Monday, January 25, 2016

Week 10 - French Role Playing Games, Cathedrals, and Bears. Oh my!

From the desk of Elder Hacker,

When you read this, stop whatever you're doing: be it driving, holding infants, surgery, etc—whatever unimportant thing it be, and take a deep breath. Relax those shoulders. Just release stress for like 25 seconds. Yoga. Get those sun salutations in. Then go back to your tightly coiled lives of parenting and school and whatnot.
Greeting from Caen, France

This week has gone by pretty fast. There's not really much perception of time while on a mission I've discovered. France continues to be a wonderful and overwhelming adventure. French old ladies are either super atheist or super Catholic I've discovered. There's no in between. The buildings are still wonderfully aged. The cheeses are wonderfully aged. There is an alarmingly high frequency of public
urination. All the usual goodies.

Selfie from the castle wall

Looking down from the top of the castle

View of Caen from the castle

We had our first exchange this week! After an hour of wistfully staring at French countryside aboard the budget Hogwarts express we arrived in Cherbourg! We swapped missionary companions and pretty soon Elder Bise, a native French speaker from the South of France, and I were off in the streets chatting with strangers about religion. Elder Bise looks a bit like Neville Longbottom from the first half of the Harry Potter saga. He is very nice and had many great wisdoms to share. We eventually found ourselves doing service for a cooky old fellow with an apartment full of junk. He had collected too much stuff and wouldn't throw any of it away. So we passed a few hours doing that. We sifted through mountains of French comic books and games and assorted magazines. He was big into role playing games. I asked him a few times to explain what something was and he would just light up! It
was amazing to see the joy this man got out of fumbling through explanations of "Empires Galactique" and how Stamina was different than Charisma and how exactly the character creation process worked. We then shared a spiritual message on how having faith in God, and turning towards him during times of difficulties, was a source of hope. We invited him to church as well. We ate at a Chinese Buffet there in Cherbourg and spent the rest of the day in the streets contacting with strangers.

I had the chance to go tour the inside of a cathedral just a few hours before the writing of this email. I thought they were mind blowing from the outside. I never realized just how large they are inside. It's cavernous. There is such intricate details everywhere. I don't have the Catholic or architectural vocabulary to describe it properly. There had to have been a buttress or two there. The age and history of every stone there was amazing. It had been used as a shelter during bombing. It had existed for centuries. To think of all the speeches given, confessions offered, hearts healed, tears shed, hope found there in that one building was really something. Intricate stained glass is something that really can't be done justice in photos.

Selfie from the train

Church was great yesterday.  The ward is some 40 people I think. Everyone speaks French save one English speaker. The missionaries translate for him during church. The bishop talks super fast and so I'm still learning to understand him well.  He's nice and super dedicated to his ward.  We have Soirée familiale on Tuesday nights. 3 or so members plus the missionaries come to the church and we share a spiritual thought then we eat éclairs. It sounds humble and it kind of is. But I've loved it every time I've gone. There are not very many youth in the ward.  The ward is nice and everyone is friendly. It's difficult to visit a lot of them because they are spread out and we have no car, only trains.

Street contacting is a challenge here, as I had heard it would be.  I would say that people respond like this: 35% of them are very much not interested when we try to speak to them- either entirely ignoring us or saying something like "I don't have time/not interested".  45% of them respond pretty friendly and listen until you mention religion, then they usually politely decline. 10% would be older ladies who stop and squint to read your name tag, then they look shocked or horrified or angry upon recognizing the name.  Usually then we get some chastisement or else they beat a hasty retreat.  About 10% of people we contact stay and talk to us more about something--sometimes briefly and sometimes for longer.  Sometimes we say a prayer with them. Sometimes they take a card or give us a (hopefully not fake) phone number.  Regardless of their response I try to stay encouraged because the people here are great and I know that there are some out there who will be ready and willing to hear about the Savior.

We are still teaching our Russian investigator. He's still confused by most everything we say. He's taught us a few Russian words. We were talking about how to love others the other day, and how we could find happiness in that. He paused, furrowed his brow a bit, and said, "I don't know what it means to be happy." My heart broke. He told us a sad story about how he used to love others but people would mistreat him and now he doesn't trust others as much. We're working on setting
up a Skype call with the Russian Elders.

À la prochaine,
Elder Alex Hacker

P.S.  The bears were not actually there.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Week 9 - A Tragic Lack of Mimes

To whom it may concern,

Hello beloved friends and family. I hope that this message finds you in good health. Happy belated New Year. I hope that some of your resolutions have yet to be given up on. It did not take very long for me to 1) forget which week it is and 2) not write an email for a week (to everyone). The latter of which I apologize for. My transition into a foreign country, a new language, and a whole new world of bread products has been wild and taxing and the best and the worst. I'll spare the world the description of how the language here is not the one I studied (though actually deliver said description in an ironic manner).

Me and a castle

First off: France is the best. I love the people here. I love the buildings, the streets, not-so-much-the-smell, the history, the language, the people, the public transit system, the green moss that covers everything here. There is a cultural, architectural, and olfactory diversity that I've never seen before in my life. There are less mimes than I was led to believe. There are tons of people who carry baguettes with them. I am serving in Caen right now (pronounced like the Star Trek villain "Khan") and see 4 or more people walking with baguettes daily. The average level of fashion is much higher. The people here are very proud of their independence—that is reflected in the driving very clearly. These cars are not stopped by sidewalks, pedestrians, other vehicles, or laws. The driving is beautifully wild. People tend not to smile in the street, so as when I smile at them the ones who reciprocate are that much sweeter. It's amazing. I feel so blessed to have this occasion to serve here and to serve The Lord.
From a park we walk through.  Not sure what the building is yet.

Cool tree on a hill in a park

Speaking of the more religious aspects and missionary work is general, it is very interesting here. There is in general a lack of religious interest. There are many devout Catholics too. We contacted into a Catholic priest the other day Then the oddballs here and there. There is a subset of immigrants, generally refugees from Nigeria who speak English and are usually very God-loving. One of the people who we have been teaching is Russian and speaks pretty broken English. He looks very gruff, but that exterior is deceiving.  We were teaching him the other day and he asked the simple question, in broken and labored English/French, "What do I need to do to live avec Dieu [with God]?" There was something so sincere in that question. A almost childlike sense of humility. Hearing a scary looking Russian cross languages to express that concern, worry, question, idea, of his heart was touching. I feel I haven't learned much about how to actually be a missionary yet, how to actually invite others to come unto Christ, but it seems apparent from our Russian friend, that we need to be humble. Not just humble in the not being proud of what you've done way, but humble in the willing to believe, willing to search, willing to try way, like a child. These two weeks have gone by in no time. I've already been changed beyond belief, and I hope that I've been able to change others. Not by mine own efforts but with the aide of the Lord.

There's a general conference talk,  Hope Ya Know, We Had A Hard TIme from October 2008. This was something I found helpful before my mission and here on my mission, in this first week of absolute panic. I'd suggest you all watch it or read it if you have the time. Especially if you find yourself in a hard time right now.

Sorry there is not more time to tell stories, describe my companion, etc... My best wishes and prayers extend to all of you. Keep going!

Elder Hacker


In a separate email to his parents, Alex answered a few questions they had asked.  Here's what he had to say:

Have you found anything tasty or interesting to eat?  Eaten any good pastries?  or bread? or sweets?

You might have just as well asked if there's any air to breath here. I haven't really eaten out much though I've seen a so many different types of food advertised. Indian, Lebanese, Chinese, Libyan, All kinds of African cuisines. There's a too-go couscous place on our street. I've eaten a Kebab, which is not a stick with stuff on it. It's a bit like the gyro style lamb spinning on a stick. Only better and more artery-clogging. Then they throw it in a crepe, in a pile on a plate, in a tortilla thing, in a pita, or in a loaf of bread. It was as unhealthy as it was delicious. Also it's far too affordable for its own good. There's a boulangerie just down the street where we get baguettes. It's 2.05 for two. And they are wonderful. Eating them just plain, they are arguably the best bread I've ever had. Sometimes we throw on some cheese of some sort, or some jam (the jam aisle is so large here. They have pineapple, kiwi, watermelon, all kinds of jams in every combination), or Nutella. I've had pain au chocolat -chocolate croissant- and it was so flaky and delicious. The food is really awesome here.

What kind of beds do you have?  How have you been sleeping?

We have four bunk beds (two sets) in the apartment. However my companion is too tall for them so he uses an extra long floor mattress. The first week I slept terribly. Jet lag and other adjusting. Now it's been generally good, though I still wake fairly often.

Have you seen anything interesting in the town?  It looks like there's some kind of castle/fort thing in your city--what's that?

The town has a lot of interesting things. There's a half cathedral, where the other part was destroyed by the war. There's another 1/64 (approximate) of a cathedral where basically everything but the door was destroyed. There's a castle, which is a across from another full and functioning cathedral. There are tons of huge cathedrals on the skyline. Like 4 at almost all times when you have a view. There was a Ferris wheel for the holidays. There are lots of museums.

Have you met the sisters in the city yet?  Or met your district leaders yet?  Have you had a chance to go anywhere outside the city (to see members outside of the city or something, maybe)?

I have met the sisters! Several times. I knew one of them in the MTC.  They are great. I've also met the district leaders. So far I've been back to Paris for a mission conference once. That was very cool. Elder Patrick Kearon [from the Europe Area Presidency and First Quorum of the Seventy] came and spoke. Got everyone all excited.

Alex having lunch with other missionaries at the mission conference with Elder Kearon (photo courtesy of the Mission's Facebook Page)

How do you get around?  Did you buy like a bus pass or something?

Lots of buses! I've got a bus pass.  We also do a fair amount of walking.   Like right now I'm doing my emailing from a McDonald's using their wifi.  The McDonald's is a five minute walk from the castle. The castle is a five minute walk from the church. Which is a 25 minute walk from where we live. 
Inside of a bus

Delicious potato wedges and fries at McDonald's in Caen

The McDonald's over here is just a little more stylish than the ones back home

Monday, January 11, 2016

Week 8 - First Email from France

Bonjour from Caen!

My first email from France.  I'm writing this from the iPad that I got from the mission office.

The plane ride was really cool. I sat by the window next to a Souer I knew reasonably well from another district. She fell asleep on me multiple times. I couldn't sleep much. The "roll" they included was a travesty among bread products— I feel qualified saying that now that we have eaten French baguettes and what not. The toilet on that airplane was more like a closet than I thought.  I don't really know what I did to pass the time. For a while I talked with the sister seated next to me.

And then at one point there was a temporary seat exchange and I got to talk to some others. I signed a few people's yearbook equivalent things. All in all,  it was awesome. Watching out the window while descending was breathtaking.

There were no problems at all going through customs and everyone there was nice.  When I got into the airport, it was just weird to see so many people there.  There was a whole mall there at the airport.

At the airport there was a noticeable jump in the average fashion level of everyone. The airport was full of mimes. And everyone held baguettes. One of those three statements is true.

I also realized very quickly that whatever these people were speaking was not something I could understand.

The mission president and his wife were happy to see us.  Handshakes and welcomes and thank yous all around.  They gave us some delicious croissants with chocolate in them.

We were then driven from the airport.  They usually take the train as far as I could understand, but it they drove us this time. We went to the mission home(?) I'm not sure where it was.  The parking garage for that was almost catacombs. Everything here is tight and skinny. From soda bottles, to bathrooms, to streets and parking. Not the people though. I honestly do not know how someone can drive here...and I'd thought I'd seen crazy driving in Utah.

We did a street contacting thing then. I and the other missionaries then each had a brief visit with the mission president.  We ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant! It was lovely and they had all sorts of variety and plenty of things I did not recognize what they were. After that, half the sisters and all the elders were shipped off to the hotel. For the first time in many weeks I used a nice shower. It was heavenly. The hotel was modern and very cool.

We didn't do much else that night besides crash. We were dead tired. The next morning we woke up early, ate at a very swanky continental breakfast with carafes of orange juice and cheeses and crepes and pastries— it could have been normal for France though. Took the train towards middle Paris. They took us to Consecration Hill, as they have named it. It was a very spiritual and peaceful mediation. It looks out over Paris and was really an awesome view. There was a pretty sweet old church building there too but we didn't really spend much time with it. Then we went to the visitors center I believe. It's also the chapel for the Versailles ward. They took all the blues [what they call new missionaries in France] and we had a little prep session, then they brought us into the chapel. We sat on the left of the room,  while the mysterious soon-to-be-companions sat on the right. Then they projected up photos of a city and had a dramatic person by person announcement of who was going to serve where. It was a pretty cool experience.

After that we had Subway and then it was off to Caen. We took a train. It was like a less pretty Hogwarts Express. The countryside was gorgeous. It's as stereotypical France as you can get. Green with old beautiful buildings. It took two hours I think to get there.

As you saw from the picture, my companion is very tall.  For once, I have to walk faster to keep up with someone.

The apartment in Caen is ridiculously nice. It has two floors, Ikea furniture, in house laundry, two bathrooms with lovely showers, two rooms with toilets, a spacious kitchen, nice views. It's crazy. It's just the two of us who live here. The bed is comfy and they gave me sheets.

Inside our apartment

View through the window of the apartment

The ward is maybe some 50 people. The building is very beautiful. I've been told they don't do carpets here in Caen because they'll get all moldy, so it's all wood and tile. The members are all friendly but I can't really talk to them well yet.

We have 3 amis [investigators]. We had four but one just dropped. He felt he could never quit smoking and his only income came from his parents-donating that as tithing didn't feel right. One speaks mostly Russian. One is from Nigeria and he speaks English. The other is French.

I'm excited to be here, but the challenges of learning to speak the language well and of developing to be a successful missionary are certainly real.  I have been praying hard for help from my Heavenly Father and know that He will help me.

Until next week,

Elder Hacker

P.S.  Although I can only write email on P-days, I should have opportunities during the week where I can read email that people have sent.  So write during the week if you feel like it!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Week 7 update - More first photos from France

The Facebook page for the Paris France Mission has posted some new photos of the new missionary arrivals there, including some of Alex

Alex and his first companion, Elder Jackson

Alex (about halfway back on the right) and the other new missionaries eating out for their first dinner in France
Alex at "Consecration Hill"--this is a hill high overlooking Paris

Monday, January 4, 2016

Week 7 - Last email, Call from the Airport, Arrival in France, and First City Assignment to: Caen !

Hello family!

So far as I understand this is the last email I'll be able to send until the next Monday-- after I've spent a week there in France. I'm equal extremes nervous and excited. Happy New Year! I hope everyone stayed up late and had fun and set some good goals. They gave me a little mini p day here right before I depart so I won't be sending out a big group email this time. I'm grateful for all the love and support you've shown me. I included some photos. one I took just now as I email this, and another from our last day with one of my teachers and dear friends, Frere Kellet.

Au revoir! Avec beaucoup d'amour,

Elder Alex Hacker

Alex and his companion and Frere Kellet, one of their teachers

Alex and his companion in the laundry room sending his last emails from the MTC

Alex's district enjoying a sack lunch in their classroom

Alex and his companion with Junichi Maeda who would roleplay as an investigator so they could practice their teaching

[Parent's Notes]

Alex left the MTC and flew to France today, Monday, January 4.  He had a direct flight from Salt Lake into Paris.

Alex got to call and talk to us from the airport for about 45 minutes before his flight left.  It was great hearing his voice again, even though it hadn't been too long since Christmas.  We had plenty of questions to ask him about the MTC and about going to France, and here are some of the thing he shared with us.

He was able to get everything packed well, and had no problems with getting his luggage underweight and checked in.  He said that it was strange being in the airport,  with so many different  people all around, and that everyone was very friendly towards him and the other missionaries.

He told us that he had continued to do some tie trading, and that there had been a particularly successful session of tie trading last week, where he had broken the "trade embargo" that an English elder had in place (that elder had previously come close to, but had never actually traded any ties before--Alex got him to finally trade one time).  Alex said that although he had fun trading ties, he never traded any of the ties that were gifts or that had other sentimental value for him, and he thought that he had a great set of ties to have in the mission field.

We talked about the "secret stash" that had been found--turns out it was in an adjacent room and that the room he was in didn't have any secret stash in the vent--so he and the other elders in his room decided to start one up.  Among the treasures they left behind for the next set of elders to find was a small penguin that poops candy.

He told us that at the MTC for the phone call, there were lots of missionaries in the room all simultaneously talking on phones.  There was someone there helping out by watching to see if any missionaries got too sad, and if so, that person would go over and try to offer some support/comfort.  We told him that at least he didn't seem too sad during our call, but he told us that he was just doing a good job hiding it.

Alex got a chance to talk to all of individually and we got to say our goodbyes to him.  Alex said he was equal parts excited and nervous about leaving for France.  We made him promise to keep emailing us.

In France, the P-Day (the day that Alex can write emails) for missionaries is on Monday (France time).  This means we probably won't hear anything directly from him until Monday, Jan 11th.   Alex's email hasn't changed (and will remain the same for his whole mission).

UPDATE on 1/6/16:
Alex's flight arrived in Paris at 10:52 am local time (2:52 am our time), so it was about a 10 hour flight.

The Misson's facebook page posted these pictures of the group that arrived in France:

Additionally, we received this email message from the Mission President:

To the Family of Elder Hacker

Sister Babin and I were delighted to welcome your son , Elder Alex Patrick Hacker , into the France Paris Mission on 05 Jan 2016. He and his MTC companions were enthusiastic and all arrived in good health.  He spent his  first day eating some good food, visiting with me, contacting non-members in the heart of Paris, and sharing testimonies.  We enjoyed his spirit.

The next morning, after a mission orientation, Elder Hacker left for his  first assignment to work in the Caen 4* Area with Elder Jackson, who will be his  trainer.  Their apartment address is:

Les Missionnaires
80 rue Caponière
14000 Caen

Any packages or letters you would like to send will reach your missionary at this address.

Please do not send packages or mail to the mission home at Onze Novembre.  Instead you may send them to the Mission Bureau at: 131 Boulevard Carnot, 78110 Le Vesinet, FRANCE

We feel very privileged to work with your  son .  We also realize the responsibility we share with you to help him  continue to grow spiritually as he  faithfully performs his  duties.  May the Lord inspire us all to sustain him  in this challenging and exciting assignment.  We hope you will join Sister Babin and me in praying each day for your son , his  companion, investigators, and all of us serving in the France Paris Mission.

A positive, supportive letter from home every week does wonders to sustain a missionary’s morale.  Proverbs 25:25 states:  As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country. If you have any questions, or if we can assist you in any way, please contact us at our office (001-331-3480-0483) or home (001-331-3976-8402).


Frédéric Jean Babin

President, France Paris Mission



There were also these instructions for sending packages:

As you know, the missionaries cherish the letters and packages that they receive from their families and we are well aware of the time, effort and sometimes even sacrifices that these packages are for you.

To be sure they arrive in a timely manner and in the best conditions, please follow these recommendations:

1 - Make sure your shipment is properly stamped and paid for.

2 - Verify that the address of the sender and the recipient are written legibly. Write clearly:

Les Missionnaires Elder … or Sister …

3 - On the customs declaration write:  Missionary Personal Supplies

4 - Do not forget to write the country of destination and of origin.

5 - Make sure your package is securely packed.

6 - Never send cash by post. It is prohibited under French law.

7 - Remember that the bigger the package, the greater the risk of it being damaged.

8 - Send the package to the address of the apartment of your missionary and not to the mission office. Packages sent to the mission office will not be forwarded to the missionaries by mail.

9 – Don’t send packages within the 15 days before a transfer. Transfers are every 6 weeks. Ask your missionary to keep you informed of transfer dates.

10 - Remember to send Christmas, Easter, and birthday packages at least 3 weeks early.

11 - If you can, it would be very nice to include in your package something for your  missionary's  son companion. In fact, some of our missionaries receive no support or packages from their loved ones and this could be a support for them, as well as very beneficial to their relationship with their companion.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Week 6 - Mostly Christmas Things (last email from the MTC)

Salut tout le monde!

I hope everyone had a good Christmas this year and that this email finds you all well!

The first noteworthy event would have to be the game of hallway soccer we played. We finished our studies one eve and were about to depart for the gym when we heard it was closed. So instead we decided to play 5 on 5 hallway soccer. The soccer ball was like a grapefruit. Only in size though. All other attributes were soccer ball-like. The hallway was not at all like a grapefruit and was maybe an arm's span wide. Needless to say it was an overly crowded mess with much shin kicking and toe stubbing. It was absolutely a blast. It was amazingly fun! And the even more amazing part: the keeper of the opposing team was a Tongan elder who none of us had spoken to until the night of this game. As much fun as we were all having, this man was having more than all of combined. He looked like he was about to die of joy whenever the ball came near him. I'm not sure how he played- he was quite good- considering every time the ball approached him he was a fit of giggles, joy, and enthusiasm. I never learned his name. I was just so impressed upon by someone who experienced such intense emotion from something so simple as a game of unorthodox soccer.

The second non-Christmas event here would be the secret stash hidden in the air vents. It's a serious vent too. Several screws had to be done away with to access it. As it turns out there is a secret tradition of stashing things in the vent-- it's a fire hazard I'm sure, but a fun one at that. We found a football from 2007 covered in signatures from missionaries who had found it and put it back, a rather ugly tie that you wear once then sign, and a few other odds and ends. All in all it brought in some much needed pre-Christmas fun to the table.

This has been one of the most memorable holiday seasons I've had. I have spent a holiday away from family and friends this way before-- that was at times something I lamented this week. I have also never spent a holiday closer the the Savior Jesus Christ then this last week. Never have I felt so much gratitude for the gift that our Father in Heaven gave for us: the life, the example, and the sacrifice of his only begotten son. The spirit has been so very strong this time of year. I have so often been moved by acts of kindness these few days.

I had the chance to listen to many devotionals. Elder Bednar spoke. We had the opportunity to text him questions; they passed out a bunch of cellphones for us to ask questions on. The MTC in Ghana got a chance to email questions in too. Then he just picked out the ones he felt he need answer and answered them. It was very cool. He spoke about agency, and how we have a moral imperative to not only avoid evil, but to be an active force of good. In scripture study, in prayer, and in action, we must be agents. We must search and find out for ourselves. We must seek to be good. Seek to grow our faith by acting on it. Seek to share the truths that we do know with others. He spoke about Jesus Christ. And how we can come to gain a personal testimony of him- and a relation with him too- through studying his example, through prayer, and through action. Through loving others. Through trying to be like him. Elder Bednar talked about the message of hope and happiness the gospel brings. Jesus Christ has literally felt every pain and sorrow and woe and set of emotions everyone of you has ever felt. There is always someone who understands how you are feeling. And that person is rooting for you. That person is waiting for you to learn and grow from your struggles. That person has arms extended. That person, Jesus Christ, waits to help you through your difficulties. Here in the next few days, I ask you to take something that weighs on your mind: an unresolved sin, a cause of despair, a pain, a tragedy, a fear... and take it to the Savior. Pray with faith. Speak from you heart. Ask for aid. Express your pains. Ask for forgiveness. Ask for help in healing your heart. I say, and challenge, these things in the name of Jesus Christ.

Au revoir!
Elder Alex Hacker

The entire group of French speaking missionaries bound for places all over the world
Alex and his hometown friend Mark Kim (who's on his way to a Korean speaking mission in Vancouver)
PARENT'S NOTE: We were able to speak with Alex for 30 minutes by phone on Christmas.  He sounded great.  He was very appreciative of everyone who has sent him emails, mail, and packages, and wanted to make sure that we passed that on in case he ran out of time to email everyone personally.

Alex got his travel plans.  He will be flying out on a direct flight to France on the evening of Tuesday, January 5.  Since the P-day (the day that missionaries can send email) in France is on a Monday, and since Alex will be leaving from the MTC next Tuesday (the day he usually get to email on), we won't likely get another email from him until Monday, Jan 11.  There will, however, hopefully be some news and pictures about him and the other missionaries in his group arriving in France posted on the Paris France Facebook page when they make it in next week.