Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Week 35 - The Football Match and Hands

You might (incorrectly) think that the title of this entry refers to France's recent and heartbreaking loss to Portugal in the Euro tournament championship. But instead, it refers to one of those little joyous moments that we as missionaries sometimes get to experience.

On our p-day, ago after a long day of exploring the beaches, dunes, and forts of Dunkerque, we found ourselves near the home of a British member family. We were kicking around a soccer ball with their daughter and also a random French boy named David when a group of four children challenged us to a game of street soccer. I must say that children are much better at soccer in France than the teams I played on in youth soccer in Wyoming. Our opponents ranged from maybe 8-12 and had all sorts of coordination, fancy tricks, and super slangy French that I barely understood. We lost pretty badly, but it was a wonderful moment. All those missionaries in America who are stuck just joining in on pick-up basketball games don't know what they are missing.

The North of France is all kinds of unique. They have a port museum that  contains all the history of Dunkerque and what not— the corsair phase, the world war stuff, the fishing village, etc... And they also have a temporary exhibit on bananas, I guess because Dunkerque is one of the largest European importers of bananas. They also have banana samples at the exhibit. If you pay an extra fee, you are treated to a bonus rum sampling with bananas on the side. (We obviously did not go for that opportunity).  

Living so close to the harbor and the ocean continues to a novel experience for me.  Ocean birds are sometimes kind of noisy. It is super beautiful to be able to see the ocean from the harbor from the window of our apartment.. There is generally a solid amount of wind and the weather changes quickly— both of which are actually familiar things to me now that I think about it (Wyoming weather!).  I had some fresh mussels recently and they were super delicious.  My companion is a super happy and friendly guy and he's great to work with.

My companion and I in our apartment.  Photo taken by Brother and Sister Slaughter when they came to visit us.

The small branch here in Dunkerque continues to be awesome and a different experience for me, and I love it!  I gave a talk just last Sunday and we teach Gospel Principles class every week. My talk was mostly an extended analogy about hands. How we are permitted to walk hand in hand with our loved ones for eternity by washing those same hands that are so oft dirtied and hurt during this life. How the greatest feat ever done by hands- supporting the weight of our Savior on the cross-- ultimately allows our hands to be clean, for our sins to be washed away, for any numbness to be replaced with feeling. Then I talked about what good we could do with our own hands. Like knocking on doors as missionaries. Turning the pages of the scriptures.  Putting them together as we pray.  Reaching out (both literally and symbolically) to those in need.

So that's my challenge to you all.  There's a lot of evil done at the hands of people in this world, but there is so much greater good we can do with our own hands.  Don't let your hands sit idle, but instead find ways that they can be used to elevate your spirituality, your life, and the lives of others.

Love you all,

Elder Alex Hacker

Week 34 - The Spider Tail and More from the North

It is already week 34! All the owners of these email addresses that I write have probably withered away into nothing. Any still alive are probably so crippled with arthritis or senility that despite their burning desires to write me emails, they can't succeed in doing so. I understand. I hope that you children are taking care of you well! Time has really passed amazingly quickly. I am not sure if it is a product of being this age, being engaged in such an exciting marvelous adventure, or something else.

We had an exchange in Calais this week as well as one here in Dunkerque. I got to see the larger, and less pretty city of Calais. The unemployment rate is ridiculously high there, supposedly something like 30%.    After a few minutes spent there I had already noticed the side streets lined with abandoned, failed businesses. Every third store seemed to be a failed enterprise. It colored the city with a twinge of sadness. All the fancy custom made signs and all the clever logos didn't save those hope-driven stores from sinking. Their Hotel de Ville is absolutely gorgeous however and I will be sure to attach a picture! [See below] The exchanges were a lot of fun and effective. It is always a joy to spend some time with new missionaries and to learn who they are and how they do missionary work. We found a very nice lady named S. and a guy named D. who were excited to meet with us. We met another younger lady who wasn't quite sure if she believed in God or not. She wanted to but found it more complicated than that. So there on the street we whittled away a precious 30-40 minutes chatting about how we found he was there. How he loved her and was invested in her as a person. And how she could speak with him. It was a discussion of hope versus doubt. How do you believe in something? And what does that really change? My temporary companion for the day was Elder Shenkal, who is awesome, but still very new in the mission and required translations. So this moment of peace surrounded by busy shoppers played out across two languages.

Dunkerque continues to be a wonderful wacky place. It has been particularly alive given the Euro cup soccer excitement. America's year-round patriotism is pretty unrivaled but France's occasional selective patriotism is something to behold. I've never seen so many people using flags as capes in my life. There is a risk all 24 hours of the day that cars will start honking wars to express enthusiasm for the French team. People are just really pumped about soccer! Speaking of soccer, I remember fondly one day eons ago. We have young Mark Kim, young Alex Hacker, and slightly less young Parker Snow. Three rambunctious (and handsome) young boys who thought they were much cooler than we actually were. Parker was a big soccer enthusiast at the time. So Mark and I told him about the Spider Tail. "The spider tail is a fictitious soccer move in which the legs move so fast the player appears to viewers to have 9 legs (8 of which constitute the number of legs of the neighborhood spider, and the 9th being the legendary tail of the spider)." This story doesn't actually have any point, but is just a pleasant memory of slightly simpler days. When discussion of the spider tail would bring endless laughs.

Sincerity is something that I think gets really lost nowadays in the world. And when that happens, there are a lot of negative side effects. Being sincere is not only a principle of just about any canon of religious doctrine you can find, including being a fundamental principle of the one which I know to be true. It is something that makes you happy. It is something that makes one more humble. There is entirely way too much energy spent on being someone that you aren't, or telling yourself that you are something you aren't actually. I'm not sure which is more destructive. And both of these: going against what you truly think, love, and are, and/or lying to yourself about what you think, feel, have/haven't done... are enormous wastes of time and will do nothing. Being insincere is one of the few things that is just about entirely useless. It has no place! It is really not that fun either. There is a distinction between telling the truth and being sincere as well. Really learning to share who you with others and with the world. That is more what sincerity is to me. So be sincere. In everything you do.

I am loving my time in Dunkerque. Not as much as I love you guys but close!

Elder Alex Hacker