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

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 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?"
"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 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 ! 

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