Thursday, September 29, 2016

Week 45 - Back to Writing in English

Shucks! Gee Wilikers! Great Scott! Darn! Steamed Brocoli! Nuggets! (Assorted G-rated expletives of all sorts) That was much longer and faster than intended. It is indeed a slippery slope from procrastinating writing a group message for a few days to then end up in a month's hibernation! I would add that there was a generous donation of my iPad to a lucky refugee here in Dunkerque as well, leaving me without any real way of emailing for two of those weeks. Don't let theft justify my lack of punctuality though.

As numbered as those who eagerly wait the next installment in the life of Elder Alex Hacker must be, I owe that population an apology. I am not dead nor comatose. I am still happily living in France doing humanist things. I had a friend describe my labors here as such. And I was sort of taken by the description. I still try new cheeses. An orange one that looked a bit like a rock. I still run into the most crazy things.

How many of you have ever watched 8 year-olds play soccer? It is the best thing. My father, bless his heart, used to volunteer to coach young children soccer. By extension I was able to witness my fair share of what should really be a televised event. They run into each other. There is one kid that actually knows how to play and tramples every one else. 50 percent of goals are accidental. There is probably one child who keeps his hands in his pockets the whole game. (I was this one). The meaty fellow who kicks as hard as he can at whatever falls before him, be it ball or the weak shins of his comrades. At least one team will score on their own goal for sure. Unity only exists when there is food involved during halftime. A parent or two will probably freak out. U6 and U8 soccer will forever hold a place in the "things-that-need-be-televised" folder under the sub heading: "vaguely-sport-related". Other ideas I have had on the mission that fall under this category include:
-Ice Running. It is just people in bowling shoes racing each other on ice.
-The Olympics, but once everyone shows up they secretly switch the events. Think of how sweet the bobsled teams playing basketball against each other would be.
-Fire Curling. Curling with fire.
-Others will be added.
Coming back to 8 year-olds playing soccer. It is a pretty fine analogy for how this mission actually plays out. The image of handsome, hard-working humanitarians, while alliterative and cool, isn't all that accurate. It is something 6 times more beautiful! A bunch of people just quitting adolescence (some of them still in it) running around, bumping into each other. And the most beautiful thing is that it works somehow...

Turning to that oh so controversial Bible and that other Book of Mormon thing that I have previously mentioned, there are stories of two dudes who are going around doing bad stuff. You've got your boy Saul going around tossing people in jail. And than you have Alma the Younger who is going around destroying church. These guys are doing evil things. So in their respective stories they both get a celestial messenger who descends down from heaven and gives them a right talking to. A divine ear pulling of sorts. Following this divine intervention two people who were without doubt lost— regardless of the morale compass you're using, turn their lives around. We see persecuters turn into benevolent folk doing as much good as they can. The question sort of asks itself: how come these people get heavenly messengers to direct them? Where was my angel? If he wanted to talk to me why didn't he said someone? If he was there he would have sent someone? There was a point in my life where I was asking these sort of questions. Later the answer sort of came to me, and it is something I have seen pronounced strongly during these ten months in France. I don't think he needs to send angels for most of us. You guys are my angels! Those who I waited for! The people who influenced me to good. The people with whom I was truly happy! I'm sure that each one of has already been an angel and someone else's life and that you will continue to be angels I'm sure. You really will make a difference in the lives that surround you. There are abundant holes in that parallel, though the message for all those people standing on the road like Saul or Alma, for all those people moving forward in life without a direction, is pretty clear and something I find really beautiful. Use those angels around you, and then go be someone else's angel.

(After repetitiously using the word angel I'm secretly praying that I misspelled it as angle somewhere in there and that a hilarious typo was born. I lack the time or willpower to look at the moment.)

For those of you were not aware, which is probably the most of you, I have just added someone to my family. Some person who evidently doesn't know me well enough decided I was qualified to train a new missionary. So Elder Siedow was replaced with a an Elder Arnell. An 18 year-old from Utah. Who graduated a few months ago. So that changes things a bit. And there has been a learning curve for both of us.  But we are both making good progress.  There is a surprisingly paternal (maybe even maternal sometimes) attachment that forms for the little guy.  Teaching someone how to order food at a restaurant forms a bond man. After a shaky and scary submersion in French culture he is now doggy paddling his way towards salvation and missionary autonomy. I'm sure you will come to know him a bit in the next weeks installments.

I will attach a photo. Elder Arnell is the one wearing the Elder Arnell name tag

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Week 43 - Translated from the French

[Note, this week's blog entry came to us in entirely in French for technical reasons explained below, so any translation errors can be blamed on Google Translate and/or the limitations of family members with rusty French language skills]

Hello!  Good luck with this email. I hope your reading will not be too difficult.  I've had a problem with my tablet and don't have it to use to write email until Wednesday.  So I'm using a member's tablet which has a keyboard in French and also autocorrects everything I try to write in English into French---so I won't be able to finish this unless I just actually write in French.  

I should have my tablet problem fixed on Wednesday when I go to Paris....and I'm going there because I am going to be training a "blue" (i.e. new missionary).  Yes, as we say it in mission language, I'm going to soon be giving birth to a beautiful baby boy.  I'll go to Paris, spend the evening, and the next day get to find out who my new companion will be.  I will miss my current companion.  He's going to Belfort, and I'm sad to see him go.  But I am also excited about the change and new opportunity!

 Because my companion is leaving, we made sure to get out and see all of our amis this past week. They are great, but each one of them seems to have one particular different thing that is an obstacle for each of them in progressing.  So we will keep working with them hard.  The process of conversion is sure not always a piece of cake!  

Next week I will have a lot to share! See you next Monday!

Elder Alex Hacker

Alex and his new companion Elder Arnell
(photo courtesy of the Mission Facebook page)

Week 41 - A Special Book (Aug 29th)

I write this from the bus in the process of bringing me and my companion to the northmost point of France, right on the Belgium border.

Hello everybody! How has your week been? Who even bother to reads the generic greeting anyways? It has been a little while since I have wrote to everyone and I apologize!

This last Tuesday we didn't have much of anything planned so the day was largely spent talking to people in the downtown region of Dunkerque. Don't let the usage of downtown deceive you into thinking it a bustling metropolis- it is just the location with the highest concentration of people. And as much as I love these strange Dunkerquoise and really love sharing what I have to share with them... after a whole day the notion of halting strangers in the streets loses some of it charm. With the few hours left of the day we took a brief peach-filled break and then went back to talking. Then I bumped into F. in all his floral-printed glory. He has the look you would expect from a high school ceramics teacher who was a big fan of the 60's. Though a very clean and proper version of that guy. So I flag him down and introduce myself as an American who is taking two years to his life to share the things that have changed his life. He recognizes and asks me if I am one of the "Mormons". I responded with a yes and started explaining that we were probably not who he thought we were. His gray ponytail nodded a few times and he excitedly explained that he had already read the book and loved it. I clarify that he was actually talking about the Book of Mormon for which we are named.

And there I felt quite an unusual feeling. Like when you run into someone who loves the same obscure movie as you, only 10 times stronger. It was that feeling, that bond I made with a ponytail sporting Frenchman on the street over our mutual appreciation of a book, that inspired me to write a little about books. And that book in particular!

My dad recognized the value of reading and in an effort to instill a love of literature in his kids, he resorted to blatant bribery. After normal efforts to encourage us to read failed his inner attorney kicked in and he created a point-reward system. One of his children would read a book then report back. After passing the quiz thrown together by a skim of the Wikipedia plot summary we got some points. The points were redeemable in exchange for clothes, food, shelter, fatherly affection, and other basic needs. [I joke]. More importantly we could also earn real prizes! Like cash, or games, or toys, etc... At one point I was 'making bank' (as the kids say) off of my voracious appetite for books. I lost myself in all kinds of fantasy worlds. Brian Jacques whispered me away to medieval abbeys populated by mice and badgers. Anthony Horowitz entertained adolescent me with poorly written teenage spy fiction. Orson Scott Card (before he went a little too banana nut balls on us) exploded Ella Enchanted was as enchanting as the name implied. J.K Rowling marked me and my whole generation. The stories and thoughts and questions that books have brought me have really shaped who I am today.

And one of those very special books would be The Book of Mormon.  My grandfather (And I only have two of those so it is already pretty special) gave me this book when I was 8. I did not really read it at the time because I was 8 and had important 8 year old things to do. Like those other books I mentioned it has made me think, made me ask questions, imagine, wonder, wish, not understand, and think about the author(s). Though in a different way than other pieces of literature. This book has answered many of the biggest questions I could ever pose: why I am here? Is there something after? Who is this Jesus guy everyone talks about? What will really make me happy? This book doesn't always have the most exciting plot, nor the most relatable events, nor the slickest cover. Though this book has made me feel something that no other book has or ever will. And that is coming from someone who used to be paid by his father to read. That is coming from someone who adores books. Someone who thinks they are the best thing ever. And during some 7000 hours of inviting people to read this book I have really come to understand just how important this book can be. So I testify of the importance of this book to everybody. What it means to me and what it can mean to you as well. Book of Mormon: Definitely a must-read.

Cliffhanger resolution: F. invited us to his house where we spent an agreeable 30 minutes together! He decided that he would reread the book and really think about what we told him. And we will see him sometime later this week.

See you next week friends!