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!
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|