A lot has happened during this week! We had a wonderful Christmas week. It was all about giving, serving, and the Savior.
Tuesday after I wrote last we had a Christmas zone conference in Brno. A lot like last year, we met at the central square, where we all looked at the Christmas market for some goodies and then we sang a few carols in the middle of the square before heading off to the church building for training. We talked a lot about Czech and Slovak traditions and the Christmas story and why they're important. At the beginning the sister training leaders told us about one tradition that I particularly enjoyed, where Christmas dinner no one is allowed to get up from the table before everyone stands up together or the next year someone won't be there with them. Some families tie the chairs physically together to keep that from happening, and we tied all of the chairs in the chapel together during training. I liked it because it reminded me of how important families are to the Czechs and Slovaks and how the gospel offers eternal family relationships. (At Christmas Eve dinner on Thursday with our members we didn't tie our chairs together, but we make sure to wait before standing up.)
Thursday (and also Saturday) we spent the day out doing short visits at each of the members of our branch. We dropped by each of them and gave them a little ornament and card that we had made and showed the Church's Christmas campaign video to each of them off our portable DVD player. We focused on how though we're only missionaries and don't have much to give, the main thing that we have is our testimonies.
Between those two days we made it to every active member and few less-active members and investigators, and we even woke up our branch president's family at 9 am on Christmas Eve. He and his wife had been up all night doing the Czech equivalent of Santa's elves (getting Ježíšek's presents ready). We also had a great visit at a part member family. The mother is older and her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend live with her. The daughter's boyfriend is not a member, but he had lots of great questions about our missionary work and there was a great friendly atmosphere during the visit. We saw lots of miracles kind of like that actually, though I don't have time to mention them all! We were able to visit Christmas Eve and Boxing Day many people who seemed a little alone or discouraged. I felt like we were truly doing what Christ would be doing and it was wonderful to be able to truly reach out to our members and investigators.
Christmas Eve we had a tradition Christmas experience with a member family. We sat down to each carp and potato salad (yum!) and then at the end of dinner a bell rang announce the coming of Ježíšek, baby Jesus. (In the Czech Republic baby Jesus delivers the gifts after Christmas Eve dinner). We opened presents together (we even got some some socks and a tie!) and spent the evening showing each other photos.
Christmas day we were in a senior center singing carols. The center that we were at was pretty large, and they had groups of patients gathered on each of the five floors to sing to. Once again we felt like we were in the right spot singing to the sick and alone on Christmas day. I was so impressed by some of the workers there. I could tell by the way they treated the patients that they saw working there as some sort of a greater calling and they cared for the patients so attentively.
Some of the patients were very funny! A few of the older ladies were very taken that such "beautiful" young men would come to sing and were sure to let us know that they would be happy to see us again the next year. One particular older lady expressed the need to find us nice young ladies immediately and said, "I don't know which one to stare at longer!" It was a little strange to be old lady eye candy, but it was overall a great experience. Most of the nurses and other workers were also very grateful that we had come and told us to come back next year.
It's very difficult to come home. Last week I gave my departing testimony and both zone conference and yesterday in sacrament meeting. I've been saying goodbyes to many friends. Today the elder that will serve in Zlín with Elder Newman this transfer, Elder Rees, came. I've been blessed with experiences lately that have helped me to not be so terrified of coming home, and I'm excited to see you all there, but there will always be a part of me here and it hurts to leave.
I'm so grateful for my mission experience. I've seen on my mission that we are never alone and that the Lord truly walks with us during good times and bad. The most common question that I've ever received during my mission from people I've taught is "Why does God allow evil and suffering to occur?" It can be difficult for people to understand the answer to that question, but I know that good or bad, Jesus Christ is by our side during every moment. If we take a look around we'll notice Him. I know that He lives.
I love you a lot, and I'm grateful for your support during my mission. See you soon!
|Me with trainees (Elder Smith is missing) at zone conference (Elder Page is training a new missionary and district leader this transfer in Olomouc. This is another proud parent moment!)|
|Another pretty church we saw doing Christmas visits in Jasenná|
|Saw this doing Christmas visits in Kroměříž!|
|This morning I made a rash decision and decided to buy McDonald's with a Czech twist; this hamburger had a slab of deep-fried cheese in it.|