Romanian Member Photo Shoot Makes LDS.org

Hello Everyone,

Well, I’m not as motivated to write today, because I just talked to my family yesterday, but I would like to invite everyone to look at LDS.org.  There are some pictures featuring Romanian members there, and it’s just cool since I know almost all of them.

I recently learned that Elder Kearon (a visiting general authority who I met in Iasi) was just called as the President of the Church’s Europe Area, so that’s cool.

I can’t think of much for this week, but as a random fun fact that really has nothing to do with anything, I was reminded that I’ll soon be going to school with both my older and younger sister.  And while I’m on the subject of things in the future, I might as well reference the current date, mission-relative time.  It is week 5, transfer 15, for those who want to keep track.  In other words, my last transfer is coming up.  It will probably be epic for some random reason I don’t know about yet, so I’m just warning all readers to be prepared.

We recently got in contact with a really cool couple we had been teaching a while back.  Hopefully we will see them on Saturday, so that should be fun.  We’ve had a great spiritual discussion with the couple before.

Happy day after my younger sister’s birthday (my family seemed so much older when I talked with them),

Varstnicul Brown

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Parental Appreciation!

Hello Everyone,

This last week I spent dealing with an ear infection (well, both ears were infected, but only the left one got really painful).  I even had to have pus siphoned out, so that was pretty cool.  I can write this in my email, because they just stopped hurting yesterday (though I’m still finishing out an antibiotic treatment), so I don’t have to worry about my mom worrying.

On Friday we had a very successful branch picnic in Mihai Bravu.  A ton of people from the branch came, and there was food…and in my opinion that’s really all that is needed for a successful activity.  They also played volleyball and I thought it went well (other than I’m now a bit red because I had forgotten that you’re not supposed to be in direct sunlight (especially without sunscreen) when on antibiotics).  I feel like successful activities, at least in Romania, are the ones where things aren’t too complicated.

On Thursday we visited a member with whom I’m becoming good friends.  We met him at a small park in his neighborhood (the weather is getting really nice; Spring has finally come).  We chatted and shared a message on faith.  He really wants to introduce a less active member friend to us, and has been inviting him to come to church-related things.  What’s really interesting is I’ve already very briefly met his less active friend in the park.  He even said that his friend had mentioned to him that he had run into some missionaries in a park, doesn’t get any more cool than that.

Moving on to Saturday (because who needs to present things in a linear fashion?), we went looking for less active members.  The map we were using got somewhat wet (it was raining lightly, and of course I was wearing only short sleeves), but we still were able to check a bunch of addresses.  That was fun; to be honest I haven’t been exploring the streets/blocs like that for a while.

Again, going back to last Monday (today’s challenge, unscramble the blog entry), we went to Casa Poporului, the second largest building in the world (behind the Pentagon).  It’s very awe striking to look at, especially when you consider that all the marble used to make it was taken exclusively from the mountains of Transylvania (hey!  I’ve been there!).  The basic tour we took only covered 7% of the building and lasted over an hour.  The rooms were so spacious it was ridiculous, not practical or really necessary, and many were super tall.  That’s one way to make a point, I guess.  Now I can say I’ve been to Versailles and Casa Poporului, both places where the ruler decided to make something so over-the-top the people started a revolution.

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, so we’re going to a Mexican restaurant I’ve been to a couple of times.  Last time we went, there was a cat at our table.  It was literally curled up on one of the chairs, out of sight when first walking up to the table.  So yeah, we hung out with a cat the whole meal.  Doubt it would’ve been legal in the States, but I’m betting my little sisters would love going to the place.  The food’s really good there too.

I hope everyone’s having a good Spring.  Remember that Sunday is Mother’s Day (at least in the US)!  Now that I’ve talked about personal medical issues, the weather, and great and spacious buildings, I suppose I better include something spiritual.

One of the greatest blessings of a mission is that it makes you appreciate your parents more than ever.  Not just because you live away from home (because you have college for that).  Not just because marriage is the next major step in life, and you’ll have to figure out how you can be a good parent yourself (because you have the years following the mission for that).  But perhaps, because in looking at the world around you, and thinking about your life, you realize just how fortunate you are.  I must say that I have been very, very blessed in my life to have two wonderful parents who have succeeded in shaping a wonderful family.

If this were the week of Father’s Day, I could go into how ideal of a father my Dad has been (though I don’t know if he realizes it), showing a priority for his family and doing whatever is necessary to upkeep it.  He has always performed his responsibilities humbly, simply, and well, and surely I did not come close to fully appreciating what he has done, and is now doing, nor the way in which he has done it, before my mission.  And I’ll surely be expressing the same appreciation when I become a father.  To put it in a President Eyring-type-way, he has truly become my “Priesthood hero”.

That being said, it is the week of Mother’s Day, so it is time to talk about appreciation for mothers.  Speaking of mine, I think the simplest way of describing her would be someone who is fully supportive and caring for her children, which is, of course, the most praiseworthy thing of all in a familial context.  She’s always been there for all of us, making sure that we all felt the all-too-important support of a loving mother (and I receive evidence weekly that she is still engaged in doing just that).  She was just always there, and I never had to think about it.  The support I got was ever present.  It was day-to-day, important, and she did a large majority of it while serving in the busiest and most demanding of church callings, showing love, sacrifice, and diligence.  I will always be grateful for what she has been, and still is, for our family.  I want everyone to know how much I love both of my parents and how amazing they are.

This week’s challenge for everyone: use the holiday opportunity to express appreciation.

Families are forever, how cool is that?

Varstnicul Brown

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“Anxiously Engaged”

Hello Everyone!

Today we had a zone conference with three zones (basically, a meeting with a ton of missionaries).  It was a really great conference and I received some very personal direction.  I even got guidance on a subject I wanted answered from General Conference, but wasn’t directly addressed at General Conference.  Sometimes we have to be patient, but God answers earnest, important questions, and it’s so cool!  I definitely get much more out of these meetings than I used to.  Every time we have a church meeting (especially General Conference), we can get questions answered and receive the revelation we need for our lives.  I need to be better at looking for inspiration in my Sunday meetings, and I’d invite everyone to do the same, it’ll be great.

At the zone conference, President Ivory spoke at one point about how he has previously felt that some of his counsel has been for specific people.  There was definitely one point where I felt that was true, more directly than ever, so that was exciting.

The two major themes of the conference were being open to change, and the concept of pushing (forcing people) vs. pulling (inviting people).  Essentially it was a lot about the importance of agency, especially with regard to missionary work; about how to encourage people to act for themselves rather than to be acted upon.  It’s so cool that the concept of agency (the ability to choose) and its role in God’s plan for us, has been restored in these modern times.

Another thing that impressed me came from President Ivory’s friend, who spoke at the conference.  He said the most important thing to learn on a mission has to deal with the answer to the question: “what is the number one thing to being a successful person?”  This also answers the question: “what do you do when you don’t have to do anything?”  I’ve definitely learned a lot about being more diligent on my mission (although I need to apply what I’ve learned to help accomplish goals I have set).

I think a lot of my becoming more diligent can be credited to my prior amazing companion Elder A, who I still am serving around (we’re practically part of the Mihai Bravu District, though unofficially).  So yeah, it’s important to always be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27) and always be working on improving ourselves.  It’s something good for all of us to remember, as spiritual stagnancy equals spiritual regression.  You don’t just stop when you stop, you go backwards.

On a less spiritual note, I made brownies and two apple pies for the conference.  On the second pie, I finally realized the importance of making the dough thin via a rolling pin.  I made a double-crust pie that actually had decent crusts and didn’t leak.  Yesss!  But then, the good-crusted pie was an upside-down pie, and in flipping it out, the bottom stuck and part of the crust fell apart…so close.  Anyway, baking should go much better with my new crust knowledge, including chicken pot pie, which I want to try using from-scratch crusts.

All the best,

Elder Brown

Contacting in Parcul Herăstrău

Hello Everyone,

Well, the week of stress is finally over, and things have slowed back down to their normal pace.  Actually, transfer week as a whole wasn’t too bad (though one of the departing missionaries did miss their flight, and we did cut it close on getting the new missionaries’ medical appointments in before the clinic closed).  I think buying everyone’s tickets online from the mission office, while it took some work, did help things run fairly smooth.  I also didn’t have to drive, so that made me happy.  Next transfer day should be fairly easy; we don’t have many new missionaries arriving.

This week we did contacting in the park by the mission office with some other missionaries.  The park is centered around a good sized lake.  The park is gigantic.  For another recent park contacting activity (an Easter concert put on by the Bucuresti missionaries), several of us decided to contact all the way around the lake; it took us about two hours to circle it.  This time while contacting, I stopped a man who turned out to be an English teacher from Braila (near Galati).  He hung around us for the rest of the night so he could talk to native speakers.  He even tried to put me on the phone with one of his best students, which was a bit awkward and didn’t work out, since there was communication difficulty as she was on a bus.  I think he’ll check out our classes in Galati, so that’ll be cool; maybe some of his students will come.

Still no baking this week, unfortunately (I really need to shape up, I know).

This week I helped one of the office senior missionary couples teach a pair of investigators who were there waiting to talk to President Ivory.  They are a really cool couple, and while we didn’t get all the way through our recap of the Restoration, it was nice.  It’s been a while since I’ve taught in Romanian, which is a bit odd.

Office life is going well and we’re somehow fine, despite the new Assistant to the President is the mission’s other Elder Brown, and despite both senior missionary couples serving in the office have the same last name.  Somehow it hasn’t caused too much confusion (even though the office Elders and APs live in the same house).  I suppose it’s nice not to have so many names to remember.

I also got a new haircut this morning,

Varstnicul Brown

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Happy Eastern Orthodox Easter!

Hello Everyone,

This upcoming week is transfer week, meaning that last week was busy (I didn’t even get to make brownies!

Sunday was interesting because it was Easter Sunday (I’m not late; Romania is a traditionally Orthodox country).  Once again, I went to a midnight Easter mass ceremony, highlights included:

  • The candle lighting of course (although I didn’t have a candle this year…awkward).
  • Some guy fainting early in the ceremony a few feet from us (luckily it was a big event being televised (I think it was conducted by the highest Orthodox leader?), so an ambulance was close at hand).
  • Me actually being able to understand the whole ceremony.

It really was a powerful cultural experience for me, and I’m glad I was able to attend.

We were also well fed on Sunday.  The Mihai Bravu branch had an Easter themed Sacrament Meeting and an Easter meal (complete with a red egg on every plate) for the third hour.  After church, we went to the senior missionary couple’s apartment for Easter dinner.  They had prepared an amazing meal, and even gave us Easter-candy take-home bags.

Easter was great, I hope it was the same for everyone.  I hope everyone gets time to review General Conference, I still need to watch that last session…

Back to the craziness of the Mission Office,

Varstnicul Brown

Spring Cleaning!

Hello Everyone,

This week our investigator was not able to meet with us.  However, we had to go to the visa office this morning to turn in an Elder’s paperwork, and guess who of all people was there?  Yep, our investigator.  Well, I guess meeting someone randomly all over a city of millions is one way of keeping in touch.

I didn’t have enough eggs to make brownies for this week’s office staff meeting, so I switched to oatmeal raisin cookies.  I’m definitely going to keep baking once a week.  It’s especially important now that I don’t have time to cook nearly as often.  I guess serving in the office is good prep for post-mission life, with the office setting, increased eating-out, and driving, but it comes at a price.  I really miss planning and cooking all of my meals.  I need to work harder to fit it in.

Today was the mission’s Spring cleaning day, so the apartment is now looking better.  I hope we can keep it that way.  A clean apartment makes a big difference.

Yesterday and Saturday were General Conference.  We were able to watch all the sessions except the last (due to the time difference).  I really liked this conference.  I felt that it was specialized for me.  I love that we have leaders called of God today through which God speaks to us directly, addressing our specific needs, concerns, and spiritual education.  For anyone who missed a talk, they’re all here:  https://www.lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2015/04 .  I’d invite us all to take some time and catch up where needed, and review those we really felt spoke to us.

Sincerely,

Varstnicul Brown

IKEA Food Court…Romanian Style?

Hello Everyone,

I’m just rounding off a great preparation day.  Today’s highlight: IKEA.  Of course I had to take a picture of myself getting a cinnamon roll (and a hot dog) there.  International IKEA challenge…conquered.  The only IKEA in Romania also happens to be next to what is probably the largest and classiest mall I’ve ever seen.  It was really cool walking through the mall (note I went on post-IKEA energy).  The shopping complex literally felt like America…weird, but in a good way.  I better not go back too much though, it made me think of San Francisco way too much.

We also picked up groceries at Carrefour (the archrival of Kaufland, the store the vast majority of missionaries go to).  When we were there, who do we run into (literally as far away from where he lives as you can get…and my companion later observed that he probably doesn’t have a car)?  Our private-chef investigator friend, shopping in the small international/fine cuisine aisle (who knew there was one?).  Seriously, the nearest Metro stop is about an hour walk.  Maybe he took a bus?

Well, I don’t know if he needed to run into us for it to be a sign to him or something super-missionary like (but being in the same aisle of a grocery store in a random mall out of all of Bucuresti?).

We had just visited him the night before, and had a really cool lesson.  As soon as we walked in, the Book of Mormon laying out on the living room table caught our attention.  My companion asked him if he had been reading his Romanian notes (right next to the Book of Mormon).  He responded that he had also been reading the Book of Mormon…every night.  Well, that’s a pleasant surprise.  But wait, there’s more.  He went on to make a remark about Lehi.  Did one of my investigators just use Lehi’s name?  That’s downright impressive.

We had just challenged him to read the introduction of the book, but I guess he hadn’t understood and started at the beginning of the book’s actual text.  So we went over the introduction, and origin of the Book of Mormon in depth.  He liked it and thinks it’s just like the Bible.  It made sense to him that God wouldn’t just call a prophet to direct the people in Jerusalem (I love how logical the reality of the Book of Mormon is, I mean, they didn’t have TV then, how else would the Americas get their direction?).  He also said that he would be baptized if he found out that it was true; I love how prepared and open he is to receive and act on the truth.

This demonstrates an important principle, the importance of being a real friend.  My companion and I have such a great relationship with this couple.  Granted, they’re already awesome on their own, but being someone’s friend and acting out of a sincere desire to help that person be happier will open them to listen, trust, and accept truth.  In other words, love opens and helps people the most.

I did better Sunday at church socializing with two members.  With that experience, and looking back on how I became such good friends with the companions I’m closest to, I suggest the following to those looking to make closer friends: it doesn’t really matter what it is, just do whatever you can to focus your attention on them, and listen for details in what they say.  That is probably natural to most people, but maybe not for people like me who have a hard time publically socializing.

Seems like I’ve written more than usual (should please my mom),

Elder Brown

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Parting Testimony

zdravo,

This will probably be my last email as a full time missionary.  As I write this email, my heart is full of emotion and the peace of a loving Father in Heaven.  I could have never imagined a year and a half ago how hard leaving this beautiful country would be; it’s really trying and testing my faith.

How to describe my mission experience?  I would choose one word, or maybe two:  Conversion and Mercy.

I was not prepared for the emotional and physical trials that awaited me on this mission, but I am so eternally grateful for them.  I will probably never be able to express my gratitude fully enough, but it fills my soul and deepens my love for God.  I know that God mercifully picked the perfect mission where I would be shaped, molded, refined, and pushed to every extreme possible in order to grow.

In His infinite mercy, He called me in my weakness to be a part of His eternal work.  I could go on for years about what a mission has taught me, and in the future I probably will.  But I know I have changed because I have learned what God has wanted me to learn and because I have given God the things that were hard for me to give.  With God’s help, I humbled myself to the best of my ability, and I learned how to really talk with God.

I have loved deeper than I ever thought possible.  I have worked harder than I ever have in my life.  I have more peace and joy than ever before.

In essence I was changed.  That is the true miracle of the Atonement.  God can take us as raw materials, and with the permission of our willing hearts, shape and mold them into a Christ-like character.  That is true conversion.

I marvel sometimes at the love that God must have for me.  He sent me half-way around the world and orchestrated the perfect opportunities for me to learn and grow.  How much meticulous thought and effort does He take with each of our lives?  In His mercy, He has made it possible for me to change.  I truly found myself on my mission because I found God.

I love God.  He is, and forever will be, my teacher, my adviser, and my Father.  His loving arms reach out to me through the Atonement of His son forever.  I know life can be difficult.  But I know through Christ’s Atonement we can use life’s difficult experiences as catalysts for change.

I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and Joseph Smith was a prophet, called of God.  That knowledge gives me the strength to do anything.

I know the Lord’s work will continue to grow here and across the world.  It is exciting to see it progressing so quickly.  I will miss being a part of it as a full time missionary.

I will miss Slovenija; it truly is my heart and soul.  The people and their kindness, the wonderful food, and beautiful nature will forever live inside of me.  I know it is only because of God that I had the privilege to experience it all.  In gratitude, I will continue to love and serve Him the best way I know how, in whatever He wants me to do.  In that service there is true peace.

I hope we all will one day have the privilege to feel as I do now, because there is no better thing in the world than wearing your life out in the service of your God.

Sestra Brown

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