Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Week 19 - Quick update

Sorry my emails the last couple of weeks have been short.  Things have been very busy and it's been difficult to get the time to write and send much.

It has actually been quite sunny recently, with hardly any rain. Which makes missionary work much much easier. People actually show up when it doesn't rain and they will occasionally stop and listen/talk. In the rain and wind it is nigh impossible to get people to stop to listen.

We have had some special days focused heavily on finding new amis, along with the rest of the mission doing the same thing.  At one point we had two days where we did nothing but contact people. That is exhausting. It's lots of physical exertion. It is lots of emotional stress: really loving these people and baring your soul through testimony met often my disinterest or rejection.

Since I last wrote I gave my first talk in church in French and we also taught gospel principles class. I attempted to speak about trials during sacrament meeting, and it went pretty well I guess.  You know you might be in trouble with giving a talk in a foreign language when you have to ask the Bishop to repeat what he said when he asks you to speak (because you didn't understand it all the first time).

I feel in many ways that at times I have made it through only by the grace of The Lord. Physically,
mentally, and spiritually, he has done all the heavy lifting.

I don't want to make it sound like it has all been super difficult these past two weeks--there were many cool experiences and many fun moments as well.  I went and saw the big WWII memorial here in Caen today. This one covered the whole war and not just the invasion of Normandy. Man was
that cool. Horrifying and sad at parts too. It really makes me realize just how important that event was in history. How it has defined generations since. Super super cool. There was a nice park adjacent to the memorial that we went and explored as well. Complete with small hedge maze and mini golf.

As I am sure you know, we were completely safe here in France during the bombings in Brussels.  In terms of mission policies, there haven't been any changes for missionaries in France because of the Brussels attacks, but I'm not sure about Belgium.  The mission has closed the work in Brussels for the time being.  The attacks were obviously very big news here in France, and the wards/branches have asked everybody to pray. I saw Elder Norby, who is now in an artificial coma, just two weeks ago. It is different when terrorism hurts someone you count as a friend. Maybe it shouldn't feel different but it does.  The whole mission is praying for the quick recovery of the injured missionaries.

Thank you all for your support, prayers, and love.

Elder Hacker

My district at the church--the numbers we are holding up show the number of change periods we have completed in France

My district out to eat together

Monday, March 14, 2016

Week 17 Travelling and a Challenge

Hello all,

The last few weeks have been busy with travels, including this past week down to Paris for zone conference.

Zone conference was fun. Spiritually refreshing. It's always fun to go see Paris, even if just for a little bit. A few of the experienced missionaries and the AP's (we have an AP trio right now) gave presentations. The missionaries going home bore testimony. President and Sister Babin gave their lovely presentations as well. Then we went and ate pizza. They had ordered a bunch from Dominos I believe. It was very good and a nice break from the subway subs they had used in previous Paris trips. The cheese one was particularly good I thought. Missionaries went off contacting around a big Book of Mormon sign. Then we had a mad sprint through the train station to catch our train.

A couple of weeks ago I had a trip down to Paris for my legalities--is is a process of a short medical review and paperwork so that my stay in France will be legal.  All of the missionaries who arrive on the same day in France go and do their legalities on the same day, so I essentially got to have a little reunion with all the MTC buddies. Everyone took turns talking about their companions and the challenge of the language and stories about experiences with people,  It was nice to hear how they are all doing and see pictures of their cities and hear about their amis [investigators]. The actual medical part was mostly waiting. A wee urine sample. Pun. An X-ray. Looking sufficiently confused at nurses until they repeat whatever they had just asked me to do.

A couple of Sundays ago, we had stake conference.  It was held in a rented opera house thing right next to Versailles. We parked in the Versailles parking lot. Two members of the Quorum of the Seventy came and spoke. You could tell what members of the audience understood English because when they would tell a joke there where two ripples of laughter: the initial response and then the one from the translation shortly after. It was very nice. All kinds of inspiring. It really got me fired up for the work again. There was a particularly beautiful choir number. They changed up the stake presidency so the old ones and the new ones all bore testimony. I got to see two of the old MTC buddies again on that trip too.  Also on that trip, I got to see where the temple is being built.  Very cool!

As a Preach My Gospel Missionary I am supposed to engage people. There's a cycle: ask a direct commitment, talk about the blessings that can come into our lives, and then testify. So all cheese aside I'm going to do that. I'd like to invite you  to search and pray for a missionary opportunity. I promise that in sharing the gospel with someone you know, that you will find that your own personal testimony will be strengthened and that of your family. I promise that the Lord will provide you with the help required. I have seen this gospel change lives here on my mission. It has changed my life. It is the very reason we exist on this earth. It is our right as human beings to hear this gospel and I extend now the invitation for you and your family to play a role as the Lords instruments. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Elder Hacker

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Week 16 - White Powder and a Chinese proverb

Hello everyone! I hope that you are all well and that no one is ill.  To those who have the capacity and time: treat yourself to an ice cream or perhaps a pastry sometime this week. Or better yet, treat someone you don't know very well to an ice cream or a pastry. I wish you all a good week!
Alex and his Companion Elder Jackson at a Zone Conference in Paris (photo courtesy of the mission facebook page)

Let us start with a true story then:

We are trapped in the church. We can't leave yet on the off chance the person who scheduled to meet us actually shows up. It's raining outside too. That may have increased our conviction in waiting for this person. We decide to call just about all the numbers in the phone in the mean time. Lo and behold, someone named S (just the initial of the name) said we could come visit her and her husband A a few days later.... Fast forward to that rendez-vous: After a hesitant knock on the door-we have no idea who's these people are mind you- we are welcomed by a incredibly happy couple who insist we sit on the couch and eat all the cookies, orange juice, and snickers bars we can. Fact: that is the typical French meal. A is from Tunisia. S is from Caen. A self identifies as all religions and S as Christian. The girlfriend of their son (they insisted on showing us many pictures of him- he seems like a nice young man) was there for a few minutes too. We talk more with A, veering the conversation enthusiastically wherever he likes. Eventually we get on religion and ask if we can share a spiritual message with them. Turns out these nice people have been meeting with the missionaries for 30+ years. They had all the saved photos to prove it. So we start sharing a message about how God is our Heavenly Father and some other eternal truths like that. I am mid testimony. I am baring my soul to these people when I happen to sniff once. I think nothing of it and continue on. S leaves and quickly returns carrying a knife and something. I'm trying to focus on making eye contact with A so I'm not really sure what she's doing. I am terribly confused though. So I'm talking, speaking about how my beliefs have helped me in my life, looking A square in the eyes, when suddenly S places some mysterious white powder on my hand. I glance up and she says a verb I don't know which I can only assume translates to "snort" given the example she is showing me. I have never been more confused! My testimony was cut short by white powder and this lovely couple telling me to snort it. Turns out it was just mint and it was supposed to clear out my sniffly nose. But man. For a moment there I thought our lesson was interrupted by a friendly, but mostly unwanted, cocaine offer.

We continue to teach our russian speaking investigator.  He is very cool, and his interest is sincere, but the language barrier is a real challenge.  He's come to church a couple of times, when his work schedule lets him, and from what we can tell he's progressing, although it can be hard to gauge comprehension.  We had one Skype lesson with the Russian elders, but he told us that it wasn't actually any better than listening to us.

I mentioned in my short email last week that we went to Bayeux.  Bayeux was super cool. It feels like a medieval town from a storybook. They had a waterwheel and everything feels old and the cathedral looms on the horizon. Not to mention the tapestry. A 1000 year old hand sewn record of William the Conquerer. That defied description. Man it was so cool. Then we  moved on, and fast forwarded 1000 years to another pivotal war cataloged by a museum, when we went to the British Memorial Cemetery. To know that where I was that day in Bayeux was the location of these two world changing events was wild. WWII felt much closer, more real, important, and big. The museum had photos from the WWII era, and seeing the town I sleep in (Caen) in ruins via photos was pretty weird.

I recall hearing once hearing a comedian talk about a funny Chinese proverb which essentially was about "farting next to a waterfall." I think the point of the proverb is to refer to an act that no one notices or cares about.  At times, it seems like there is work we do as missionaries, and a lot of life in general, that would fit into this category.  It might seem like the things we do, even when we are trying our best for a good purpose, don't get noticed or make a difference.  But that is not really the case.  At the WWII British Memorial Cemetery there was a neatly kept green field of thousands of tombstones. It was sad and moving. Many of those who sacrificed their lives were not even 20 years old. Many graves were unidentified. "Known only to God" as their inscriptions said. I was sure at times sometimes these people might have felt like they were not doing anything, like they weren't accomplishing anything, that their role was not important, or that their lives might not have mattered. Then I went and read the guestbook. People from everywhere saying thank you for your efforts, thank you for your sacrifices. The small, seemingly unnoticed or unappreciated actions of individuals can spread so far. Can ripple down through generations and generations. They way we treat friends, family, and strangers can cause huge changes down the roads. By small and simple things, great things are brought to pass. Mothers must feel like this all the time I imagine! Parenthood at times might well seem like one huge, long, and expensive exercise in futility, or at least, uncertainty. We have no idea how powerful our tiny little actions may be. I'd encourage everyone to keep up the things that may feel meaningless or small or unnoticed.  No effort is truly wasted when it comes to doing good for people.

Again I apologize for the lack of a longer email the previous week. It's been a little bit crazy and hectic over here across the pond.  I still appreciate all of you! You do not know the full measure of how each one of you has changed me.

With great love,

Class III Wizard,

Elder Hacker

Like a boss.
Alex eating lunch at Zone Conference (photo courtesy of the mission facebook page)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Week 15 -- On A Train

Hello Everyone

I hope that you are doing well! I ran out of time to send a big email, so this will have to do.  In fact, I write you now sitting on the train returning from Bayeux. We went there on our P Day.

In response to your question, Yes! I have tried some really good French cheese.  In fact, I have a table of cheeses in progress in my journal.

More next week.



In response to "many" requests for a picture to go with the story from last week, here's a picture of my new haircut