Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Week 32 - The North

This is Elder Hacker coming to you live from the small but comfortable house of Jean-Paul. Like a lot of people here he's a balding old chap. He is also super nice! This man is gentleness incarnate— a human shaped teddy bear mixed with a peach.

After 5 hours total of trains, three different trains, I arrived safely in the smaller, more north, and quirkier city of Dunkerque. Or Dunkirk as the anglophone worlds tends to spell it. It is up at the tippy top of France right next to the ocean and to Belgium. There is a bus we can take right over the border. If you follow the beach which is about 5 minutes from the apartment, you can cross into Belgian land. You can tell the boundary because there are waffles buried about in the sand on the Belgium side.

I have already noticed how nice people are here. The Normands were usually pretty nice but up here the people are very very friendly. It reminds me of Cheyenne sometimes a bit. Though with more ocean. And more pastries. The atmosphere here is really something different. There are more bricks and it all feels a bit cleaner. Noises made by cars have swapped with those made by costal birds. As well as the noises heard round the city whenever France scores a goal in a football match. (Note: there was a long and well fought mental debate here about whether to call it soccer or football. In the end, football won out on the grounds that it makes me seem fancier)  There is a mussel and crab graveyard not to far from were we live. Where all the birds chuck their armoured prey to the ground then go clean up the left overs! Things have funky Flemish names here. Christopher Nolan is off filming his film 'Dunkirk' somewhere in Dunkerque and I will find him and force him to join my church.

Did I mention Dunkerque was a little quirky?  Here's a museum display devoted to the Banana.  Plus also notice my nifty new Euro tournament shirt
And some large, cool, but creepy heads.  I liked the one with the red nose the best.

This week consisted of meeting a lot of people and unpacking and getting settled in. It turns out that neither my companion not I really know how to do missionary work here in this city! So we will figure it out together. Exploring and discovering is one of the greatest majesties of this life. We have this great sphere we have all been throw on, the biosphere, the atmosphere, our social spheres, the spheres we give to our children to play with as we take those first steps into parenthood. We have so much to explore. All the fictional spheres people create—the books and movies and worlds of imagination. We have all our pasts to explore, relive, and learn... Our own and all those of others. Exploration is part of our divine nature! Exploration sucks sometimes— we've got trails to blaze, poisonous berries to eat, rivers to fjord, and maps to draw. It is sometimes as unfair as that rigged Oregon Trail game. Make it fun at least! Add those little sea monsters in the ocean bits of your maps. Find fun and joy in the exploration!

My new companion, Elder Siedow, and I overlooking the walled city of Berque

We went to the refugee camp here at Dunkerque to do service. There is a huge population of refugees from Iran and Iraq who live in a large camp to the west of the city. Endless rows of cabins made from plywood and other scavenged materials stretching out as far as the eye could see. We spent a few hours at one point during the day in the "free store": a small cinder block shed full of food with a whole through which we talked. Like a really ghetto movie theater cabin. So we are chilling in here, trying to figure out the French word for chickpeas and what all we actually have in stock. Refugees show up with their food cards and then the game starts. It involves a lot of pointing, gesturing, and holding things up as we struggle to figure out what food they are trying to order. Sometimes there were a couple words we knew in common: yes, no, and thank you. Always that last one. These people never forgot that last one. They would always say thank you. Even people who didn't know yes and no seemed to know thank you. People struggling to live in these pretty rough conditions where never that distracted that they didn't say thank you. Not a single one forgot! I think of all the times I forget to say thank you. All the gratitude I never rendered. I think of the ten lepers Jesus healed and the one who came back to say thank you. I don't think we fully realize the power of gratitude. Be that one who goes back to say thank you. Please! I will thank you eternally if you do.

I'll have a little more to write about the next time! It felt a little all over the place this time. Now then, I love you and hope that you all love yourselves. That you see yourselves the way I see you: awesome incredible lights! Radiant people! Go shine this week.

With love,

Elder Alex Hacker

[Editor's Note: Alex also answered some questions we had about his transfer to Dunkerque, which are included for your enjoyment]:

Tell us about leaving Caen, including sending off your last companion in Caen, Elder Sherren, to go home at the end of his mission:
It wasn't too bad. Towards the last few days it was mostly packing and setting up things so that the sisters would be able to take care of our investigators .  I was happy to see him finish the mission happily and content with the work he had done.

Elder Sherren and I in our apartment in Caen

Sunday was mostly saying goodbye and taking photos. We went a visited a few people here and there. Nicholas—who took us to the beaches and was our good friend drove is us to the train station in the morning. That was really touching. Our dear friend Jean rode with us on the train (he was headed to Paris to take a test anyways) and we had a quick goodbye in the metro.

The transfer was a ride to Paris. Then I met my new companion in the train station and we rode the subways to a different train station. Then we took a high speed train to Lille. Then we switched from the international train station to the local train station and shipped ourselves off to Dunkerque.

Tell us about your new companion and your new apartment:
Elder Siedow is my new companion! He was born in Russia but was adopted over to Wisconsin as a wee baby. He has been out on his mission for 10 transfers and in Dunkerque for 1 of those. He is really awesome. I love him a lot already.  He is very nice and happy all the time.

My new companion, Elder Siedow, in front of boats in Dunkerque.  We live virtually right next to the harbor.

The apartment.... After being spoiled in the two story behemoth in Caen it was only expected. It is pretty small. It is however pretty clean.

How did your first Sunday with the new branch go?  
It's a small branch--we had just 9 people there on Sunday! Everybody is super friendly and nice, and I look forward to really getting to know them.

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