Holy cow. I can't believe there is a world outside of Bulgaria. Utah? What? I lived there? How in the world did I have a normal Christmas last year? It's crazy.
I just got back from visiting Marena and her family. Her and her husband are members, and they have a little boy and a little girl. Neither one of them has a job, and they go out all day looking for some kind of work. They live in a little apartment and I think they only have heat in the kids room. They have zero money. They don't have anything to give their kids for Christmas. Plus, Marena is really sick because she stays up all night worrying about her kids and how to get a job. So today we went grocery shopping with Marena and bought some groceries for her. That's all she wanted for Christmas--some food for her family. She has so much faith!!! She loves the Lord so much. She has no doubt of His watchful care, even though her life is so desperate. I wish I could help her in some way. Her dream is to go to the temple in Kiev with her family. When she was talking about it her eyes lit up with joy. This year for Christmas, I want Marena's husband to get a job. That's all I want.
Life is just crazy.
The members here are awesome and hilarious. There were about 10 people at church on Sunday. The members are so sweet. They seem like little kids in some ways. The Branch President is a Bulgarian man who was just put in a couple weeks ago. He's really nice. He has short spiky white hair, and a dark black unibrow. its fantastic. Before him, a missionary was Branch President in Stara Zagora. The branch pretty much depends on the missionaries. I wish there was some way to make the Branch self-dependent, but I think that will just come with time.
The mission president--President Wilstead--is awesome!!! Holy smokes, he is in charge of the Church for two countries--Bulgaria and Turkey. So much responsibility! He is so kind and awesome. It was really fun to be with him and his wife in the mission home the first couple of days.
Tomorrow for Christmas we are caroling at members houses in all of our free time. For lunch we're going to Marena's to be with her family. Then, for dinner, we're going to Maria's house. I've heard she is a fantastic cook so I am excited to go there!!! She is a sweet heart. She was speaking to me in Bulgarian, and I didn't understand very well, so she smiled and patted my cheek like a little kid.
So I'm in Stara Zagora, which is a fairly small city. It has some beautiful European buildings, and then it has some ugly bloks (apartment buildings). Pretty much all of it is really dirty and run down. It could be really beautiful if the buildings would be kept up. The people are friendlier than I expected them to be. Maybe that's because its Christmas. When we stop people in the street, sometimes they just wave their hand and walk on, but quite a few stop and talk with us for a bit.
I've only had a tiny bit of Bulgarian food---I've had bonitsa bread and a gyro. Its ok. Its really greasy. I like it, but I don't love it yet. I'm sure I'll love it the more I eat it. this morning I tried this drink called Boz and it is........disturbing. The flavor isn't so bad, but when you're drinking it it smells like refried beans. I don't want it ever again. The fruit is delicious. And so is the juice. I really like the cheese too. Most of the time Sister Shumway and I eat at our apartment. We'll just make spaghetti really quick, or an egg, or something like that.
They have kugelhopf here!!! I saw a pile of them at the grocery store!!! Crazy!!! They're from germany, because the writing was all in german, but they have them! It made me so happy to find kugelhopf. :)
We have two investigators with baptismal dates and so far I haven't taught either one of them. There was another investigator--Raicho--who was scheduled to be baptized this last Satuday, but Friday we called him and he said he didn't want to get baptized anymore. Satan works so hard on people right before they are baptized! Its so dumb! I think Raicho will come back and be baptized sometime in the future though. Sister Shumway was really disappointed, but I think she is doing better.
Sister Shumway is so awesome!!! She kind of reminds me of Maddie because her heart is so sweet and pure. She's such a hard worker! And she has so much love for Stara Zagora. I am so lucky to have her as a trainer. I love being with her and working with her.
Everyone here notices how happy I am. We were talking with some boys who had just gotten out of school, and they were laughing at me because I was smiling so much. They said, "why are you so happy!!!?!" I told them, "Because I know that God loves me and that I am a missionary of God!" And then I smiled and they laughed some more. I love that smiling is contagious. I am trying to smile at everyone I pass on the street. I smile and say, "vesela koleda!!!" Smiling is sharing the Gospel without words.
We had two lessons with new investigators this week---with Petko and Emil.. Petko is awesome!!! He came from a different city to meet with us, and he brought us this little plant in a plastic cup as a gift. So sweet!!! I love our little plant!!! We taught him about the restoration and he wants to meet again. He is so nice and awesome. Emil is really cool too! He seems so ready to have the Gospel in his life. He feel slike he's ready now to commit to Jesus Christ, and he's excited to learn more about our Church. Its awesome. I think they are absolutely fantastic.
We are so busy. We definitely never are bored. There are too many things to do and not enough time!!! I have never slept so deeply in my life. We get up at 6:30 and then we run around and study and plan until 10:30. Its so crazy.
This is what Christmas means to me this year.
Life is hard. For some people it is way harder than it is for others. There is so much suffering, sadness, and difficulties. But God sent His son Jesus Christ to earth to go through it with us. We are never alone because He came to Earth and atoned for us. Because of Jesus Christ, no matter our circumstances on Earth---no matter if we don't have presents for Christmas, or food to feed our families, or clothes to stay warm---we can return to our Heavenly Father as long as we are good and kind and have faith. Through Jesus Christ all people can have eternal happiness with their families. God has so much good planned for us, we just have to have faith. Faith and hope and charity. I am so grateful for the babe who was born in Bethlehem, who lived to serve others, and died so that I can return to God.
Merry Christmas. :)