Thursday, April 28, 2016

Week 23 - A Quick Message, Jello, and meeting Todd

Hello all!

It's a crazy busy day and I only have time for a quick email answering some questions I was sent.

Our American food activity went really well!  It was just this past Saturday (the 23rd).  We had to explain that it was not the 4th of July, but just an American themed activity several times.  It was a little cold and these people did not know how to barbecue for the life of them (I guess that's not a skill developed much over here), but was a great time. Members brought friends, investigators came, less actives came too. They liked the burgers and enjoyed the hot dogs too. They were absolutely fascinated by the Jello we had there. They were all hesitant to try it at first but ended up really liking it.

I have continued to have have fun and interesting meals over here.  Recently I had salad, bread, and various fish purees with the Branch President while on exchanges in Cherbourg. And I also got to eat some tasty duck legs with a family here in Caen.

[Explaining why his parents got a text and picture of him from an unknown person named Todd] While we were preparing for the American day activity, Todd, who was an American tourist and his young son show up at the church. They were visiting the beaches here in Normandy and they wanted to stop by and see what the church looked like. By pure chance we happened to be there. We gave them a Book of Mormon in French and spent some time chatting while we prepared for the barbecue. It was nice and they were super excited to find some English speakers.

Todd's Message with this picure: Hey Hacker family.  I'm traveling France and saw your son.  He's doing great!
I'll write more next week.


Elder Hacker

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Week 22 - The Best Food I've Eaten Yet

Hello everybody!

After great fasting and prayer I was inspired to know that it is now in fact week 22 of my mission. I hope and pray you have all had a good week. Remember to wash your hands.

The weather has been getting nicer. There are more people strolling the streets as consequence. They also tend to be slightly nicer and less pressed for time. The wild storm will occasionally come in still. Just like life! But those end pretty quickly.

On Tuesday we were supposed to go down to Paris for a District meeting and interviews with President Babin, but that morning we got a call that he was sick, so we ended up not going.

Our District during our visit to Cherbourg

I've eaten some pretty fine food during my stay here in France. Just this Thursday I had some awesome pizza in Cherbourg. (We went to Cherbourg for a District finding day activity).   My favorite meal of those I've eaten here is not the fancy food prepared by members, nor what I've tasted at restaurants, nor the pastries even. It was some rice. We got invited over to eat with some of our African buddies after church this Sunday. L'andly and Abraham (Who was sporting a styling Obama t-shirt). From Cameron and Ethiopia respectively. We arrive and their place, which is a large apartment complex for refugees. There are tiny little rooms for everybody with community kitchens and showers. These are not nice places, they are very humble. These people have essentially no money either. We came bringing a bottle of Kool Aid to offer up a taste of our fine American cuisine. We are walking up the stairs and you can breath the spice in the air— whatever they are cooking is so spicy that it is making us cough by breathing the air around it. We are joined by three Somalian guys who don't speak much English at all. We all sit, have difficulty learning and pronouncing each others names, then are served a huge bowl of rice. And some spicy peanut butter sauce. We said grace. Then the whole gang started to eat. It took a while to get used to eating rice by hand. I wanted to cry in that moment there. I was overwhelmed by the kindness these people showed me. They could barely feed themselves and all these happy refugees were cheering me on as I burned my hand (from the physical heat of the rice) and burned my mouth (from the absurdly spicy sauce). It struck me that this wasn't about money. This was an act of love. And act of brotherly kindness. An act of charity. My heart melted there along with all my tastebuds. What a beautiful moment.

This week has included a less than beautiful moment as well. We took the wrong bus twice. Nearly missed our train. Left the phone in the apartment. Lost the keys. Vehicular Manslaughter. Lost my companion's iPad. Lost his bus pass. Lost our hope. Had to borrow a stranger's phone to call the other missionaries who we then had to track down by foot because they had the spare key. They didn't have the spare key. Lost our hope again. My companion wore through his shoes and the left one fell apart. No, we are lost at sea with no boats save our friendship. After most of that true narrative unfolded we decided we needed to take a moment to pray and figure out what to do. So in front of a fairly run down apartment building we prayed. And felt that interior peace even in that unfortunate sequence. A few minutes later we get a call informing us that the keys had taken shelter in the back of Lionel Destribois' car and everything worked out. Save that my companion had to buy a new bus pass.

My companion and I at the church

Revenons à nos mutons (which is the lovely French expression literally meaning 'coming back to our sheep' while being roughly equivalent to 'getting back on topic'), let us frolic in the beautiful moments instead. We were walking chatting to folks in the street. There is a row of hedges to the left, street the the right, and a grumpy looking lady inbound. We stop the old lady. Then... The old lady calls us a dangerous sect and sends us on our way. But while stopping to get insulted, I did notice another younger lady sitting in the parking lot through a wee gap in the hedges. One slightly inconvenient walk around shrubbery later we are talking to the wonderful Delphine. We sit down in the parking lot and offer her some of the cranberry juice we had just purchased. Then we asked her if she believed in God. A beautiful conversation unfolded. We talked about the love of our Father in Heaven, the infinite power of hope and faith—and how to find it. We spent an hour and a half just speaking in this parking lot. There were tears shed by all parties. Laughter and smiles had. She told us how she would have normally tell us to go away, but she didn't, and she didn't know why either. How she thought it was no accident we showed up. I might never see this person again, but seeing the joy and hope that our genuine interest and love brought this woman is enough to satisfy my soul.

It is everyone's favorite part of the emails! The part where you get some arbitrary task assigned. This weeks engagement: standing backflip.

Additionally, combining two elements from this email, two basic human needs and rights: food and love, go eat something with someone and express love to them. That is pretty vague, and generic, but intentionally so.

Until the next week my friends!

Elder Alex Hacker
Since I'm talking about food, I'll throw in this picture as well.  We went to Ikea.  To Eat.  Swedish Meatballs.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Week 21 - Remember Who You Are Week

Hello! I wish you all a good day! I hope the work/birthday/funeral/lunch/week/conference went well.

I do love writing these emails, and I again regret the few weeks there without much heard from me. I am alive and well! Caen is still lovely and it is starting to warm up a little. My new companion, Elder Sherren, and I are doing well. Picture Batman and Robin only with two equally handsome Batmans. More white shirts too. He is nearly done with his mission as in he will die here in Caen. It is a pleasant shift from the youngest possible companion to the oldest possible companion. A different learning paradigm that's for sure.   Unfortunately he is from Texas. That's the only downside. (I'm only joking, of course).  Our senses of humor go together very well.

By the way, this was my first experience with getting a new companion, so I learned how it happens first hand.  Everyone getting new companions or moving cities convenes toward Paris and then they have some logistical nightmare play out complete with train switching, gare (train station) switching, escorts, etc... where everyone ends up where they are supposed to be. I just waited a bit in a train station while until my companion showed up.

As part of our P-day shopping, we stopped by a local game store and met the owner, who was very interested in  visiting with us, including showing us how to play Warhammer 40K (the game on the table in front of us)

This week was wonderful. We met a lovely fellow on the tram today. We asked him how to say "super power" in French. And then a bit later he was telling us about how he isn't practicing religion anymore but wants to. We planned an American themed Ward activity-- designed so that members can invite their friends to taste the artery clogging delicacies of my home land, and perhaps taste of some eternal salvation on the side. We revised the ward mission plan and have been doing a lot of work with the members here in Caen.  We are off to Paris again tomorrow for district meeting and interviews with President Babin

While at the train station we bumped into a fellow named Marc. He is from Thailand originally and then moved to England and then moved here to France. Shortly after meeting him he told us he was a Catholic Priest and a millionaire. And that he owned 4 houses, 2 apartments, a hotel, and a Thai massage parlor. And that he had a bullet lodged in his shoulder. And that he had four wives. As many as he had houses. And that he had nine kids. He joyfully explained how he hadn't payed taxes in three years. Then a group of Albanian youngsters wandered by and Marc gave them his keys-- explaining he let refugees stay with him. So we give him a card and tell him to call us if he is interested. He gives us his card which is a hand written note with his name, address, email, phone number, and a friendly message on the bottom. A few days and a tram ride later we meet Marc at his house. His wife was a bit too full of death threats, insanity, and alcohol—long story short, we had to stealthily text the other missionaries to call us so we could escape. Worst rendez-vous to date.

We are still teaching our awesome Russian ami, although we also remain somewhat impeded by language. We met a nice guy named S. on a team the other day. He has been doing awesomely.  There are many Africans who are happy to speak to us: they are practically culturally obligated to say yes when we ask to share a message about Jesus Christ, although the transition from that point to having them be interested enough to keep commitments is tough.  In terms of service projects, we helped Nicholas build some on his house and we are going to help someone move Wednesday this week.

The mystery of the cheesy title of the email now unfolds. I would like to take a moment to remind everyone about who they are. And if you don't know how you are, I'd invite you to reflect and go figure it out. This has got to be the most reiterated message in all of this church. And I don't think that is an accident, I think that is because it is the most important message. You, whoever you are and whatever you've done or haven't done, are a child of God. You are the most important glorious creation ever. You are more than just a pretty radical combination of matter working together in complex ways. You have something special that all the other stars and planets and oceans and beautiful things lack. You are divinity breathed into matter. You and all your imperfections, are the most perfect thing to exist. And as a child you get certain perks. You have the right to be loved. And
you are so very loved. As a child you are allowed to mess up. You will most certainly get lost. But. You are afforded an infinity of chances. You can fall off that bike over and over again and there is no one but yourself who will ever tell you not to get back on again. All those scraped knees will heal. As a child you have a lot left to learn. Every one of you. And you have the great blessing of exploring and learning up until you die. As a child you have the right to speak with your Dad. You can speak to a wise and a loving father at any point in your life at any moment of the day. You are more than a brain. More than the most incredible biological computer. You are more than a sum total of your past choices. You are more than you imagine. You are the child of God. You are made of some crazy cool stuff. The same atoms that form mountains and roaring oceans and burning stars. And that's pretty rad. But that is not even the cool part! You are literally children of omniscience, omnipotence, and all other omni-words. You rule. Everyone of you is the most special and important person. And everything we do in this life, and this gospel, is to further our conviction and understanding of that simple fact. When you know who you are the rest of your life, and anything to come after, will fall into place. So how do you better learn who you are? You can start by asking. By asking friends, family, and God himself. You won't get a face-in-clouds Lion King experience but I can promise if you do it sincerely you will get something. Of all the titles one can attribute to deity, to God, we use Father. Heavenly Father. I think that is in part to remind us that we are the Heavenly Children.

And that is all she wrote for today. Maybe next week will have some better content! Have a good week everyone. Take some time to do something fun this week if you can. And if you can't do that, find some fun in whatever you have to do!

With love,

Elder Alex Hacker

Make yourself at home.

Week 20 - The Return of the King

Hello friends, family, and minor acquaintances (you know which category you fall under)!

It has been a few weeks since I last wrote an organized group message. This was due to budget cuts and terrorism. Mostly the former. The lead creative writers were striking, demanding things like "lunch" and "minimum wage" and it was just a real mess getting the weekly email payroll sorted out. Rest assured though that now, all is well. We did unfortunately lose track of what number week this actually is. Again.

Speaking of terrorism! That actually did cause some problems in the mission. Four missionaries were burned and injured by suicide bombers in the Brussels airport. Back in good old sheltered Wyoming, terrorism was still tragic and unfortunate, though it has a different feel when people you know and consider friends are involved. Elder Norby who I just saw two weeks before, was just barely released from an artificial coma. It is also noticeably more terrifying. Which as the name implies, is really the goal. Though it is only effective as far one allows themselves to be terrorized. Fear has got to be a pretty useless thing. Fear of bears and a few other actually dangerous things like public speaking being the exception. It paralyzes and traps in hypothetical calculations of what could come to pass. Fear could very well be used as the indication that you are doing what you should be. As people we have the capacity to find peace in whatever circumstances we are placed. Thinking that things will get better after x thing happens, after something is finished, will never bring happiness in the long term or short term. Avoiding something because of fear does nothing good. It only kills opportunities before they arrive. In fearful circumstances, or in any difficult circumstances, each one of us has the capacity, need, and right to find that internal peace. I'll cite a scripture that often gets used discussing revelation but applies to much broader things. "Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened." 3 Nephi 14:7-8    I firmly believe that this is a promise from a loving Heavenly Father that all things which shall be for our good can be found. Will be given. Diligently asking and searching will bring results. We can always find peace and hope regardless the circumstances. If my charred missionary friends laying on their hospital beds alone can find what they seek, so can people in slightly less explosive circumstances. And some of us may be in emotional or spiritual bombings just as strong. And whether these bombs go off because of our own choices, or seemingly cruel twists, we are never alone. We can always find that comfort, that peace, that success. Not always by ourselves though. We aren't made to battle this world all alone. We have friends, we have family, we have our brother Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Father.

I have a new companion now! Elder Jackson is off drowning in the Belgian seas of waffles and chocolate. Not in Brussels—they closed the missionary team there, but in Liège. I'm still in Normandy living it up with a certain Elder Sherren. He is nearly finished with his mission and will likely finish it here in Caen. It's a radical departure living with someone new, someone who speaks French very well, someone with their own ideas and experiences. He is not difficult to love and the next 6 weeks or perhaps more are off to a good start.

So to recompense for the last few missed weeks I write a single haiku:

Everyone is cool.
Elder Hacker is okay.
I love you all, dawgs.
Make yourself at home.