Hello fam bam!
What a crazy, action packed week that I had. I'll start from the beginning.
At morning (October 10th), My companions and I set off to Romania! We took the front runner up to the SLC airport, and from there went to Minnesota, then to Amsterdam, and finally to the capital of Romania, Bucharest... longest yet fastest 48 hours of my life!!!!! We had a very pleasant journey, however. My companions and I were able to share the gospel with many individuals, right from the get-go. The best missionary experience was when we were in Minnesota. As we were walking to our gate, a worker, who had a neon-sequenced suit on with crazy glasses and earrings, stopped us and were wondering who we were. We explained the we were missionaries, etc, and proceeded to answer questions that he had about the church, share our testimonies, and to be short in writing, I ended up giving him my Book of Mormon from the MTC, that I had spend so much time studying and pondering over. I was almost reluctant to give it away, as it had so many special thoughts in it, but I knew that this man, Gillmore, needed it more than I did. I was thankful that I even had a Book of Mormon to give away!
|Ready to board the plane in SLC|
|Last flight to Bucharest|
As we were boarding our flight to Bucharest, I decided to approach a man and asked him something really dumb. I think I asked if I speaks romanian or something. It was a dumb question because he replied, "yes... I am from Romania." Oops! Until that point I don't think I had ever met a Romanian, so that was a very educating conversation for me haha.
I really tried hard to sleep only when it was night time in Romania, and that actually really helped with adjusting to the time difference (or so I thought). I felt really blessed to had been able to sleep so easily on the plane. We had about 15 more minutes till we landed in Buch, when Elder Griffeth (Russian speaking Elder who is in our mission), started puking and got really sick for some reason. When we landed we got him to the bathroom, and after he cleaned up, we went to the baggage claim. He again became very sick, not puking this time, but was very nauseous and was shaking out of control. He couldn't get up out of his seat, and President Ivory was on the other side of security. We didn't have any medicine, and felt helpless until I realized that there is one who can heal all... the Savior. I quickly offered to give him a blessing (I truly felt it was an appropriate time to do so). Elder Baker got out his concecrated oil, and I proceeded to give him a blessing of healing. During the blessing, the spirit prompted me to bless him that he would be healed immediately. When I closed the blessing, he had stopped shaking a little bit, and I helped him walk through security to President Ivory. He was still very sick, through! He threw up out of President Ivory's Range Rover all the way to their home, and when he got there, immediately crashed in one of their spare beds. All this time I had been praying with great faith, that God would heal him immediately, like I was prompted to say. It kind of troubled me that he was still sick! During my interview with Pres Ivory, I expressed my concerns, and he said that he had confidence that the blessing would come to pass, and that it would be in God's time. This gave me comfort. That night, we stayed in a hotel after we had our doctor's apppointment and I volunteered to stay with Elder Griffeth. About 15 minutes before I got to the hotel, Elder Griffeth had been showering and all of the sudden felt completely fine! We talked about this before we went to bed, and rejoiced and marveled at the power of God, and of his mercy. This experience greatly strengthened my faith in the power of the priesthood and in God. It is cool to think that even though he was not healed immediately after the blessing, he was healed in an instant later in the day. Incredible! I am grateful that I was worthy and ready to exercise the power of the priesthood.
|"Lineage" - Elder Gerber Kai was Elder Giron (my companion) trainer|
The next day, we were trained, and then assigned companions and areas. Da da da daaa!! ARAD!!!! I was called to serve in Arad, the most western city in Romania (about 20 kilometers to Hungary), with my trainer, Elder Giron. My teachers at the MTC guessed that I would go there! I remember feeling super excited, nervous, and a little scared. And then I found out that our train wouldn't be leaving till 11:45 pm that night... yikes! So for the rest of the day, Elder Giron and I went with Elder Wagner and Elder Loder. It was fun being with Elder Loder for one more day! Our first stop was a luggage holding place, but to get there we had to take a series of metro lines. Holy moly was it carazy! Elder Wagner and Giron were talking with people a million miles an hour and Elder Loder and I just felt hopeless. I finally mustered up some courage and said, "Ce faci" to a dude. He looked at me with a weird look, and then went back to staring at the wall... That was when it hit me that I am not in Utah anymore where everyone loves to talk to missionaries! It reminded me of the movie, Cool Runnings, when Sanka says, "I am feeling very Olympic today!," and the guy who he is talking to just looks at him and then looks away. Me and Sanka get each other, haha.
From the luggage holding place, we walked, took the metro, and the tram to get to the other side of Bucharest, where Elder Loder and his companion live. We had dinner at their apartment (which is a big communist block), and then went contacting for a while until it was time for them to take us to the "Gara" (train station). We took a taxi to get there. Our train didn't leave for another hour and a half, so we planned for the next day, and talked about the mission. Finally, our train got there, and we situated our stuff in our small sleeper cabin, which also had two other people in it. I had the top bunk, so I took off my shoes, put on the old sheets that were given to me for sleeping, and then crashed.... 15 hours later, we finally arrived in Arad! I felt so blessed to be able to sleep through the whole entire ride. 15 hours on a train! Insane! That rhymes!
|Alex and his new companion getting off of the 15 hour train ride from Bucharest to Arad. Photo courtesy of Elder Day, a senior missionary serving in Arad.|
Elder Day (senior missionary in Arad), picked us up, and dropped us off at our apartment. My suit was still drenched from the previous two days, as there was non-stop rain in Buch. Elder Wagner reminded us that every moment we are in the rain on our missions, our future wives are in the gym working out! haha
|First dinner in Arad|
That evening Elder Giron showed me around the city. The first placed he showed me was where all of the Gypsies live. It was so humbling. Most of the "homes" where vacant businesses or shacks with broken windows. It also smelled really gross. I'll admit... I was a little nervous and culture shocked while walking around there.
|Humble homes in gypsy part of city|
|Ivy on apartment buildings|
Elder Giron realized this and then took me to the nice part of Arad "Centru," where there are incredible buildings with extravagant architecture and colors. I was in awe! The best part of the day was while we were waiting for the tramvai (tram) to pick us up and take us back close to our apartments. I mustered up all the courage I had and tried to strike up a conversation with this old man. I don't remember what I said, but eventually he asked me what I was doing here, I explained that I was a missionary, and then showed him the Book of Mormon. After explaining what it was, I asked him if he would like this copy. He said he would, but (motioning with his hands), said he didn't have any money. If you recall, the first time I gave a Book of Mormon to my investigator in the MTC, she said the same thing, and I didn't know the word for "free" in Romanian, and said "liberty!" haha. But, this time, I was prepared and said "gratuit" (free). He was thankful and took it. I felt so happy! This really boosted my confidence in my language abilities and people skills. That night I crawled into my queen sized bed and slept like a baby.
Currently, there are two main objectives in the mission work here in Arad.
1. Find the inactive members of the branch. We lost a lot of members after Romania joined the EU in 2007, as this provided for job opportunities in other countries. Also, when President Ivory came into the mission, he fixed the welfare program here, which resulted in losing members who relied on the free food they got each week from the church. Because of these two things, we are trying to find these people and figure out their status with the church (seeing if they are still interested in the church, etc). This is fun as we get to hunt around town for these people! This has resulted in some doors being slammed in our faces, yelling, and some welcoming us warmly.
Naturally, this has resulted in some crazy stories! The craziest one this week was while we were trying to find an older lady. We finally got to her house, and knocked, and a man started yelling at us telling us to come in, and then to not come in, and then to come in. We were so confused. Sooo we went in and there is this crazy guy with a Hard Rock Cafe shirt in German, with little girl sunglasses with bows on the side who is yelling at us. All of the sudden, he stops yelling and asks us if we like rock music (IN ENGLISH). I almost started laughing out loud because it was so random! We told him that we did like rock, and told him our favorite bands. (I am not a huge fan of rock so I just went with a sure winner, ACDC haha). He then proceeded to tell us that Rock music is his religion and it just got weird. This lady who was sick started yelling at us to go into the other room and see her mother... so we did. It was a super sketchy hallway and tucked behind all of this junk was this 97 year old lady... I was freaked out! Then the lady yelled at us to come back, and as we were walking back, the creepy old lady was following us. It was such a confusing visit and we finally just said "thank you" and left!
2. FIND INVESTIGATORS. We currently do not have any investigators here in Arad... and that is going to change. Most of our time is spent in the parks or in Centru, or "Block knocking" (knocking doors in the communist block apartments, where all Romanians live). This is the part of the day that I enjoy the most. I have really tried hard to step out of my comfort zone and start conversations in Romanian. Many good experiences have come from doing this. I have given away four Book of Mormons this way and got their contact info. This is exciting because now they are a potential investigator and one step closer to becoming a really investigator of the gospel!
|City Hall - primarie|
It is really interesting because almost no Romanians have heard about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This makes it easy to talk about what we believe in, as there are no pre-conceived notions. However, most Romanians are Orthodox. The orthodox religion is apart of the culture here, so it is very hard for people to change religions, even if they know that the church is true. Changing churches here basically results in disowning your family and everything you've known. Knowing this, it is very humbling to see all of the faithful members in the branch here. Our goal is to have at least ten meaningful conversations each day with people. A meaningful conversation consists of learning anything about someones life or sharing principles of the gospel. It is interesting that meaningful conversations also include conversations where I learn more about someone's life but now it makes sense to me.
|Fratele Moldovan apartment block|
This week has been a very challenging week, but also fun and stretching. I have struggled with feeling homesick almost everyday, mainly when I am in the apartment because I have time to think. I have prayed so hard for Heavenly Father to give me comfort and peace. I have noticed that as I put all my efforts in talking with people and serving them, I have no feelings of homesickness. I know that the feelings of homesickness are natural and will eventually go away. Missionary life is completely different than my life two months ago. The biggest adjustment has been not being able to talk to Mom and Dad when I am stressed or discouraged. Instead, I go directly to the Lord first, and then my companion if I need to. In this way, I have come so much closer to my Savior. Just like Mom's testimony that she shared in Stake Conference, the Savior is truly carrying us through the hard parts of life. He is my closest friend and my biggest mentor. The reality that my Savior loves me has become so much more apparent in these last two months, and especially this week.
|I bike Arad sign|
|My companion, Elder Giron and I at City Hall|
My companion, Elder Giron is really great. He is about a foot shorter than me, and hispanic, and I am taller than most Romanians and have blue eyes and blonder hair, so we both really stick out! It helps with contacting, haha. He wants to be obedient and work hard, and that's what I want to do, so it's perfect. He is different from me, but that hasn't been an issue. He gives really great insights and teaches me about Romanian culture, not to mention that his Romanian is super good! He has been out for 7 months I think. I definitely have to rely on him a lot, as I still can't really understand the Romanians! Today we were getting shwarma (roasted meat) and the worker was asking me some questions in Romanian, and I just kept smiling an nodding my head. When we got out of the shop, Elder Giron told me that I shouldn't nod my head and smile when I don't understand something because in this case when I did that, I was nodding and shaking my head that I do like the women here in Romania. HA!
|Arad Chapel - There are sixteen members of the small branch and six of them are missionaries.|
was very good but super busy. There is not a chapel in Arad, so right now church is held in a villa. Really cool, but also very different than America. I passed the sacrament and then also introduced myself and bore my testimony in Romanian during sacrament meeting. All of the members are super nice, and one in the front row, Sora Mogos (Mogohsh) was smiling super big and giving me thumbs up. It was really cute. A lot of the members complimented me on my Romanian. I felt really good.
Everyone met together for school, and they talked about the Word of Wisdom. Romanians are notorious for telling random stories and getting off topic, and that's just what they did! They went from talking about not drinking wine to not consuming pesticides in the food. The only reason why I understood that was because I made friends with an old man named Fratele Patrescu, who helped translate for me when I was confused. Really nice, funny old man!
I was called to be the Branch Clerk for the ward, so I am in-charge of tithing. Elder Giron showed me how to do it. After church, we went with a member named Fratele Moldovan (super cool guy) to meet with an inactive lady who can't leave her apartment because her husband is bed ridden. She really opened up to us during the visit and it ended up being a success. It was very frustrating, though, because I couldn't understand a lot of what she was saying! We then met with a member in "Micalaca" (Sounds like a made up Ditto word haha). Sister Mogos is one of the strongest members of the branch and it was great to get to know her better.
The culture here is definitely different. I didn't realize how good we have it in the United States until I got here. The people are so poor and most of their apartments are no bigger than three rooms. I have seen gypsies who were deformed at birth and begging for money. We are told to not give them money. One had his legs at the hinge of his knees facing outwards, so he walked on his "knees" with his calves and feet facing outwards. Super sad. The hygiene here is not very good, so I really appreciate my pearly whites. Thanks mom and dad, I am taking good care of them! There are a lot of similarities, including the music and the fact that old people smell like old people haha. Most toilet seats are not attached to the toilet. It is very strange! Best food of the week: Shwarma, Covrige, and Langos. INCREDIBLE! The food here is so cheap/ For our grocery shopping this week, we spent 11 lei, which is 25 dollars. and we got so much stuff!
|Streets of Arad|
Another funny experience- twice this week I fell asleep during my nightly prayers on my knees! Elder Giron had to wake me up. Super funny, but also satisfying as that is a sign that I gave it my all.
With that, I am not giving up! I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, and with that He has given me great power and trust, and is always with me. As I open my mouth and testify of the reality of the Savior and the restored gospel, the army of angels in heaven will testify of the truthfulness of that message. My motto this week is "Fear no man." With this in mind, I will not hesitate to talk to the Romanians with love and boldness about the gospel.
I am so thankful for all of your love and support. I can really feel it! I am sorry if I could not reply to all emails, time is limited, but know that I greatly appreciate the letters! I hope you guys have a fantastic week and remember - We are Dittos!!!!!
Lets go win the World Series of Family Awesomeness!!!!!!!
Elder Ditto (Varstnicul literally means old man, so I think I am going to stop using that hahahah. Nobody refers to me as Varstnic in Romania, anyways.)
***note from mom: after Alex arrived in Arad we received this sweet email from Elder Day who picked up Alex from the train station. Here is a portion of the email as it provides some more information about Arad.
|Sister and Elder Day|
Dear Bro and Sister Ditto,
We met your son today. He came to our apartment here in Arad with his new companion Elder Giron. We appreciate so much having good strong young men like him to come to this part of the Lord’s vineyard to serve. He seems like a wonderful person and will fit in well into our small group here.
There are six missionaries in Arad. We are the senior couple (Elder and Sister Day) We are from Vancouver WA. The small Branch here in Arad has a handful of very faithful and loving members that you son will be working with. We typically have about 15-20 in attendance (and that includes 6 of us missionaries). The city is just a few miles from the Hungarian boarder in western Romania. Elder Ditto arrived yesterday from Bucharest after a 15 hour train ride that lasted overnight. He said he slept on most of it. He looked perky and well today. But he will, I think, be pretty tired for a few weeks.
We will do everything we can here to keep him busy, safe, and growing in the gospel. This weekend I will begin training him to be my branch clerk. He will be handling the tithing and membership responsibilities. The branch is so small we don’t have the Priesthood brethren to fill even the most basic positions.
Thanks again for helping this young man get to the place in life where he can do something heroic—like serving the humble folks here in Arad.