We received a letter in the mail last week. Letters are the best thing ever. Heidi is able to express so much more than in her weekly emails...
Dear Mom and Dad ( and rest of family :D )
Today has been a very long and exhausting day, but I just got home and I had three letters to read- one from each of you, and one from Grandma Burton. Dad, I have got to tell you, that when I read your letters and read about how you’re doing family history it just touches me. I have been in Germany for such a long time now, and it helps me to feel such a connection to our ancestors. You mentioned some people from Bielefeld…I know that place! Halle...I know that place too! I haven’t been to either place but I just hear stories from there and hear about the work there. It is so cool being here knowing that some of our own ancestors lived here.
Yesterday we went to a student apartment building “studentenwohnheim” and we brought several Books of Mormon in various languages to give to people we had met previously. Unfortunately none of the people were home, but we met a man from Syria who was about 26 years old. He ended up inviting us to eat some Arabic food with him in the kitchen there, so we found ourselves eating our first Authentic Arabic meal and I happened to have a Book of Mormon in Arabic with me so we were able to talk more about that. He’s Muslim. We’re Mormon, but the gospel of Jesus Christ brought us together. His family escaped from Syria about a year and a half ago and are living out on the land somewhere, but he doesn’t really keep on contact with them. It made me so sad to think about how real war is, how terrible it affects lives, and how unfair things are. We are so lucky to have such security and such happiness back home. My eyes have been so opened to some of the problems of the world here, and it just makes me want to learn more and actually help these people in some way.
As I wrote home in my email this week, we have been doing a lot of work at this Auslanderheim in our area. There are people from everywhere! Everybody is just so friendly and so humble, and they are such a joy to be around. Sister Hansen and I were just talking about how interesting it is that so many of the people look a bit rugged on the outside, but with character.
They have great values, show respect, and really are great people. This community of people living so close together… they have trust among one another. I like that about Auslanders (foreigners)…they take you in like family from the first time they meet you, they show hospitality and genuine kindness, and they are just REAL. It’s really refreshing and quite a strong contrast against the typical German culture.
The work here is going really well though. We are meeting with so many people each week and people are really progressing. It’s incredible! Even after seeing so much success though, it is easy to feel discouraged at times and just take a hard fall down. The last few days we have seen so many miracles and I have been so happy, but at the same time I have had a hollow, empty feeling inside me that I can’t really explain. I feel like I’m losing myself in this work, which I know is a good thing, but at the same time is scares me a little bit and makes me a little bit sad. Sometimes I feel like I just miss being ME. Today we came home from district meeting and we had a little bit of study time. I talked to Sister Hansen a little bit about how I have been feeling. It really helps me sometimes to just talk about how I’m feeling. Sometimes I just get worked up and stressed about things that I just get the worst headaches, and sometimes they last for a few days at a time. I took a minute to just lie on the floor and stretch and breathe for a minute and we listened to a song before heading out the door for an appointment.
The song is about a missionary and he sings about” The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” Being a missionary is such a wonderful, incredible, and life changing experience, but really it is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The song starts as the man recalls his farewell to his family. At that point I just lost it and the tears just welled up in my eyes. It goes on to when he meets his trainer, bears his testimony for the first time, gets to experience rejection, on an on…I just laid there with tears in my eyes remembering my own farewell almost 9 months. Standing at the temple grounds in Provo taking pictures, going to the MTC and being mauled by hugs from everyone as I got out of the van. I remember my first day in Berlin and how hot it was and how excited I I was to be here. And now here I am exactly in the same place. I remember meeting my trainer Sister Nilson for the first time. It was so horrifying for me to realize that we were really just going out and doing and we both didn’t really know exactly how or what . I remember when German was gibberish, when I would get lost everywhere, when I would just feel like giving up because it was so hard. It is the most incredible experience starting out at such a point and then growing each day as I learn bit by bit. Schritt für schritt.
Last week there was a new sister who arrived in the mission and Sister Hansen and I got to take her out finding on her first day, and then she spent the night with us. While we were at the church we also pulled her into a classroom and we did a practice teaching situation. She and I acted as missionaries and Sister Hansen acted as our “investigator”. This new sister was just so sweet, and was so easy to just relate to her myself and relate to her feelings. She’s got such a journey ahead of her, something she could never have imagined. It will be hard, but it will be worth it. That’s what I would really tell to anyone who is thinking about serving a mission.
Being a missionary myself makes me appreciate missionary work so much more. To be “behind the scenes” in a way you can see how hard it is, how much it has to do with sacrifice. Tears have become more familiar to me. I’m learning to feel more. Even for others here- tears are shed often out of joy and out of sadness.
I mentioned earlier in an email about an experience I had fasting which I wanted to share with you. On February 11 I had an incredible personal study time. I read one of your letters Mom, and in it you focused so much on Christ like attributes. “ I love my Mommy” I wrote. As I continued studying more and praying throughout my study, I found myself writing this simple sentence: “I want to become more like Christ.”
(Excerpt from my journal entry that day) “But there is nothing I could say to explain the strength of emotions that came with that simple sentence. I just want to BECOME. More than anything. My mom’s testimony and experiences just touched me so much. She has changed so much in the past several months and I find myself thinking, I want to be changed in the same way. I just don’t want to be distracted here. I just want to serve with all my heart,might , mind and strength. I want to be changed. I want to become. But it comes after choices I make…
I went into the bedroom during lunch and I think I prayed for 45 minutes. I just started bawling. I cried unto God. I thanked him so much. I thanked him specifically for His Son Jesus Christ. I prayed for everybody that I need to pray for. People in Langenhorn, people back home, people here in Lankwitz. I had so much to be grateful for but so much I wanted to plead to the Father about. It has been eating away at me that I feel like I don’t pray as sincerely as I should. I feel like I haven’t poured out my heart in prayer for the people who need my prayers. And then there is my family back home. They pray for my investigators everyday by name. They pray for me. So often I feel like my prayers are not a reflection of what is in my heart…because I am usually just so exhausted and perhaps it is laziness and selfishness that afflict me. But again I am done with mediocrity. I am done trying and giving up. I will use my faith and I will do what is expected of me. I felt like I should fast, really and sincerely. So I fasted and I began by speaking my prayer.
I fasted the whole day and it wasn’t even hard because I was fasting with a special purpose. And honestly I was fasting because I “wanted” to…with faith and love in my heart. “
This experience with prayer and fasting is now very meaningful to me. I am so grateful for prayer and also for fasting. It can be so hard at times to sincerely pray and fast, but if we can overcome our personal selfishness and complaints they can be so powerful. I can’t take prayers for granted.
J*** has developed the sweetest relationship with God and the most sincere faith. He is praying and studying the scriptures everyday- something he has never done earlier in life. Faith in God and Jesus Christ is new for him. But wow, I have never seen such a difference in somebody’s life. He is so happy and just has a glow about him. You don’t realize how precious gospel knowledge is unless you had to live and survive without it. We are working to help J*** to be baptized in March- hopefully on the 15th. He has some concerns we’re trying to help him work through, but I believe he’ll make the right decision. He has such a strong testimony. If I am here to see his baptism I know I will cry.
So...something I want to say is that sometimes I feel bad for writing home so often about my struggles out here in the field. Sometimes I just feel so weak and a little embarrassed. I just want to be honest though and I really want to share my experiences here. This mission has changed me and it is a result of the experiences – both good and bad, easy and hard. But it’s not so much that the mission has just changed me. I’ve allowed myself to be changed. That’s something I’ve come to realize is that we can experience something but we choose how the experience will affect us. Just like Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel. They experienced so many similar things but look at how Nephi was changed as compared to his brothers.
I see challenges as blessings. Mom you just sent me a handout on “Adversity” from your Sunday lesson. I have only read the first page , but I thank you so much for that. I have truly learned the essentialness of adversity. God chastens us because he loves us.
Thank you also so MUCH for the package you sent in the mail. I got it this week. I appreciate the love and support you send from home. You are all amazing and I draw upon your strength when I feel weak and need encouragement.
Also, a special thanks for the French learning materials. I have started going through the French missionary book the last couple days and my French is coming back so quickly and things actually make more sense now than they did before. I don’t know how or why but I have developed such a photographic memory on my mission and I just pick things up so quickly and remember them so easily. And I have been so blessed with learning the language here. And now that I am beginning to study the French language again I already feel that I am being blessed as I learn for the purpose of sharing the gospel.
I really do know that we are members of Jesus Christ’s church here on earth. I know that God lives. He loves us. It is really up to us to share the gospel with the world. We have a great responsibility. I love you so much. I hope you are doing well.
ICH LIEBE EUCH!!