we ended up talking in Hungarian the whole time anyways.  At the end, I gave him a Book of Mormon, too!  I love random finding moments :)

Also, as I am sure you have noticed in my emails, we have been working a lot with less-active members recently.  My old companion, Sister Papritz, put the importance of this really well in an email she sent me and I want to share it with you (hope you don't mind Autumn!):

"also I don't know if I expanded on something I wanted to say a couple of weeks ago...but just major props to you for doing such amazing work with less actives. I gained such a huge HUGE HUUUUUGE testimony of that in Duna and really feel like that can move the work forward just as effectively as streeting and tracting. We won't have a temple there without our inactives coming back into the fold. They need to be focused on too, they need to be brought closer to christ. it is a hard balance because all of that work isn't reflected in the numbers, but eternally it is so significant. I think it's great that your last transfers you're able to have a bit of a shift in approach and focus. It's not about numbers there, just in the same sense those other harder areas aren't..duna, bekescsaba...etc. but really your'e focusing on what's important, the missionary purpose, bringing others unto christ and preparing the country for a temple and strengthening the ward. You've been doing the traditional missionary work you're entire mission, this is the stuff that is applicable after the mission. You will ALWAYS be searching for inactives, you will always have others to lift up and a ward to strengthen. I just think these experiences in Debrecen are priceless, albeit unrecognized and perhaps a little less "fruitful" but in the end...the numbers never mattered and you know you're helping people feel closer to God and come closer to their eternal potential. It's almost more rewarding I felt like to remind people of their covenants, to remind people of the spirit they used to feel. I think it is just as valuable as any other traditional work we can do. So keep it up. I love it."

She's so right.  It is SO important to help members!  Sister Watts and I have been going crazy with it!  This last week we had 9 programs with less-active members.  We walked one of them to church on Sunday (after she told us she hates going by herself and was afraid she would be alone at church).  We have been looking a lot of them up, alone and with the senior sisters, and delivering Liahonas and messages.  I think a lot of them just need love and support!  Our mission purpose is "to bring others unto Christ" and I think before my mission I thought that just meant that I would help others to make baptismal covenents.  However, throughout my mission, that definition has been expanded.  I have realized that I, too, am included in the purpose (how can I effectively help others lean about Christ if I haven't studied or built my own testimony?), my companion (one of my most important investigators!), the other missionaries, the ward members, the less-actives, and, of course, investigators and other people are, too.  It is ALL the Lord's work.  We are ALL important in his eyes.  He loves us all :)  The gospel is for everyone!

Tonight, I shared the spiritual thought at Family Home Evening (FHE) that kind of ties in with this.  I shared one of my favorite videos called "The Touch of the Master's Hand", based on the poem of the same name.

It is about the worth of a soul in the sight of God.  In the scriptures we read that the worth of the soul is GREAT in the sight of God.  And it is so true.  There is another scripture I love in the Bible (2 Timothy 2:20-21) that talks about  how there are vessels made of different materials (some gold, some wood) in the Lord's house.  It talks about how each can become a useful tool in the Lord's hand.  We all have different talents and abilities, but we all have great worth in the Lord's eyes.  That is so important to remember, both about ourselves and others!  God loves you!

I love you all, too!  I'm going to end this essay of an email now, but know that I appreciate your love and support!  I hope you have a great week!

Kramer Nővér aka McKenna