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

Monday, December 12, 2016

Penultimate

Hey family and friends! 

I sat in front of my iPad screen for a good 10 minutes trying to decide what to write about. It's difficult to put all of these emotions and experiences into words. 

Leaving Namur was really hard. We ended with a family home evening with Virginie and her two oldest daughters at the home of the Vandermostens, their integration family. It was really fun! We ate and played games and laughed and all that good stuff. But the best part was during the spiritual thought, given by Sr. Vandermosten, about the importance of having a testimony and sharing it. Virginie asked, What's a testimony? and they told her that it's when you know something through the Holy Ghost. She said, Can you have more than one? They answered, You can have a testimony that God exists, a testimony that prayer works, that the Church is true, that the Book of Mormon is true... and she said, Oh, well I already have that. 

Ahghnejehebbh SO COOL.

Wednesday was transfer day, which was cool because I got to see a lot of my homies for the last time. The group of elders I came into the mission with were going home. It was weird, honestly, but fun. Elder Schow went to pick up his new son and I went to my new ville. 

Now let's talk about Évry. It is different from what I expected. 
  • First of all, the apartment is terrible haha. Not enough space for the 4 missionaries that live here; old junk everywhere; ancient, caved-in mattresses; insufficient kitchenware (and food, for that matter—we legitimately eat rice every day); virtually no cleaning products; stained and pockmarked walls; all the pans have had their teflon coating scraped off by people who don't know you're not supposed to prepare your food on them with a metal steak knife... Yeah. Maybe Elder Schow just made me a real snob with his cleaning obsession and love of high-quality cooking experiences. Let's just say I've already thrown out over 6 garbage bags of clutter and trash that's been collecting here. 
  • People told me that Évry was full of African people. I didn't realize what they meant by that. I was imagining, like, 40 percent Africans and the rest would be French...boy, was that inaccurate. After being here for a few days, I'd honestly put it at about 80-85% African. The rest is divided between French and Arabic. It's an interesting thing when you get on a train and the only other white person you see is your companion. 
  • The ward is...big! Definitely the biggest ward I've ever had, at about 180 active members. And possibly the smallest percentage of French people of any of my wards or branches, too. (Still higher than the white:black ratio in the town of Évry, because all the French members live in nicer, smaller villes around it.) And ward council actually happens—and not only that, but when it happens, it actually helps get things accomplished! Another first for me. 
  • My new companion, Elder Grayston, is a huge fan of "split contacting": we find a place where we can stay within sight and sound while each contacting different people at the same time. It's something I haven't done a lot on my mission until now, but it's kind of exciting. 

We've been working hard and finding a ton of people who have said they'd meet us again. They are all African so far. So we need to hope and pray that those appointments will go through—apparently that's been the recurring problem in Évry missionary work. In order to find more "solid" people, we've also been trying to do a lot of finding in the farther-away, more French areas of our sector (it's not racist, just a difference in culture that must be acknowledged). But whenever we've taken the trips to get there, which take almost an hour, we've found that they're just empty of anyone in the streets or the homes...so we'll have to find other ways to attack the issue. It's an interesting challenge. I may or may not update you on it next week. They tell me next week will be my last email home. Still feels like it should be forever away. 

I did have a cool experience talking to a French guy in the street, though. Although non-believing, he was super open. There, I got to teach someone about prayer—someone who knew legitimately nothing about it, what it was or how to do it. He was amazed at the simplicity of it. No real rules except sincerely expressing your thoughts  to God. He didn't want to meet again for the moment, but he said he'd try it. And you know what? I believe him. 

Well, I don't want to get all dramatic about the whole "this is my last week" thing. All good things come to an end. Except life, heaven, eternal families, personal progression, priesthood, God's love for us, and foufou at an African dinner appointment. 


This wall art underneath the Namur train station accurately represents how Elder Stanford feels as he sees the end of his mission approaching:



Our P-Day trip with the wonderful Badoux couple in Namur;





Soirée

I finally left a pair of shoes behind. Goodbye, contacting shoes.
They were trustworthy as ever. I always saved them for a non-rainy day. 


My new and last comp, Elder Grayston.
I'm his 5th kill, the poor guy.


The aforementioned African dinner appointment.
Tshim Tshinemu and his family. 


Well, I guess I'll see you all soon. Love you guys. Be the best version of yourselves that you can be. 

Elder Jordan Stanford
Mission française de Paris

Monday, December 5, 2016

Transfer 17: Not Évry-thing goes as planned

Well then. Everything I had projected for the very last part of my mission has been changed. Somebody Else's plans were quite different from my own. 

For the final two weeks of my mission, I will be transferred back to France! My new area is called Évry. It's in the suburbs of Paris. I leave earlier than early on Wednesday morning. What I know about Évry is that it's a nice big ward with three équipes, Président and Sœur Babin went there before being called as mission president, and there are lots of African people who live around there. We'll see how it goes. Of course, I do love Africans, and even Parisians to a certain extent, but I'll really miss the  Belgian people. 

To be honest, I'm not sure what the reason for my transfer is. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to help my companion or one of my roommates, or if they're supposed to help me somehow; or if there's an ami that needs to hear things a little differently; or if there's someone that the Lord knows I'll find before I leave; or if I need to convince a teenager in the Évry Ward to serve a mission; or if I'll find my future wife there... Somebody knows, but not me. 

(I promise not to search for a wife in the Évry Ward hahaha don't worry Mom.)

I do know, however, that the Lord Himself directs this work and that He knows way better than we do what is best for His children. During church, while we were teaching the gospel principles class for investigators, we started talking about commandments and especially the Word of Wisdom. We shared that just like earthly parents are the ones who make the rules and call the shots for the safety and happiness of their children, our Heavenly Father makes the commandments and calls the shots for the eternal benefit of His children—us. Why don't the children invent the rules and make the decisions? Well, they have a very limited vision and little experience, and they simply don't fully know what's best. Same thing. 

Elder Schow will be training a new missionary! He is the next district leader as well. I'm excited for him. In fact, all of the five companionships in our district will be training ._. so that'll be fun. Also, my zone leaders will be in Antony from now on, so I may get to do exchanges in my birthplace! That would be cool. Like a full circle type thing. 

Church was sad. This may be the ward that I'll miss the most. I told everyone from the pulpit that I'd come back this May to visit them (hint, Mom and Dad). The most touching experience was right after Sacrament Meeting, when a shy Primary-aged boy named William came up to me. I asked him, "Ça va?" and he shook his head. I said "Pourquoi?" And without saying anything, he just burst into tears and hugged me for a long time. I'm told he hasn't done that for anyone else. At the end of church, right before leaving, the same thing happened. But he was comforted to know that we'd see each other again in the Spring. 

District meeting! At the last district meeting of a missionary's last (full) transfer, it is customary for a "dying" missionary to be "killed" by his companion. 






What a cute district I have. 

Ami update: Virginie is still amazing. We were worried that she may not be reading the Book of Mormon on her own...this week we found out she's at 2 Nephi already. She reads other Church literature as well. No problem there. I'll be sad to leave her. Rana and Merry are solid too and came to church once again. Our other amis, who I don't think I've ever told you about—Marcel and Jean-Gilbert, Adelard and Lafoi, Rachel, Alfred, Jason, Elisabeth and Dems, Christophe, Suzette—are also doing pretty well. 

Other stuff happened (such as moving our favourite members to their new home, who happen to be mild hoarders, so we moved boxes and furniture from 8:30 AM until 7:00 PM) but we won't bore you with any details. 

I still have a mission left. In my homeland of Paris Sud. It's not over till it's over.  (So try not to make me too trunky with all your emails haha.)

Love you all! Onward and upward!

Gros bisous,

Elder Stanford
Mission française de Paris




Monday, November 28, 2016

Emotions, connections, policemen

Friday, November 25th, 2016
Hey everyone!

As I write this, I am on yet another train. I couldn't tell you how many trains I've taken just since getting to Namur. But today was a little more special. If I weren't so brutally tired, the mix of emotions from today would be a little overwhelming. 

So today we woke up at 4:00 AM to get to Paris on time for a multi-zone conference with a 70, Elder Homer. It was really cool and reminded me a lot of the conference we had with Elder Kearon in January (which only feels like a couple of months ago, by the way). We got there on time for 9:30. 

There were a few reasons that it was an emotional roller coaster today. One was that, since we were combined with two other zones, there were many friends that I've made in the mission field that I got to see for the last time. I'm leaving in about four or five weeks and it's pretty certain we won't cross paths again before I get on the plane. Many happy reunions and sad goodbyes. 

Secondly, on the train ride to Paris, I learned that I would be giving a "dying testimony." That's when each missionary, at the end of his mission, gets the chance to bear his testimony at his final zone conference. And every time a missionary sees a dying testimony, they think, "that will never be me." (I still remember one that I saw in my first few weeks when the Elder Tryon, who only had a few weeks left, said that after all the experiences he'd had on his mission, "I can look you in the eyes and tell you that I know God is there." That testimony really touched me. But I looked at him as a first-transfer missionary and said "that will never be me.") And then it sneaks up on you. I didn't think I'd be doing it, though, because we usually don't have time at big multi-zone conferences...so I was totally unprepared. Definitely cried at the pulpit for the first time in years. Overall it went well, though. Not sure if anyone filmed it...sorry, Mom. (To make up for it, I sang in a little musical number that should definitely be on Facebook soon.)

I also got all teary when we all sang the opening hymn ("Called to Serve" #classic) because I realized that I wouldn't be called to serve much longer...yeah, it was rough. And don't try saying that "every member a missionary" means that nothing will change when I get home. Nothing can replace full-time missionary service. I was a mess inside. 

It was a super uplifting conference, though. Elder Homer talked about a missionary he knew who finished his mission with regret because he hadn't done what he had been called to do. He encouraged us to never let that happen to us. I realized that for these next 4 or 5 weeks (whatever it is) I need to work harder than ever and be more obedient than ever. 

John 9:4
I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

D&C 45:2
And again I say, hearken unto my voice, lest [the end of your mission] shall overtake you; in an hour when ye think not the summer shall be past, and the harvest ended, and your souls not saved.

I've taken "your souls not saved" to mean that there may be souls who aren't saved if I cut myself any slack from now until the end of the harvest. Why disobey mission rules or stop working now, when as soon as I'm released I can ignore the white handbook and take as many naps as I want? Haha. I can listen to music and sleep in when I get home, but the miracles can only happen here and now. 

---

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Just a couple more things to mention. Sorry to bore you guys with long emails.

So! I got to do a couple of baptismal interviews! The first was an amazing Belgian lady named Nancy. She is so cool! It was the sister missionaries in Nivelles who prepared her for baptism (well, it was the Lord wayyyy before the sisters ever got there, but ya know what I mean). She's got three kids and is pregnant with numbers four and five. I won't tell her complete story, but let's just say that interviewing her gave me a stronger testimony that this is God's work. Without His direct intervention multiple times in her journey, she would not have made it here. I can already feel that she'll make the Nivelles ward stronger by her presence and membership. 

The other was another Belgian lady named Christiane. She is in Charleroi. I won't tell her whole story either, but she's had a million and one struggles, notably in the health department. Both she and Nancy have husbands who are non-believing, but they are committed to living up to the truth that they've found. Super super cool. 

Funny story of the week: we were doing some porting and we came to a building with a bunch of sonnettes. (What are those called in English? The intercom things you ring to talk to people in their apartments before the building's door can be unlocked.) And despite the fact that the only thing less effective than porting is sonning, we went for it. And one guy was particularly unhappy with us, for some reason. As though we ruined his whole year by taking 10 seconds of his time hahaha. Luckily, we didn't talk to him for very long (his choice, not ours). 

So we kept going. A short while later, a police car pulled up and the policemen said "Hey, we got a call from a man who told us that someone rang his sonnette and offered to have a gospel conversation and a prayer with him. Was that you?"
"Uhh...yeah?"
"ID please."
._.
While the one guy looked at our IDs and called his homies, the other guy just chilled with us and made small talk about what the heck we were doing all the way in Belgium. (Despite my French passport, the guy knew I wasn't born there because my accent still hasn't improved...in fact, it may have gotten worse since the beginning.) Really nice guy. Eventually he was like "I see nothing wrong with what you're doing, it must take courage. That guy who called us clearly just had nothing better to do. Good luck boys" and gave us our ID back and they drove away. And we got back to porting. So nothing super dramatic happened, but I got the cops called on me! Only the second run-in I've had with them on my mission, the first being when I got patted down for drugs in the suburbs of Paris. (Anyone remember that story?)

We taught Virginie and it was awesome! Again. One of the best parts about teaching her is that during the lessons, I also get cool personal inspiration as we teach. We taught about repentance and randomly (by that I mean it wasn't planned at all) compared it to cleaning your kitchen. Sure, it may seem easier to just avoid it because it can be an unpleasant experience, but avoiding it never made anyone happier. The feeling that you get when you walk into a freshly cleaned kitchen, where there is no clutter or stains, where everything is clean and white and sparkly and has a hint of lemon smell...imagine that feeling, but stronger, and on a spiritual level. That's what repentance brings. As usual, she committed herself to do it before we even asked. 

I promise we have other amis and I love them all too, but I just can't stop talking about Virginie. She has made so much progress over the past couple of months. Before, she didn't know that God loved her (heck, she wasn't even sure He existed); she had no idea how to pray, or why, or to whom; she didn't understand why she had trials. She began by saying a prayer all alone—but she was too scared to address Heavenly Father, so she just said it "into the air." Then she started praying to Heavenly Father, but she couldn't bring herself to ask Him for any blessings for herself. And now, not only is she comfortable addressing Him and asking Him for things, but she trusts Him enough to put her whole difficult situation into His hands. It's been amazing to get to see that progress. She's expressed a complete change in the way she sees trials: now, she looks at them with hope and confidence instead of despair.

Bon. You have other things to do besides reading this, so I'll cut it here. Transfer news this week! I'll find out if I'm staying in Namur until the end or if they'll move me for the last two weeks of my mission. Which would be dumb, but not unheard of. Either way, I'll be in a three-missionary équipe for the home stretch. 

Sticky tack dinosaurs. 

Playing ping pong against an 89-year-old man at soirée familiale.
This guy was part of the Belgian resistance
against the Nazis in WWII, you think he can't face you in table tennis?

God lives. He cares about you. He wants you to be closer to Him and you can be if you try. 

Much love,
Elder Stanford
Mission française de Paris 

PS Look at this meal I made! I thought you'd be proud. Homemade spinach garlic béchamel with courgette, céleri-rave, carotte, brocoli, lardons et parmesan. Voilà. 



PPS The service initiative for Christmas is great! 
We have a mini one for missionaries, too. 
I'm so excited! Let's go #ÉclairerLeMonde ! 




Monday, November 14, 2016

Referral from on high

Hey!

Just a little story this week, then I'm out. 

So I was out contacting with Elder Schow and it started to get dark. And unless you're living in the middle of Paris, darkness = tracting time. So we pulled out a map and prayed to ask God where He wanted us to go. Then we picked a couple of spots and prayed again to be directed in choosing one of them. We felt that we had to go over to one street in particular, about a 10-15 minute walk away. 

Now I would have you know that walking that long to go tracting, when there are houses all around you and you only have half an hour before you have start heading home, is not logical. The logical thing would be to not waste any time walking and just knock all the doors we can before our time is up—more doors means a higher chance that someone will let us in. But despite the fact that the walk would leave us only about 15-20 minutes to talk to people, we decided that God's ways are higher than our ways, and knocking three inspired doors would be better than a hundred uninspired ones. We think of it as a member referral from the Godhead. 

So we walked. We got there and... nothing! Just a creepy, dimly-lit alley. No houses. But we kept walking down the alley and finally found six or seven homes on the end of the street. And wouldn't you know it: on the third door we got let in. And Sandrine, the lady behind door #3, told us something crazy. Due to her masters studies in Brussels, plus her work schedule, she is only free and at home for one evening every two weeks. And it was that evening. 

So you'd better bet that two weeks from Saturday, we'll be back to teach her about the Plan of Salvation. 

Voilà. There's your cool missionary story of the week. Remember, just because these things happen, that doesn't take away your responsibility to share the restored gospel. Take it as an example of how to find someone who's ready to embrace it: repeated prayer, real intent, and following the Spirit. 

Hope that's not too preachy for ya. 

Loves. 
 Elder Stanford

Mission française de Paris

Monday, October 31, 2016

Assez eventful

Hey guys!

So, after last week's lecture, I figured y'all would want some stories. Nothing mission-changing, at least not yet, but some cool stuff happened nonetheless!

Number one: A story about porting and following the Spirit. 

We had an hour before dinner appointment with the wonderful Vandermosten family that I love. So we decided to go knocking on some doors in their area. We picked a street, prayed to know if it was the right one, and pretty instantly got a feeling that it wasn't, that we needed to move on to another. So we walked and walked until we got tired of walking, and finally decided "since we're not getting any other feelings, let's just go knock as many doors as we can before our appointment." Started down the next street we came across. Knocked one door: nothing; another door: as old a lady as I've ever seen; another door: girl opens and calls her mom. Mom comes up, I say, "Hi, we're here to share a message about the gospel of Jesus Christ." 

Just a side note: if you ever decide to go knock on people's doors to share the gospel in the near future, never, EVER say the word "message." It turns people right off. It may have worked in the past but it doesn't work nowadays...that is, except in this case. Without missing a beat, she said "Entrez."

That is when we met a lovely congolaise family: a father, his wife Lafoi, and his children: Âgé, Bénédicte, Christmas (no, not Noël, but Christmas) and Sapphire. How cool are those names?? The father is a Protestant pastor. Normally, pastors are pretty comfortable with their knowledge and don't want any more, but the great thing about this guy was that his belief in the Apostasy (a true belief) caused him to recognize that he may not know all there is to know. They listened attentively to the message of the Restoration of the gospel, actually understood it (!!!) and we returned later in the week to drop off copies of the Book of Mormon to them. (Like any missionary would, we had the copies with us the first time, but felt prompted to use it as a cliffhanger instead to get them to invite us back.) The next lesson, they committed to read 3 Nephi 11. We'll see them this next Thursday. 

Number two: Another story about porting and following the Spirit. Also involving congolais homies. 

So we went knocking on doors again a few days later. We prayed and picked a street. We knocked the doors and freaking nobody was home. (Where do all of these people go? You buy homes and don't even use them!) With one house, there was seemingly no way to get to the door to ring the doorbell. Don't ask how, it was just a weird house, okay? So we walked on by—de toute façon, apparently nobody in this neighbourhood enjoyed being at home with their families on a Saturday evening anyway. But then we felt to go back. We walked around the house and what did we see? Even better than popcorn popping: three congolais men chilling in the back yard, eating peanuts and talking about life.

We approached them, and they pulled out extra chairs so we could sit with them. Then one of them looked at us and started humming "Called To Serve." Hahahaha what?? He said he knew MoTab, and "One thing I like about Mormons is that they sing really well. That choir knows how to worship the Lord." 

So we explained the Restoration and they actually understood it (!!!) and invited us back this next Saturday to drop off an additional Book of Mormon and a MoTab CD. (Enough missionaries have lived in this apartment that we have plenty of both of those.) One of them in particular is excited to know exactly what was lost that was brought back in the Restoration.


Now: pictures!

Elder Schow is such a compulsive flosser
that he fell asleep with it still in his mouth.

Walking with the Liège elders to the train station in Brussels (we went for a training from the zone leaders).
Famous independence arch thing. 
 
No explanation needed. 
Aside from all that...and aside from an awesome lesson we gave in Sunday School that pumped everyone up to come teaching with us; delicious Mexican food and American football at our bishop's house; me playing chess against a 61-year-old Libertarian Belgian chess player that we ported into (and losing soundly but learning a lot); a ravaging sinus sickness thing that has infected most of the district and kept Elder Schow and me out of the game for a full day each; and a pipe leaking somewhere in our walls and letting water through our downstairs neighbours' ceiling...it was a pretty normal week. 

Virginie is still doing really well. We taught her twice this week, and the Plan of Salvation especially interests her. She's progressing nicely, and even brings her children to church with her when she can come herself (every other week). We have a great Primary so her kids are learning, too. (: Rana and Merry are also doing well. No complaints. The rest are showing various degrees of flakiness, but hey...if this teaching relationship doesn't work out, we can always go find some more people. No worries with that. 

As usual, I have written too much. Congratulations, dear reader, for making it to the end of this email. Bet you can't make it to the end of the Book of Mormon too!

Gros bisous,

Elder Jordan Stanford
Mission française de Paris 

Monday, October 24, 2016

An essay on goal setting

Hey family and friends!

First of all, I must apologize for sounding so whiny last week. Of course it's difficult when appointments fall through (as three important ones did this week as well) but nothing that every other missionary doesn't experience at some point in his or her mission. On top of that, I feel as though some of that could have been avoided or turned into better experiences if we had been more organized/diligent/prayerful. Just a learning experience. 

I'd also like to correct a typo from two weeks ago: I wrote 700 when the correct number would have been 600. Voilà. Now I have a clear conscience. 

**disclaimer: I now have a lot of thoughts to share and not a lot of stories**

Recently I have been learning a lot about the power in setting goals. A quote that has hit me every time I've read it is by Elder Ballard in Preach My Gospel: “I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential."

As I near the end of my mission, that is my biggest fear: not attaining my potential as a missionary or as a person. (Interesting to see the change when I first came on a mission—initially I was scared that I'd change too much; now I'm scared I won't have changed enough.)

Let's go back to the quote. Every time I've read it in the past, I've focused on the "setting goals" part of it. Only recently have I been led to ponder the second part: "learn how to master the techniques of living to reach [your] goals." I realized that I've set a LOT of goals of my mission that have gone unattained. Why? Because I haven't mastered the techniques of living to reach them. Sometimes my goals weren't really goals at all; they were daydreams. 

So that was the subject of our discussion in district meeting. We started by all thinking about our goals—all the goals we'd set that still applied to us. That meant our weekly goals, transfer goals, New Year's Resolutions and even things longer-term than that. Most of us were surprised to find that we couldn't even remember what many of our goals were; and for the ones we did remember, we often weren't on track for achieving them. 

We decided together that three things were important: remembering the goal; knowing how, concretely, to go about accomplishing it; and keeping the motivation to go forward even when the initial inspiration has long since worn off. 

Remembering comes with writing it down and keeping it somewhere you'll see it often. It includes setting little alarms (and not getting annoyed at your device when they go off). It involves doing little things to keep your mind on it: keeping it daily in your prayers, putting post-its in your kitchen, or setting your iPad password to "hityourgoals" as I've done. 

Knowing how is a big one. For every cloudy, unmeasurable, seemingly distant goal, there needs to be concrete plans for reaching it. To do this, we just need to break it down. Need to lose weight? Well, you'll need to start exercising more and eating healthier. But those don't count as plans. How do you exercise more? You need to learn how to exercise properly. You need to get the proper clothes and shoes. You need to find someone who will help you create a program. You need to set a workout schedule. These plans, then, can be broken down even further into bite-sized, daily pieces with set times to accomplish them. Then you always know what the next step is toward the desired final product. 

Lastly: staying motivated. We've come to the conclusion that staying motivated involves a few things. First is making sure to avoid setting too many goals. The way you feel when looking at a sink full of dirty dishes, or a backpack full of college homework, is the same way you'll feel when you look at a list of too many goals you've set for yourself. Keep it short, precise and simple. Next is accountability: to yourself, the Lord and a friend or leader who will follow up with you. Last is to always keep the desired result in mind, ideally by writing down why you want to hit this goal. A great way to lose motivation is losing sight of the big picture—the vision, if you will. Well did the writer of Proverbs say: "Where there is no vision [or it just gets forgotten], the people perish."

Voilà quoi. Only very recently have I been trying to put these into practice, and even though I haven't mastered these techniques, my fumbling efforts have already brought great results. Once I reach this goal I'm working on, I'll set new goals to help me grow (while making plans to maintain the good results of this first goal, of course) and hopefully it'll be onward no upward from there, until the perfect day. 


I sincerely apologize for the essay. If you want any Belgium-specific news, here it is: Virginie, the woman I wrote about two weeks ago, is incredible! She came to church again and brought the three children that still live with her. It was awesome. All of the talks and discussions seemed to be focused on her needs. We'll be teaching her tomorrow morning we'll be able to evaluate her progression from there. But she is really happy with all she's discovering, and I can really see that the Lord has been preparing her for a while. (: 
 I had a PhotoBooth moment with one of Virginie's kids in order to distract her long enough to let Virginie listen to a Sacrament Meeting talk. 



Aside from that, the district did amazing this week! Normally, the work takes a big hit in week 6 (the last week of the transfer) because missionaries are just tired—of their companion, their ville, their mission—and the end is in sight. But this week, we set a district record for new investigators, member-present lessons, other lessons and amis at church! Two of our companionships even hit or exceeded all of the Standards of Excellence that the mission defined as the key indicator goals that each companionship should strive for. And I wish I could say it was because of something I did, but the missionaries I've been blessed with have been amazing. It was all them. 



Entering into my 16th transfer is a scary thing. But we're setting goals to make it the best transfer yet. Stay tuned. 

Photos of our Brussels P-Day:







Loves,

Elder Stanford
Mission française de Paris 

Monday, October 17, 2016

When the night is darkest

Hello everyone,

Well, this week everything fell apart. Hahaha. Okay, not everything, but it was kind of a rough week as far as appointments go. Here is a screenshot of my calendar:

  
Legend
Green = member appointment, usually with a meal involved. :D
Purple = teaching appointments that happened with a member present. 
Blue = teaching appointments that happened without a member present. 
Yellow = teaching appointment that we set, with a specific address and time, that didn't happen—or, in France Paris Mission lingo, the times we got frouged. 

And that pretty much sums up our week. Our progress was further impeded by our absence from Namur all of Wednesday and Thursday—on Wednesday when we did exchanges in Charleroi, on Thursday when we went to Paris to pick up Elder Schow's legality (he had to do it to be allowed to stay in France, and he had to do it in person). That day was kind of awful haha. We woke up at 4:30AM in the Charleroi apartment in order to catch the tram to the train station, so we could catch the train to Brussels, so we could catch the train to Paris, so we could take the metro on time, so we could switch to the RER train on time, so we could meet other missionaries at 10:30AM and take the bus together to get to the government building in St Germain. Exhausting. Then we picked up the legality thing—about the size of a vintage Zapdos Pokémon card, and probably worth about as much as well—at which point we ate lunch and then did the reverse voyage, except we ended up home in Namur by the end. And the whole ordeal cost the mission over 400€. 

On a brighter note, Rana and Merry are progressing really well! They read everything we suggest in the Book of Mormon, even when a migraine sets in. They are still going through some rough times, what with the war in Syria and all—their mother still lives in Aleppe—and so the big question that keeps getting asked is "Why does God allow suffering." It's a hard one to answer (especially for me, since I've had about 0,002% suffering in my life), but I think they're becoming more and more okay with it as they continue to draw closer to their Saviour. Merry is also learning French really well from Rana (though she still reads the Book of Mormon in Arabic), and they're making friends with people at church. (: They are awesome! We're all hoping they'll be able to see their mom by Christmas, and get Merry's husband and children into Belgium shortly after that. 


And the best news of the week is: Aurélien's baptism! :D The guy is a stud! Such a sincere disciple of Christ. The Beatitudes describe his personality. 


The Paris missionaries with Aurélien and Brother Stonehocker,
who helped integrate him into the ward.
 

Now that I finally helped a French person to baptism, I can be happy with my mission. Haha. 

Well, that's about it. We've got the feeling that a good week's comin' on. The night is darkest just before the dawn. 
And thus the rescue mission continues.

This is what we see from our apartment window. The thing on the Citadelle is a giant bronze turtle ^_^  Also, our apartment is amazing. I'll show you all once we clean it up.



Thanks for your support, your love and your prayers. Keep it up—we need everything we can get. 

Loves. 

Elder Jordan Stanford
Mission française de Paris

Monday, October 10, 2016

Understanding

Dear faithful readers,

I suppose there are only about 10 of you left. 5-10. Thank you for your diligence and heed to my words. You guys are the best of the best. 

This week was pretty crazy. But how many emails have I started out like that? Not sure anymore. When missionary life becomes the only thing you can remember, when you find yourself contacting in your dreams, when you realize you've tied and worn at least one tie per day for over 700 days straight...it all starts to pass by super quick. 

But don't think I'm getting all trunky on you. In my head, I've still got 2 years left. 

So yeah, this week. 

Tuesday was spent in Brussels on exchanges with the zone leaders. They are amazing, probably the best zone leaders I've had. Definitely, in fact. We did some finding and lots of teaching together. 

Wednesday we went straight from Brussels to Nivelles, where we had district meeting. The training was on faith to see miracles—more specifically, prayer and its relationship to that faith and those miracles. We went straight from that to a medical appointment for Elder Schow's Belgian legality in Waterloo. Yes, the same Waterloo that's famous for having some important battle with Napoleon. I mean, I already saw the guy's tomb in Paris so it wasn't all that special. But hey, we can't all serve in the France Paris mission. 

After going to Braine l'Alleud to do a bit of finding as a district, we left to get back to our sector. We had to pass through Charleroi and take a corresponding train to Namur...well, there was a bomb threat in the Charleroi train station and we didn't make it all the way there. They dropped us off in a tiny place called Luttre and essentially said "débrouillez-vous." Luckily, the ward mission leader from Charleroi came and picked us up so we could get back to the missionary apartment there and stay the night (after going out for frites, of course). So in one day the elders from Namur were in Brussels, Nivelles, Waterloo, Braine l'Alleud and Charleroi...and not Namur. 

We finally returned from the wilderness to Namur only on Thursday morning, after over 48 hours away...and an hour later we were hosting the Braine elders for exchanges. We did a LOT of finding with them...but hey, thanks to that day we got five rendez-vous set up for this coming week! We were really trying to put that training from the day before into practice. Overall, in the time we've been here in Namur, we've gotten about 40 potential investigators (either an address, phone number or both) from personal street contacting/tracting. We just need to cash it in. As soon as life settles down, we'll spend an afternoon calling all of them to try to set up more appointments. If we can find the time. 

The week ended with an AMAZING fast-breaking raclette dinner with members. Everything I ever wanted was there. There was even bacon, which is impossible to find in Europe. That was one happy Elder Stanford. 

Then today has been an excellent p-day. We taught a member referral (that exists here??) in that member's home! I don't even care that it was working on our day of preparation and rest, because it was awesome. God's been working on her for ten years and now she's finally ready to search. And one of the best parts is that she understands. She understands the Apostasy, the message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the story of Joseph Smith, the details of the history of the Book of Mormon. Such a rarity. And she even made the connection that the Book of Mormon is the proof of the message, the way to know if this is all true—a connection that she made without anyone pointing it out to her! That has almost never happened on my mission. 

At the end of the lesson, it came time to talk about prayer. I've found out that a lot of people have no idea how to pray. As we were discussing, she quickly became very emotional as she described how she has always seen God as some stern lawgiver whose job is to judge us, "not as...a real father, someone to whom we can turn and express ourselves." For that reason, she had always prayed to Mary and left the praying to God to the "more important" members of her church (i.e. the clergy). It reminded me of a quote by Elder LeGrand Richards, who said "Throughout all my mission, not once did I meet someone who believed in a personal God." I think now I understand a little better what he meant by that. The spiritual peak of the lesson was when she realized that God loved her, that He knew her, that He was aware of her struggles, and that she needed to communicate more with Him. There was an incredible spirit there. 

We can't see her until mid-next week due to our conflicting schedules (the days she doesn't work are the days we're going to Charleroi and then Paris)...so don't expect an update on her next Monday. But she's awesome. 

Then we carried on with our p-day by hopping over to Brussels to play soccer with the whole district and the Brussels district (16 missionaries total) plus a few members. It was fun until the craziest hailstorm made everyone want to stop haha. We just got back to Namur and now I'm finishing this email up in my lovely apartment. 

We have had a couple more experiences that I could share, but the most important is there. And so the rescue mission continues. 

The Gospel is true. Obedience to God's laws, sincere and faithful prayer, and focused personal efforts to make a difference in ourselves and others—those things invite the hand of God into our lives. They bring real miracles. 

Thank you for your emails and letters, your support and your prayers. Love you guys. 

Elder Stanford

Mission française de Paris