Monday, January 25, 2010

Arriving in Italy and My First Few Weeks in the Mission Field

You can easily see just how exhausted we all were in these first pictures taken at President Henderson's house in Opera, Italy. How appropriate that my mission president lived in Opera, a suburb of Milan. I was so excited to go to Italy that I didn't fall asleep until 2:00am, and then had to wake up at 5:00am. I've never been able to sleep well on planes, so I didn't sleep at all on the flight from Utah to New York, and I only slept for maybe 1/2 an hour on the plane from New York to Italy. We arrived in Milan at 10:00am the next day (Italy is 8 hours ahead) and were told by president that we needed to stay awake until the end of the day or we'd have a hard time adjusting and would be tired for a month (so basically, in 2 days I had less than 4 hours of sleep total).
I think that would be correct advice for most people, but it didn't work for me. I had to go lie down at one point because I was practically drooling as I listened to president, and I looked seriously ill. I really tried to stay up, but Sister Hawkes, one of the office missionaries, told me to go lay down since I looked so bad. I did go to lay down, but I know I never fell asleep. It was far too hot and humid for sleep to even be a possibility. You don't come by a lot of air conditioning in Italy, and I wasn't used to the heat yet. In spite of forcing myself to stay up and adjust to the new time change, I was tired for more than a month, I kept having to take naps daily because I was so tired, and I never once my entire year and a half mission woke up before my 6:30am alarm clock. It was definitely the most exhausting year and a half of my life (rewarding, yes, but also exhausting).
Some of those time adjustment issues may have simply been the result of heat, humidity, and the stress of the mission. However, when I came back to Italy for a music program 6 months after my mission, I fell asleep for 4 hours in the middle of the afternoon when I arrived in Italy, and I adjusted immediately to the time change. I think my body just insists on sleeping when it's tired regardless of what time of day it is, or I'm going to pay for it later.
Whenever a new missionary arrived, the trainer took a picture with him/her while holding an Italian Book of Mormon. Later on you'll see a picture with my future trainee (greenie) doing the same thing. I learned then that I would actually be staying in Milan as my first city. I have to admit I was a bit jealous to learn that my MTC companion would be serving in Mestre, the area that included Venice.

But I was delighted to find out that I would be serving with an Italian companion. It definitely helped get my Italian going fast. There's nothing like being immersed in a language to help you learn it. For me it was the understanding that was hardest, which is the opposite for most people. I worked really hard on my grammar and vocabulary at the MTC, but I wasn't used to how quickly the Italians speak. They could be saying something simple like "how are you" and I'd have no idea what they were saying since it was so fast. But, when I would start a conversation with people, they never thought I was a greenie (new missionary). They always complimented me on my language skills when I told them how long I'd been in Italy, even if they were rejecting the message I offered.
Maria Rosa Silva, my first companion in Italy, was actually born in Argentina, but was raised in Rome, Italy. She spoke both Italian and Spanish, but her native language was definitely Italian. We had a lot of Southern American members and contacts and she would always talk to them in Spanish. It was definitely difficult to learn Italian while she was speaking Spanish. But there were also times that she would tutor the Spanish speakers in Italian, so she'd let me go into another room for a couple of hours. During that time I would practice playing hymns and primary songs and studying my Italian. Both skills improved rapidly due to this regular study and practice.

Here are some journal quotes from my 1st weeks in Italy
Week 3
Well, as for the work, it has been kind of slow - the natural slow down that comes in August for Holiday. Though we did have one woman on the bus see my name tag, tell us she'd been invited to an LDS church 8 years ago, liked it, gave us her phone number, and asked us to come and tell her more about the church.
The food here is so good!!! It's so good that I savor every bite, and I'm actually eating less than usual. But I'm also getting addicted to Nutella. My companion thinks I'm getting dependent on it.

I gave my 2nd 1st discussion entirely in Italian to a man and a woman on the bus on Sunday. I had to call my companion over at the end to help answer their questions, but it was cool to be able to give them the whole discussion in Italian. They were interested (not in changing their religion but in listening to what I was saying. They even asked for pamphlets and wanted to know where our church was). Talking to people who are interested in listening to you makes up for hours of fruitless tracting.

Week 4
Wow. I've been here a month as of tomorrow. My understanding and speaking have really improved. I can actually see it. And everyone I talk to (even the people that reject my message) says "complimenti" on my language when I tell them how long I've been here.
The mission is so unpredictable, which is a bad thing but also a good thing. For instance, I never expected that in Italy a Muslim would take us out for ice cream. But she did on Saturday. She's happy being a Muslim but likes hearing about other religions and likes to listen to us.
Before the mission I thought bad experiences were made up for by baptisms. Now that I'm here I've been realizing that baptisms aren't the only good experiences. I love sharing the gospel even if people don't accept it. It's a good experience for me if they just listen to me. I'm doing the Lord's work regardless of if they accept it or not, and I know the Lord will bless me for it.
You know, men never paid much attention to me before the mission. Why couldn't it have stayed that way? I'm really sick of it. It makes me afraid to smile at any man.

My second day in Milan was really awesome. I got to see both Rachele and Carlos baptized. I taught part of the 6th discussion to Rachele on my first day in Milan. She was already scheduled for baptism the next day. Carlos, one of the Elders contacts, had been invited to be baptized but hadn't committed yet. He came to Rachele's baptism just so he could see what it was like. The awesome part is that he felt the spirit so strongly that he up and decided to be baptized that night! The problem, though, was that president needed to make sure he was serious, that he fully understood the decision he was making, and that it wasn't going to be just a spur of the moment action but a lifetime commitment. While president gave him a really long interview, the rest of us set to work filling up the font again. It actually takes about 2 hours to fill, and it'd already been drained when Carlos announced his decision. So we turned it back on and took turns filling up pots and pans from the kitchen and pouring them into the font. When Carlos finished his interview, he himself set to work filling up the font. It was a beautiful baptism, and it really touched me to see someone so overcome by the spirit.
Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of Carlos' baptism, but the above picture shows Carlos (top far left) and the Villar family (a kind, wonderful family we knew in the ward) along with me, Sorella Silva, and the Elders.

A greenie in Italian is a verdina. But I accidently said "sono una verdurina." My companion will never let me live it down. I basically told her "I'm a cute little vegetable." I also wanted to tell her that I liked her character, and accidentally said “I like your carrot.” I later said I want to remarry myself instead of rest myself, and I like fangs instead of little dogs. To commemorate these mistakes, we took this picture of me in my green dress, sucking a green candy pacifier while holding a carrot. We titled it "I'm a little vegetable."

Here's a cool experience from my journal. "La Mostra is when we take a bunch of signs telling about different aspects of the gospel, and we set them up on this one street (it's closed off to cars and is basically like a street shopping center). We then stop people and tell them about the gospel. We usually do it for 2-3 hours once a week. I've been absolutely horrified of it, and the first time I did it I nearly called my president and said I wanted to go home. Every week for 4 weeks I got worse and worse. But I prayed really hard to like Mostra and to not have the sinking fear in my stomach every time I did it. I prayed that if I would open my mouth that God would in turn take away my fear. When we went to Mostra yesterday, I didn't want to be there, but at least I wasn't afraid. And I ended up doing 5 full discussions (3 in Italian) by myself. I was beaming with happiness by the end. I'd be talking about Joseph Smith and thinking to myself "I can't believe these people are listening to me and are interested," though in the end reluctant to make any more commitments like reading the Book of Mormon or coming to church. But they were interested in what I was saying, and they asked questions. And I'm happy if I'm sharing the gospel, even if they don't accept it. Every single person I stopped listened to me, which never happens. It was awesome!"

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