Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Week 14 - **Insert Witty Title Here**

Previously on 'Ratatouille with Religious Themes and Less Rodents': Elder Hacker failed to send out a weekly email for Week 13 and apologizes profusely.  Now onto week 14....

Salut tout le monde! I hope everyone is doing well.

I had my first French haircut this week! It's like a normal haircut but smells faintly of wine :-)  The haircut industry in Caen is something fascinating actually. I haven't seen all of France yet so I can't speak for the rest of it, but here, the number of coiffures is insanely high. There are multiple on our street. With so many they really have to do something to set themselves apart, enter: A coiffure for MEN ONLY with a bunch of nautical themed stuff, A brilliantly pink coiffure where the cheapest haircut is 30 euros, a space themed one, one that had a Hindu theme, and my favorites: the 6 different coiffures who all claim to be the BEST AFRO COIFFURE. I've started taking photos of the best ones. Anyways, I don't actually have the vocabulary for haircuts and I realized this only as I found myself staring down a pair of scissors wielded by a friendly blonde coiffeuse. Describing what I wanted involved many hand gestures. In the end we left with two "fresh do's" as the kids say these days, and a meeting scheduled with the father of the husband of the lady who cut our hair. To meet up and talk theology and whatnot.

My companion getting a haircut.

Speaking of industries that are way bigger here than back in ol' Wyoming, they are many, many florists. And many, many grocery stores. There are a few super market equivalents scattered throughout the town, but all over the place there are butchers, bakers, fish sellers, fruit and produce vendors, cheese makers, and dairy stores. No candle stick makers yet. In the seedier parts of town there are the failed remnants of many of these buildings too. The abandoned and graffitied remains of a bygone florist or baker are scattered about. It's kinda sad to see them.

Wednesday was a day of illness. My companion had some minor leprosy or something and spent the majority of the day sleeping. I was confined to the apartment for the whole day and didn't really know what to do with myself. I made an omelette. I spent some extra time studying scriptures. I did some laundry as well. Then I sifted through records of people the missionaries before me had taught in the past or people the missionaries had gotten phone numbers from. I will note that there was some lazy recording keeping in years past. Calling a phone number knowing nothing but a name and the fact that at some point, who knows how long ago, this person had given their number to the missionaries is not very fruitful or fun. You never know what language the person speaks until after they answer too. And trying not to butcher the pronunciation of names was a challenge. An hour or so later I had somehow fumbled through a few successful phone calls and scheduled a few rendez-vous's.

I've been feeling a little ill too. Some deep mucus. It probably makes my French sound slightly better though.Tomorrow I've got a Paris trip! We have to go there for a medical exam of sorts. So we can stay here in France. It'll take the whole day really. And we will have some training activities too. It will be a nice break from the activity here in Caen.
We ported in Finland!  People were friendly but not too interested, unfortunately.

Part of me wonders: why would people read this [email/blog]? The emails and ramblings of a youth who has of his own enthusiastic accord abandoned his loved ones to throw himself into a foreign land where he can't communicate well yet? What's there to be gained from reading this? I know what I get out of writing it. I get a chance to communicate with all those beloved people far away. I get a chance to record thoughts and ideas and observations. It's therapeutic and stress reducing and fun. I hope that something I write influences or affects someone who reads it. Etc... Though what do you get out of reading it? You all get to vicariously visit a little bit of France? You get to see how young Elder Hacker is doing? I hope. hope. hope. that at the very least it causes a few smiles here and there. Thank you to those who do read! I am not sure if I write for you or myself, hopefully both!

So today, I'd like to encourage everybody to make a phone call. Call someone who you haven't talked to in a while, someone you know who's having a hard time, someone you probably wouldn't usually call but will do so at the encouragement of some random 20 year old fool in France. We're a social, loving people. People need to be encouraged. People need to feel love. People need to be supported. Even grumpy old people who already know everything. Even parents who have to pretend to have no weaknesses in front of their kids. Kids themselves. Which really includes all of us. We have this incredible ability to communicate, even more so incredible with all the technology of the day. We have a beautiful capacity to help, inspire, uplift, by vibrating gross cords in the back of our throats. So go call someone today. Share an uplifting spiritual message. Ask them how there doing. Express love and gratitude. On my mission talking to people who lack hope and faith and confidence, there are few things more powerful than the comfort and support and help of a friend. And as I invite people to find a friend in Jesus Christ, I invite you to go be someone else's friend.

And thus ends this weeks adventures. Will our heroes overcome the forces of evil? Will they give into despair? Will they ever learn to actually speak French? Who really was behind the murder? Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion.

With love and many weaknesses,

Elder Alex Hacker

Discover something new.

Yes, it's me at the beach/ocean. (Not the famous beaches at Normandy, though.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Week 12 - Another Exchange and Some Awesome People

Hello to all!— from the reasonably comfortable chairs of the church library.

In sharp contrast to the previous emails, I hope everyone had an average at best week. That you did not enjoy time with family and friends or doing the things you like. That you definitely did not find a time to relaxant release stress. And least of all: no one better have smiled this week.

I love you all so dearly.

This last week feels like it has gone by quickly. It started with another exchange. We swapped missionary companions with the duo who live and serve in Cherbourg right now. They have a car!  It was absolutely bizarre to ride shotgun in a car again after so many weeks of not touching a vehicle. It was more nostalgic and comforting than it really had any right to be. During the exchange we had the chance to do more service from the eclectic collector (See older entries. Also see topical guide on shameless self promotion). He has a pair of glasses he wears, and then a second pair he attaches to them that flip up and down. He also has a problem with his pants falling down. His cluttered messy home is looking a lot better and he's been very grateful. It's was nice to spend some time with him again.

On the hierarchy of unique old people I thought I'd already experienced the cream of the crop, I was proven wrong when I had the chance to meet a Mr Kerdiles. He physically, and personality-wise, resembled a peach somewhat. Soft short white hairs, rounded edges, genuine and friendly. This guy has seen it all. He's really lived a full life. He collects owls firstly. Unfortunately not real ones. Carved, sculpted, knit, embroidered, stuffed, drawn, painted, captured in whatever medium imaginable. He likes them because they represent wisdom. He had all sorts of war photos and memorabilia. A collection of swords. He pulled out his handwritten family history dating back to 1440. He was also a Mason. He had also his Masonic order stuff that he enthusiastically told us all about. His membership cards and whatnot. His walls were covered with things from all over the world, just waiting for a finger to be pointed and a simple "Qu'est que c'est?" to be asked. He lit up with enthusiasm at the slightest interest in his life and possessions. He gave me a magazine about spies which I didn't really want but I couldn't think of a polite way to say no thanks when out on the spot. We shared a spiritual message with him (a little difficult given his incredible ability for tangents. It's not so much that he can't focus but that he has just so much accumulated knowledge he can, and does, tangent off of every subject. He told us all about Viking Navigation at one point. I don't know the French vocabulary for Viking Navigation and was very lost.) and gave him a Book of Mormon. He was super excited to see that though. The idea of reading something and gaining more knowledge really appealed to him. He gave us some orange juice.

Then we went contacting! We prayed and thought we should head towards the center of town to try and find people who would be interested to listen. And low and behold, we had some awesome success! We found a bunch of people who were interested in talking. All of them were young too. We talked about prayer with Candice. It was her birthday that day too. We talked about scripture study and how we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father with a woman named Ariel. We ran into a young Muslim and a Catholic who was from Brazil who were way interested but had to catch there bus. It was the best contacting experience I've had by far... Up until the Thursday after the exchange that is! We had felt that Wednesday night during planning that we should set the goal of finding three new people today to teach and sharing 5 lessons in the street. Lofty goals especially given our rather unimpressive track record. But we put our trust in the Lord and set them. The day produced no fruits until 14h00. My companion felt impressed that we should get off at this bus stop and contact a very specific route. Along that route we found person after person who was willing to listen. A strange man with an eye problem who didn't own a phone but gave us his address. A Catholic old man who was very kind. A portly Uncle Vernon with a killer mustache. A young Muslim boy staring off into distance. A happy 7th Day Adventist. Fascinating conversations with fascinating people. Wonderful glorious people.

Lately I've been giving some thought to just how orchestrated and planned this life is. I don't have an answer to that question. I attribute our ability to find and successfully invite people to this gospel during the exchange and after fully to the Lord. Elder Wheeler and I were just doing our best to be instruments in his hands. It was his direction that sent us where we were supposed to be. It was his spirit that accompanied our testimonies and allowed our words to touch hearts. Both the people we met that day and the confused bumbling missionaries that talked to them had carved out through time and space their paths that lead them there, to meet at the same time— by their own efforts, by their agency: We are all free agents. But here on my mission living on that cusp of divine intervention and coincidence, it is really beautiful to see the impossibly complex human clockwork behind some of the encounters. There are things in this life that are not just coincidence. I testify to you now that there are events-good and bad, or people-good and bad that will happen to each one of us that are not by accident. They are supposed to happen and are put in place by our Father in Heaven. Both the stumbling blocks and the great forces of good.  An unseen and oft unrecognized conductor steers this unimaginably complex orchestra. I would take this moment to thank that conductor. To thank him for the trials that have prepared me for this mission. For the encounters we had this week. I invite all of the readers to take a moment and look for the hand of the Lord in your past— or if that's not your cup of theological tea, imagine for a moment that there was someone who loved you infinitely, even a Father in Heaven, nudging blessings and trials here and there into your life to give you the chance to become who you are, to give you the chance to grow, I implore you to just entertain the notion. Think of one of these experiences, and then tell someone else about it. It's our job, and our great privilege to share our lights with others. Do it. Tell your kids a story. Tell your Mom a story. Tell your friend(s) or coworker or enemy a story. Or me! I can always do with more emails. Cough. Storytelling is about the coolest thing ever and I testify of its potential to change lives and be a force of good. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

A la prochaine les amis,


Elder Alex Hacker

(Like a boss)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Week 11 - Poudlard, Language, and District Meeting

The most "important" thing this week, so important in fact I place it before the traditional greeting, is that I learned that Hogwarts is not called Hogwarts in French. The iconic literature of Harry Potter has been seriously altered. Plain and precious truths were lost. Most proper nouns transfer over smoothly and sound cooler even in French: You just say the name as nasal as possible, don't pronounce the last two letters, and twirl your thin mustache. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Hogwarts is known in French as Poudlard. And that's really all there is to know about France.  (I kid!)

Hello my faithful readers! If you are a less than faithful reader feel free to simmer in guilt for a bit.

I wish you all a good day. And a good week to follow! This week started off with a district meeting in Paris. Interviews with the mission president ran long so there wasn't any time to go wander Parisian monuments but even the little taste in between the church and the metro and the train station is a fun experience. Paris has a very different feel and energy than here in Caen. The mission president and his wife shared advice for people we have been teaching, gave counsel on assorted personal problems, clarified a few policy changes, and all in all got us all excited to go back on the streets and share the gospel with those who will listen. It was a refreshing and fun experience.

As Victor Hugo warned there are indeed miserable people here in France! There are also happy people. And all sorts of people in between. I can understand when people speak reasonably well now! Provided the subject stays either general or religious oriented. The other caveat is that there are many different accents of French spoken here. A linguistic melting pot of Spanish, African, Arabic, Russian, German, and all kinds of other European accents make comprehension a little harder. It's also cool to ponder on how communication is just different here. With so many languages clashing. I've heard people who were speaking English to me and I thought it was a foreign language. I have heard people speaking French and it turns out it was Arabic. I've heard something I swore was Spanish or something but was apparently just really fast and slurred French. It's weird being in a place where not every couple of two people chosen randomly could communicate with each other. Or could only partially communicate. Occasionally, there is a fair amount of pointing at things. Like infants.

I have been meaning to tell you, since I was asked awhile ago and forgot to answer, that the shower pressure in our apartment is good---in fact, it is far too good and will likely only go downhill from here when I someday move to a new apartment.  I can even adjust the water temperature to specific degrees!

The food continues to be good here!  I afford myself the right to try a new pastry once a week or every few days. Those are never disappointing. I've had a lemon meringue thing, a tartlette au Normandie (almost apple pie), and a raspberry thing. At a lunch with some members recently I had a carrot salad, a bed of super amazing sauerkraut with sausages and ham and potatoes on top, and a homemade apple cake. They like apples in Normandy.

This p day we went to Liseux. It's a smaller city 30-ish minutes or so away! It has an incredible Basilica that looms over the whole town. We are trying to go to see Mont Sainte Michelle (Spelling?) and to set up a visit to the war beaches. The difficulty is we need someone to drive us there.   

Me outside the Basilica in Liseux

Me inside the Basilica in Liseux.  The colors inside were amazing!

French countryside here is pretty hilly, and the city has a lot of elevation change in general too. The sky is pretty here. It's usually pretty cloudy— I've bid Adieu (which is French! As far as I understand it was originally à Dieu, literally to God, like the most hardcore goodbye one can say) to the blue skies of Wyoming. There is a fair bit of wind which chases the clouds so the sky changes frequently. 

One quick story.  It was my turn to decide where to go for contacting.  So I prayed and thought that we should go near a cemetery to the north of us. So we go there and no one is there. And as we have been going along, I have been slowly feeling worse and worse about my decision. I really thought and felt as though it had been inspired and no one was there when we get there. So discouraged, we go into the cemetery to see what it looks like. It's something! More stone and marble than grass. The graves range from unmarked dirt mound to small houses. We walk around a bit and say another prayer asking if we should look for someone here or go elsewhere. My companion thought we should stay and look in the cemetery. So we do. And eventually we find an older lady who we contact. And she wasn't interested. So we go to leave and we're both discouraged, me terribly so, when I feel like we should go talk to her again. So ignoring the fact it's tacky to contact in a cemetery and it's obvious from a mile away we coming to talk to her again, we do so. Then we end up having a small plan of salvation lesson. And it was a great although small experience.  But although it wasn't  earthshaking, it was definitely what we were there to do. And it was a great chance to learn for us. To always listen to promptings. To have faith. To practice talking and testifying. I'm not sure if we were supposed to speak to her for our benefit or for hers. But it was an answer to my prayers. It would have been pretty discouraging if we'd left without accomplishing anything when I felt so strongly we were supposed to be there. 

I'm so happy to be here. It's still mind blowing ever day.   I love every day here. It's exhausting physically, spiritually, and mentally.   And there are so many great people even just in the streets.  The boulanger who lives down the road is a lovely woman from England. She speaks super French and English. Stephanie has been baking here for 8 years and likes it a lot. We also have a Turkish Kebab man who lives 20 feet from the apartment building. Whenever I walk by we wave at each other. I love to walk by so I can wave at them.  We are teaching several amis, but they all have challenges and impediments to progressing.  Salvation is a lot harder in practice.....

I have noticed two things in the streets a lot. The first one is cigarettes. There are a lot of cigarettes— thankfully pavement cannot get lung cancer. The second thing, is orange peels. There are many pro-citrus people here. The rinds of many orange, clementine, and their kindred lay in the roads. To see the bright orange peels contrasted against an ugly backdrop is unusual. And it gives me hope. When I see something beautiful in a hard time, it's slightly easier to keep going. When your hope wanes, combat despair by finding beautiful things, and give thanks for said beautiful thing. That sentence is the epitome of "easier said than done". It won't always fix but it sure does help. Look for the orange rinds in the field of cigarette butts. Turn to people who can help you, who want to help you: sometimes friends, sometimes family, and always the Savior. He suffered so that he can be someone to turn to in these times of difficulty.

I invite you to make a list of 5 metaphorical "orange peels"- grapefruit peels will suffice-that you can look to either now or the next time despair creeps in. Mentally or write it down if you actually want to remember. More or less than 5 will work too. I guess I encourage you to take some time to reflect and identify where you can go for joy and hope. Remember them and visit them often.

Until next week!
Elder Alex Hacker