Serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northern France, southern Belgium and Luxembourg.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Worst apartment, best area.

It's about time I talked about the living situation here in southern Paris. It's about time I talked about the crazy lady living downstairs.
Our apartment is on the top floor of our building, up three flights of tiny creaky stairs. It is not a new building. The floors creak worse than anything I've ever heard. Everything is small. Our kitchen is just a hallway with enough room for one person to walk through at a time. Except it doesn't lead to another room. Just a tiny hallway lined with kitchen appliances (definitely no dishwasher though) that ends at a tiny window. I'll complain about the rest of the apartment another time...the important part is the creakly floors.
Now. We have a lady who lives directly underneath us. There were all sorts of stories going around about this lady, and I thought they were exaggerations. Not so. She is super sensitive about noise, and one of the angriest people I've ever met.

Madame C does not like when we:
- Move furniture
- Move while sitting in our rolling chairs
- Drop things
- Exercise
- Walk with shoes on
- Walk without shoes on
- Breathe
- Think too loudly
Almost every time we do something that is displeasing unto Madame C, you hear her door slam, and then she comes up the stairs, rings our doorbell until one of us answers, and yells at that person for a few minutes before leaving. Luckily, I've only had to personally face Madame C twice in my life. Oh, but I hear her yelling.
The first time, in an attempt to pacify her future rage, Elder Wheatley and I set aside some brownies we were making for our amis so we could give them to her. Elder Wheatley did all the talking, but it was terrifying. Like giving brownies to a dementor.
The second time was during an afternoon. She had come up the night before and asked us to be quiet, but Elder Tryon (one of the previous zone leaders) moved out that next morning so there was more noise than usual. We crossed paths that afternoon and I stopped her and just said "Hey Madame C, I just wanted to say I'm really sorry about the noise we must have made this morning, one of us was moving out." Wrong move. She just laid into me. I don't remember most of what she said, but it was one of the most cold and vicious responses I've ever heard to anything. It actually threw me off for the whole next hour. This lady has a gift.
Last night, she came up again, but nobody wanted to answer the door. So we didn't. We shut off the doorbell and just sat there petrified as she knocked and yelled at us from the hall. I think that was a bad idea, because it just made her more irritable for the next time. This morning, we're pretty sure we heard her go in and out of her apartment like 10 times, as though she were patrolling the hall and waiting for us to leave. When the time came to go shopping, we carefully timed it so that she wouldn't be in the hallway, said a prayer for protection, and then took off our shoes and crept down the stairs to escape. It was like a video game. Except the consequences of being caught would have been much worse than just dying. But we made it! More updates to follow.

Okay, time to talk about my week. This week was super super good, which you can tell because it went super super fast. We were always busy. Elder Wheatley said that, numbers-wise, it was the best week of his mission.
Lony is doing super well. He came to church again, and he said that he felt as though everything that was said was planned out for him. The questions of his soul were answered and he definitely felt the Spirit. His only problem is quitting smoking, but he has the biggest desire and the biggest faith and he'll totally get there. We've started him on a program from the church, taught him the Word of Wisdom, given him a blessing, and we'll be there for him the whole way.
Other things:
- Christian's mom didn't let him come to church this week. Maybe another letter is in order.
- We dropped a baptismal date on our ami Jean-Marie (April 18th, like Lony) and got a soft yes. We'll see with this guy. He's not ready yet and he knows it, but what he doesn't know is how quickly he can be.
- Andrea and Alex. We see them every Wednesday. She's super Catholic. He knows the church is true, but needs to work some stuff out before getting baptized. Like, he needs to marry Andrea, his pregnant fiancée who he lives with. They're getting September. Anyway, they came to church for the first time in months and months! Yay!
- Elder Rivas, my MTC comp, is now being trained by a different missionary, who was Elder Wheatley's MTC comp, and they are both district leader trainers. Which was just kind of cool.
- This week I saw something I've never seen before. There was this fist fight that almost broke out between two very angry groups of people...who were all speaking sign language to each other. Really interesting to watch. Whenever they wanted to shout they just did bigger motions with their hands.
- This week was the first time I've ever been let into someone's house while tracting. She had some ideas about religion I've never heard before. She believes in prophets, but she also thinks that since they're imperfect humans, they almost always misinterpret their revelations and end up screwing it up a bit and writing down the wrong thing. Next week's conversation will be interesting.

Spiritual thought time! I was reading in Ether chapter 6, which talks about the Jaredites and their barges as they crossed the ocean to the promised land.
 5 And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.
 6 And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind.
 7 And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.

Guys. This is an analogy for life. Storm = trials, water = sin and temptations, promised land = happiness, vessels = our standards and morals.
The Lord can send tempests and trials that guide us to where we need to be and where we will be the happiest. The way will not be easy, but if not for the tempest, we could not progress toward that state. Why were the tempests "great and terrible" and "fierce"? Because it would bring them there faster.
Sometimes, we will be submerged, or surrounded, by temptations and sin. We need our vessels (our morals) to be tight. We can't let any of that stuff in. ("Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” D+C 133:5.) It can drown us if we let it - if our standards aren't tight.
When the Jaredites were encompassed about by the waters, they called upon God, who brought them back up. When we are surrounded by sin and temptation, like them we often can't get out on our own. We need to cry unto God, and He will help us rise above it all.

Love you guys! Be good!

Elder Stanford

Remember this scene from Inception?

District photos, transfer 1 

We drew straws to see who would have to talk to Madame C.

No explanations for these ones. 

No explanation for this one either.

Cutest family ever!

Our ami board.
View from the Louvre

Tank in our neighborhood 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Even TJs mistake us for TJs

Two things have been working together to ruin the lives of the Mormon missionaries in Paris. One of them is a report on a supposedly "factual" channel here in Paris that talks about how Mormons are Americans who live in their own little Amish community with their multiple wives. How many times have I explained to people that that's not us?

The second things is TJs (Jehovah's Witnesses). Everyone who doesn't think I'm a polygamist thinks I'm a TJ. I've heard it from people I contact on the street, and even from people who we pass by but don't contact. But recently something funny happened: this lady flagged us down on the street and started talking to us. We were confused because...that never happens. Then she said, "You guys are Witnesses, right?" Elder Wheatley told her we're not Jehovah's Witnesses. She then said, "Oh. Well I'm a Jehovah's Witness. Have a good day!" And she was gone. Yeah. Even TJs mistake us for TJs.
On another note, it is impossible to tell the people in our ward apart. I'm really struggling, because we're now past the point where it's okay to ask people their names. At one point I was talking to the other Elders and they mentioned a certain Brother Tagro, and I said "who's that?"
They said "the smooth bald black man in his 40s."
I said "Which smooth bald black man in his 40s? The one in the bishopric?"
"Nope, that's Brother Mbappé."
"The one with the shoes with the zebra pattern?"
"Nope, that's Brother Tchim."
"Oh, the other smooth bald black man in his 40s. Gotcha."
These are my struggles.
Sometimes the work can be hard. Sometimes, like on Wednesday, you have a full day planned with 4 great rendez-vous (including one with Lony and a first lesson with another of awesome Pierre's referrals) and then one by one they all fall through and you're left hiking around a whole ville looking for people to teach. Sometimes, you have an ami who tells you he's ready to buckle down and begin a program with us to stop smoking, but then you find out he's just a Yes Man who only talked the talk. Sometimes, you go to meet someone after an hour-long trajet to get to their place, after calling and texting all day with no response, only to have him answer the phone from his friend's house while you're standing on his doorstep and tell you another time would be better. Sometimes you struggle to have Christlike feelings for a person like that. Sometimes you do a Restoration lesson in the church, and have a member join (uninvited) and start talking to this guy about how the book of Revelation proves that the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith was a prophet, when we've only gotten to the Great Apostasy and this guy hasn't heard of any of that stuff yet. (Okay, that one was just kind of funny because we managed to get the lesson back on track and there was no harm done.)

I want to talk about reverence, because that's been on my mind a lot these past two Sundays. We brought Lony to church a week ago (he works every other Sunday, so not yesterday) and, like I said last week, our ami Christian. And there was all sorts of noise. Loud babies for sure, but mostly just people in the back who straight-up talked (not whispered, talked) because I guess they thought they wouldn't bother anyone from back there. Wrong. Lony, being the golden ami that he is, loved church anyway. Christian isn't the greatest at expressing his feelings so I don't know what he really thought. Luckily, he already knows he needs to be baptized. BUT! The other Elders brought two amis to church for their first time, and as they were talking to the bishop afterward, he asked them how they enjoyed church. They said it was good, but in Sacrament Meeting they couldn't hear the speakers! Apparently they weren't too pleased with that, and the bishop wasn't, and neither was I when the bishop told me about it later. Not only was the noise distracting, it actually stopped well-meaning investigators from hearing talks about the teachings of Christ. Yesterday the bishop gave a talk on reverence and basically just "reproved [the ward] with sharpness" (D&C 121:43) and told them about that experience. The people who were having conversations at the beginning of his talk definitely weren't by the end. But I don't think those investigators were back at church the next week. How devastating is that?? So don't have conversations in Sacrament Meeting! That's not what it's for. It's for thinking about Christ and feeling the Spirit. Have conversations in another place or at another time. Do it for the investigators. K thanks.
Today is the first day of transfer #2. Halfway done being "blue." I wonder if the rest of the transfers will go as fast as this first one. Elder Wheatley has been called to be a district leader for the first time, which is awesome. He's quite frankly the best one around for the job. I'm excited for him, even if this means I'll go on a million exchanges over the next six weeks.
Love you all! Thanks for your emails and prayers. I pray for you all too.

Elder Stanford

Monday, March 9, 2015

My joy is full

This is the guy from the bus miracle two weeks ago, who we taught for the first time last week. I told you he was golden. I wasn't wrong.
So we got there for the second lesson and this guy was just so excited to see us. We sat down and the first thing he told us was that ever since we gave him the Restoration message, he hasn't touched a single beer. We didn't even ask him not to. He just knew that it took him further from God and he stopped! But that is not even the best news. He showed us the scripture in the Restoration brochure about the Great Apostasy (Amos 8:11-12) that talks about how people would be looking for the word of God but wouldn't be able to find it. He told us, "That was me. I looked in all the other churches for the true word of God but none of them gave me peace." Then he told us that he had prayed about our message and instantly felt and calm and peaceful feeling that told him it was true! He told us, "I want to go to church, I want to be baptized...I want to have this peace forever." I'm pretty sure I almost cried of happiness. This guy is amazing. He said that now that he knows he's on the right path, he'll accept any commitment we give him. He gave us his copy of the Book of Mormon and asked us to write our names and emails and testimonies on the inside cover so that "Even when you leave, I'll always remember my two brothers who brought this truth into my life." He's getting baptized on April 18th.
Another cool thing - there's this kid, Christian, who the missionaries have been teaching since long before I got here. He was actually baptized about six months ago (with a permission slip that supposedly had his parents' signatures on it) but then his parents didn't let him come to church so he was never confirmed. He's got great faith but his parents just want none of it. So we've been reaching out to his parents, but neither of them wanted to even talk to us. But then Elder Wheatley had the idea to go eat at his mother's Japanese restaurant and leave her a letter each that explained that we just want Christian's success and happiness. She never contacted us back, so we figured it didn't have any effect. But then out of nowhere, Christian showed up to all three hours of church! He said his mother was touched by what we had written and decided to let him come. We hope that will continue and that his parents will give him permission at some point to be baptized (again, since a baptism without a confirmation apparently needs to happen all over again).

We continue to see miracles. Of course, there is lots of hard stuff. I don't talk about it as much because the good stuff takes up all of my time. There's the guy who isn't willing to put in any effort to stop smoking and start doing something besides Grand Theft Auto and marijuana; the guy who's been going to church his whole life but was never baptized because he doesn't have a strong enough testimony; the dozens of times we've been stood up for appointments. (We call it being "Frouged," after a drink called Frouge, which tastes kinda bitter at first, then really bitter afterward.) But it's all worth it for the good that does happen.
So there are some thing about Paris that are weird that I haven't talked about until now.
- Milk. It's not pasteurized. And I love it that way. Because of some weird thing that's probably explained by some science thing somewhere, that means we don't even have to keep it in the fridge until we open it. So we buy like 8 gallons at the beginning of each week, because we can. I think it tastes better too.
- Intersections. They have intersections here that are more than 4-way. Like I've seen 7-way intersections. Whose idea was that? Never make me drive in Paris.
- Tiny roads, tiny cars, weird parking. People park everywhere. Sidewalks are not just for walking anymore.
- People here are weird about the environment. They're super careful about not harming the earth--they all drive tiny cars, they don't do flyers because it's a waste of paper, they make you pay for every plastic bag you use at the grocery store. But then they go and buy a billion bottles of water because it's some sin to drink tap water here, plus everyone smokes. Make up your mind!
There are a lot of Africans in my sector, and they sometimes have really awesome names. We have a less-active member we meet with whose first name is "Dieu Mon Temoin." But that's too long, so he goes by Copain. Can you imagine how weird that would sound in English? "Hey, my name is God As My Witness, but you can just call me Boyfriend."

So I've been identified more than just once as a Canadian because of my accent. I'm sorry, Mom. I let you down. But Dad, you can be proud of me.
Weekly field trip report: The Mona Lisa was just as disappointingly small as it was ten years ago. There is a HUGE and beautiful painting on the other side of the room that no one even cares about. Weird. Today, we hope to go to Sacre Coeur.

I've discovered I really like personal study. Every time we have a rendez-vous or service in the morning that makes us miss personal study, it just makes me feel more tired. All y'all need to read more scriptures and have a study journal! I've found so many scriptures that I really like that never really hit me until now. But no matter how impactful a scripture is, if you don't write down somewhere why it's awesome, you'll forget it within two days. So yeah. Study journals. That goes to everyone--missionaries, future missionaries, and old people alike.
Love you guys! God is good. Jesus is my Savior and I can get through anything with His help. You all can too. Rely on Him and He will never let you down.
Elder Stanford

Monday, March 2, 2015

Read your scriptures y'all.

First of all, thank you for the package! Loved it. My roommates all really like Fuzzy Peaches. And now that I have contacts for both eyes, all I need is to find my contact solution that I lost five weeks ago in the mission president's car! I've started a list of the things I've lost so far on my mission. I'm at 4 or 5 now. I wonder how long until I lose the list too.
I'm surprised nobody's asked me about food yet. Don't get me wrong, I'm super glad that's no longer a factor in my identity, but I would have thought you guys would all want to hear about this stuff. First of all, so I don't get your hopes up: I haven't started liking anything that I hated before. BUT my extensive list of things I would never eat is rapidly shrinking. My reform started after my first mangez-vous. We all ate, and I ate almost all of it (way more than I would have a year ago) but didn't quite finish it. Nobody said anything and it was still a really good lesson but I felt SO BAD. These are people who are investigating the greatest thing that will ever come into their lives. Who am I to skew their perception of this wonderful message because of some petty dislike of a taste or texture? I would walk over hot coals to get these people to recognize the truth of the gospel. So surely I can move my teeth up and down, even when I don't want to, so that at least they don't hate me and the name I have on my tag. Even if it tastes like dog food. (Not naming any investigators' names, but that did happen.)
Elder Wheatley and I have become super close this week. I realized how good my trainer is when I went on a couple of exchanges this week and stayed in a different apartment. Some of these missionaries don't invite the Spirit in the places they live. Not that they're super pagan or anything, but...yeah. How can you live and study in a place that doesn't have a constant spiritual atmosphere? So yeah, I really love Elder Wheatley. He's got everything that I was hoping for in a trainer: hard work and enthusiasm and good advice and the ability to sing on-key. Like I said before, he is also a master at receiving and following spiritual promptings. I'm super lucky.
Kind of a slower week this week. But still, a few cool things happened. First of all, we got to meet with Helder on our third visit! He's really cool and super open. Which is good but also bad, because he struggled a bit with the concept of only one true church. He visits the Charisma church, which is basically a super-Evangelist just-clap-your-hands-and-dance-hallelujah rock concert type church. But he did accept our commitments and listen our message, so there is hope! We're meeting him again this week.
We met Lony for the first time this week and this guy. Is. Golden. He is so excited for us to meet with him. He so readily accepted our message and said he would read the Book or Mormon every day so that it can help him be better. He's coming to church this week and we're going to meet with twice a week from now on. He's investigated many churches but felt they were all "missing something." Well Lony, have we got the message for you.
Last week we saw a guy who requested a Book of Mormon online. He did it because his uncle is meeting with the missionaries in Lyon, and he wants to read the Book of Mormon to make sure we're really Christians. He doesn't think he wants to meet with the missionaries himself, but we talked about the Restoration a bit with him while we were there. Right after I gave the account of the First Vision, there was a little silence, and then he said something amazing: "I am sure of one thing--Mormons are Christians." Really cool.
Pierre got the Priesthood! Super cool. He has so much faith. He might come help us give a blessing to a less-active. Next step for him and his family: temple!

Some advice to future missionaries: READ YOUR SCRIPTURES. Do it. Get to know them. Learn to love them. As a missionary, it becomes such a joy to do, and part of you just wants to pretend to be sick so you can stay in and read some more. But here's the thing: I thought I would have plenty of time on the mission to do lots of reading for myself. Not so. I do lots of reading, but lots of it is for our amis that we'll be meeting that day. So one thing I wish I did before the mission is just to have read more for me. There are gems in there. The more closely you look, the more you get. For example, Helaman 15:7-8 is a formula written by ancient prophets for how to stay active in the church. Alma 26:22 (one of my absolute favourite scriptures right now) gives me some things to do and then some promises if I do them.
Shoutout to the Gillis family for sending the first non-family letter that I've received on the mission. Thank you guys! Great to hear about all the stuff that's going on back home. Also great to hear that I'm not missing a legendary ski season haha.
Thank you to all those who wrote! Not much time to write everyone back, but I read everything and loved it.
Love you all! I'm about to go to the Louvre. Not a bad life. Write you in a week!

Elder Stanford

And now some pictures from last week. We're not very good at selfies.