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.

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