Them Tennis Balls Run!

So, every morning Sister Pratt and I stumble out of our door at 6:30 sharp and she runs 2 miles around the playground where I do what I like to call my “quirk-out,” which is a quirky workout wherein I swing on the swings, try (and fail) to do a pull-up on the monkey bars, and then skip around for a while. I also like to do a special jug-lifting workout with a gallon jug that used to hold Gatorade and now holds water. I lift it so that my arms will get very strong to help people move and do yard work all summer. Yesterday morning while I was quirking out a young man wearing all black with his hood up came outside and sad on the playground equipment kind of near my jug and smoked and watched the sunrise. I didn’t really want to have the “I’m the weirdo on the swing set and you are the weirdo smoking in the jungle gym” conversation so I just left my jug by its new friend all day and decided to get it later. When Sister Pratt and I got back home at 9pmwe went to get our jug, which was full when I left it there. When we picked it up from the bench where we left it, though, IT WAS EMPTY!!??? Did some weirdo drink a whole gallon of somebody else’s lifting water???? I feel weird every time I look at my jug now.

I also enjoyed another baby chick encounter this week. Life is really good on that front. We visited a family who hasn’t been to church in a long time who lives way, way out in the country. When we arrived we discovered that this family has 9 dogs and 20 chickens, including baby chicks!! I got to hold them and cuddle them and the dad of the family said to the dog, “Look chico, them tennis balls run!” Classic baby chick life.
Because my leopard printed pants were banned, I have been on the lookout for new clothes to wear when I do service projects. I helped a sister move back into her house in my regular skirt and blouse routine, and the elders were honestly very confused and upset about it. They did not seem to know what to do at all, and each of them questioned me extensively about why I was wearing a skirt. I was telling this story to a recent convert who is basically our best friend and she said (imagine this in her very, very slow West Virgina drawl) “Well ahhh have some clawthes that are bein donated to the rummage sale… ahh think ahhh might have somethin for ya” and she pulled out an amazing floor-length overall dress. In case anyone was worried about what I was going to garden in, I have found it. I will need your help and support in not losing my sense of dignity that I start to wear this dress while proselyting, though. Please pray for me.
Because the bishop called the whole ward to be ward missionaries this week, we have had extra people to help us out. This has been awesome. On Wednesday, an amazing sister in the ward came out teaching with us. She is 91 years old, and her secret to aging well is that she eats a whole clove of garlic every day, which she smashes up with a rock named “green boy” and washes down with dark chocolate almond milk. She also goes to the gym every day and does tai chi. In the middle of our lesson, she was bearing her testimony and she suddenly said, “This darn thing isn’t working!” and took out her hearing aid. On the other end of the age spectrum, we have a friend in the ward who is 6 years old who wanted to come teach with us. Their family is friends with a family who they want to invite to meet with the missionaries, so our 6-year-old fellow missionary put together a little package for them with El Libro de Mormon, a DVD, and some pictures of Jesus for them and arranged for her and her mom to come meet them with us. It was maybe the most adorable thing ever. Nobody answered the door, though, and she was pretty sad so we had no choice but to take her out for frozen yogurt. We have probably the widest age range of fellow missionaries in the whole mission.
We had the best lesson ever with someone we have never met with before. She is really close with a family in our ward so she already had a lot of information before she started meeting with us. She is already part-way through the Book of Mormon and has come to church several times. She is a dream come true. She told us about how good and peaceful she feels at church and how it just seems to make her whole week go better. I want to give her a Golden ‘Gator award, which is an award I just made up for investigators who are especially golden. Obviously winners are awarded with a tiny, solid gold alligator statuette. In other exciting missionary news, our BFF/denim dress-giver got her temple recommend this week and is going to go to the temple next month. She has lots of trials in her life, like we all do I guess, and I yearn for her to find a place where she can leave everything hard and stressful behind and enjoy the intense peace and well-being that is so strong in the temple. I can see that having a place where she can go to let the rest of the world melt away for a little while will make everything a little easier for her.
In addition to reading the Book of Mormon and the other elements of my regular study every day (I just finished Mosiah, by the way! Read Alma with me!) I found a stack of old, torn-up Ensigns from the past 6 months or so and have been poring over them. It is a big adjustment to be so starved for media and reading material. The Ensign is a quality magazine but it’s not always the most thrilling reading material, or at least I didn’t always think it was. Nowadays, however, I read every word in every back issue of the magazines, even the articles that have chunks cut out of them. I was very used to having lots of reading material. Anyway, you should all write me letters because I’m on my last Ensign and I think I might start reading the Bible Dictionary for entertainment next. My address remains 14 Deerbrook Drive/Charles Town, WV 25414.
I love you all, and I pray for you. I hope you are seeing the hand of God in your life every day.
Love,
Sister Watermelon (yesterday on the phone, one of the local elders said “What is it the bishop calls you? Sister Watermelon?” It’s Sister Applesauce, but I like Watermelon too)

Beautiful Blue-Eye Boys

I am just coming from the baby chick emporium, aka this farming supply store where they have had a sign on their marquee that says “chick days are here!” for a few weeks. Every time we drove past I would gently suggest that Sister Pratt should pull over so we could really efficiently look at the chicks but that is more of a p-day activity. Great news! Today is p-day so I got to go coo over the cuteness while my companion bought mulch. We were also accompanied by one of my fave sisters in the ward who was a fan of the speckled baby chicks. Those are the kind of magical shenanigans that are possible when you are a missionary in West Virginia. Other missionary shenanigans include going to the birthday dinner of a 5-year-old, the son of the same sister who accompanied us to the chick emporium.

On Saturday we had a family history party in the cultural hall, including a potluck dinner with foods from the places of our cultural heritage and some entertainment. I brought a jello salad with shredded carrots, raisins, and coconut in honor of my Mormon heritage and I was asked to sing a song in German with another German-speaking sister. I am not much of a singer and certainly not an experienced vocal performer, so this was quite an adventure. I think it went okay, though, although Americans tend to find the German language to be too funny/scary to invite the spirit.
This week was a time of bountiful service. Missionaries are special because we get to move people around and I think my box-carrying game is improving. We also got to sweep out the cramped, soot-filled attic of someone whose 200-year-old farmhouse was recently reconstructed after a house fire. It was honestly kind of fun and rustic. Have you ever climbed a ladder in a skirt? Try it sometime.
On Wednesday we got three new elders in our ward. One of them is fresh from the MTC (it is so so weird not to be the newest missionary in the ward. I’m a tiny baby still! Please don’t expect me to be competent!) and the other is returning to the ward, where he was at the beginning of his mission. This is very unusual so everyone in the ward has been flipping out. It’s a lot of fun and I think it’s giving everyone warm and fuzzy missionary feelings which makes my life a lot easier.On Sunday all six of us missionaries spoke in sacrament meeting, two in Spanish (translating for one another) about the Atonement and Easter. I talked about having a change of heart and tried to make an organ donation metaphor. The bishop also called everyone in the ward to be ward missionaries, which I am excited about. Hopefully we will get lots of referrals and people wanting to come teach lessons with us. Ward involvement is so important to missionary work, I am fast learning. In addition to help with the work, I really appreciate how every family in the ward has adopted us and wants to make sure we’re not dying of youthful incompetence, which is honestly a very real danger.
In with the new missionaries came a tiny hot pink bike just for me! Bicycling isn’t a huge thing out here in the countryside because nobody has the thighs for the rolling hills and long country roads, but it gets me around the neighborhood and I hope for a fun future with it. I texted our district leader (who is also new to the area) to ask if bike tassles are allowed and he was a little taken aback and had to ask the zone leaders. I don’t think he ever expected a question like that. The word is that they are fine as long as they are not too distracting.
One of my favorite people who we talked to this week was a woman who was sitting on her porch looking over her freshly-mulched yard. She is from Brazil and her husband, who is from El Salvador, was also hanging out. She was telling us all about how there were so many Mormons in Brazil and then she asked where we were from. When I told her I was from Utah she got so excited and started waxing poetic/yelling excitedly about how much she LOVES JUTAH and how it is SOOO BEAUTIFUL AND I WAS IN A HOTEL RIGHT BY THE BIG CHURCH!!!!!!!! I loved her. She said that she was in Utah in 1993 traveling with a family she nannied for. The most wonderful/truest moment of the conversation was when she said “JUTAH HAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOYS! BEAUTIFUL BLUE-EYE BOYS IN JUTAH!!!” Her husband was very good humored about it. She said she liked the church she was at but there is a family in the ward who has lots of people over for papusas and FHE every Monday and they said they wanted to come. I am thrilled by that, mostly because I want to hang out with them more. They are honestly my new favorite people.
Something I’ve been working on all week is bearing testimony and just confirming that I believe the doctrine I’m teaching really simply. Trying to convince or reason with people about religious truth isn’t very effective because spirituality is not really a matter of reason. Our goal is to invite people to seek out God and have personal encounters with the divine, and it’s not useful to try to make a lawyerly case for such activities. What is useful is creating experiences for people to have their own personal spiritual encounters so they can find the truth for themselves. When I bear my testimony in a lesson I try to think of the time I spent volunteering at the MTC so that the new missionaries who were learning German could practice teaching me. These missionaries had as many words as could be learned in a few weeks, but I always found these lessons genuinely enriching and edifying. The most they could do was say very simply that they felt God’s love for them or for me and maybe share a scripture that they liked or ask some basic questions but two weeks had taught them enough words to bring the spirit in really strong force. I think it was the sincerity and effort they were putting into being good missionaries that made those experiences sacred. They are my current missionary heroes.
I continue to be loving the Book of Mormon, and I hope you are too. I’m just having fun with the characters and the narrative. I am in Mosiah 20 at the moment. Reading the Book of Mormon is just a relaxing and pleasant part of my day when I don’t worry about anything else that is going on. It’s a real pleasure.
I love you all, and I pray for you, and I love hearing from you. If you want to write (you should! getting a letter will make you feel like you’re in an old movie!) my address is 14 Deerbrook Drive, Charles Town WV 25414.
Lots of love,
Sister Applejack

Daffodils and Deliverance

Happy Easter, meine liebe Bruedern und Schwestern!

This week featured a bit of a slowdown on the work. Several of the people we had been working with decided they didn’t want to meet with us anymore and it was also spring break for some of the local schools, so lots of people were out of town. There was still plenty to do, though, and Sister Pratt and I always get to make new friends. One new friend was a very old woman who the Elders had met walking her dog. She saw their name tags and said “Mormons?! I love Mormons!!! Come by for a visit!” So they sent us over. When we knocked on her door and asked her how she was doing, she said, “Not very good.” and when we asked why, she said, “Because I have pancreatic cancer.” We didn’t quite know how to respond, but she invited us to visit with her on her porch. As I sat on her porch swing, feeling like a little kid because my feet didn’t touch the floor, I discovered one of the only people who had heard of Bryn Mawr so far on the mission. You can always count on the classy old ladies to say “Why, Bryn Mawr?! You must have been a fiiiine student” and nod approvingly. Her family has been going to the same Episcopal church for generations and she likes it that way, but we might come by just to hang out and help out with her garden.
Speaking of gardens, now that it’s spring time we are helping out at the community gardens run by the local Ba’hai temple?! Charles Town is not necessarily the first place I would expect to host such a temple, but there we were, weeding the raised beet beds. Unfortunately at this activity I was told that my leopard printed pants were too tight for a missionary. Today Sister Pratt and I also ruled out four of my skirts. My biggest advice to future sister missionaries is that your skirts have to be even longer than you think. I was expecting grandma-level modesty but it’s more like pioneer-level modesty that is the standard. It’s all for the sake of riding bikes, probably. Poor little me. Being a missionary is kind of fun in how restrictive it is. The other day I had a dream that I hugged a man (definitely not allowed) and got in big trouble. Usually if my patience for rules runs short I pretend I’m one of the nuns in Sound of Music or Call the Midwife (aka my heroes) and then I automatically love it. Would the Reverend Mother tire of her habit? Probably never.
This week also brought General Conference!!!!!!!!!! I was never very amped about General Conference before because I kind of felt like I was missing out on some of the social aspects of church, but as a missionary it’s totally different because Conference means NAPPING. So many naps. I would just bundle up on the couch of any old person’s home (we had a different location for every session) and pass out. That is what the conference Ensign is for, right? We just work so hard that any time you sit down for longer than a few minutes you fall asleep. I’m proud to say that I have never fallen asleep while teaching, though. And I stayed awake for most of Sunday, I promise. I loved all of the talks, obviously Uchtdorf’s was a highlight. Also, when he started speaking German it was a highlight not only of the weekend but maybe of my whole entire life so far?? Favorite prank of all time.
This week is also transfer week. For those unfamiliar with the term, a transfer is six weeks long and is how missionaries measure time for some reason. Every transfer we get new planners, new missionaries come in, old missionaries go home, and some missionaries move around and trade companions. You don’t find out if you’re getting transferred or if your companion is until two days before transfer meeting (where everyone meets up and trades companions and cries when their friends go home) but no worries, Sister Pratt and I found out yesterday that we’re staying together. The elders in our ward are both leaving and they’re bringing in two new elders, which is called shotgunning/whitewashing/doubling in. That is kind of unusual and I imagine it will be fun. Reaching the end of my first transfer is a big milestone, especially because I feel like I got here yesterday.
After a bountiful brunch on Sunday, we had another bountiful Easter dinner. Missionaries are so spoiled. There is this wonderful sister who recently moved into our ward. She’s older and a widow and she’s from Kentucky so she has this little house filled with big, overstuffed floral furniture. It’s a very Southern decorating aesthetic. She had us over for ham and funeral potatoes and she gave me and Sister Pratt an Easter basket. We thanked her and she said, “Well you sisters are just like my kids!” She’s the best. She’s also an absolute family history fanatic and a very spunky lady, she is always driving her little lime green car around and on Sunday she was wearing a bright yellow blouse and matching bright yellow capris. I mean really, really yellow, almost neon. It was perfect for Easter. West Virginia is also all decked out for Easter with daffodils, crocuses, and magnolia trees.
My Book of Mormon studies have been so much fun, I hope yours are too. I just started reading Mosiah this week, which is home to Mosiah 18, aka one of my favorite chapters for a long time, and a new favorite, Mosiah 4. I invite all of you to read it. I read it just yesterday morning and it totally kicked my butt, especially the second half.
I love you all, thanks so much to everyone who wrote to me this week! I love hearing about the outside world. If you would like to write to me, I promise to write back and my address is 14 Deerbrook Drive, Charles Town West Virginia 25414
Love,
Sister Trashcan