Monday, March 25, 2013

I saw a stork!!!

I have been so excited all week long to tell you that I saw a stork this week!!! It was the coolest thing ever! I was on a bus to Plovdiv and there, on top of a Church dome, was a stork nest with two storks in it! The nest was huge! And the storks were so cool!!!! I even got a picture of it. It totally made my week.

I'm still coughing but I think I'm getting better. I slept last night which was wonderful! Most nights I cough from 1:00-5:00 and it makes me really tired. I'm excited to be getting better and coughing less.

I've decided I really like missionary work. I thought that talking to strangers about Christ, being rejected all day long, and testifying to strangers would be really hard and exhausting. I guess its hard, and sometimes it feels exhausting, but most of the time I'm just really happy. I don't mind getting rejected most of the time. It just means they're not ready yet. And its an incredible feeling to share the Gospel with all of God's children! I love it!

Yesterday at church Sister Elena gave a talk and in it she said, "Are the Apostles and missionaries today less important than the Christ's twelve apostles? No! They are just as important." When she said that I got a wave of shock realizing that I have such a huge responsibility! I'm supposed to be as powerful as the twelve apostles?! I don't feel like I'm a very powerful teacher. I just go and work, try and follow the Spirit, and trust that God is doing all of the rest.

Speaking of Christ's Apostles, I have some interesting Bulgarian history for you (which I learned from a member here and I'm assuming he's correct). The Apostle Paul taught in Bulgaria and started a Christian Church in a city further north in Bulgaria. That is so amazing!!! Then, one of Paul's students came to Stara Zagora and established one of the first Christian Churches in all of Bulgaria!!! In little Stara Zagora!!! I wish it was still standing so I could see it. Bulgaria has a rich history of Christianity. One day we were walking down the street and we ran into a Roman ampitheater. It was so incredible!!! Unfortunately, I found out later that that ampitheater was where they used to kill Christians. I'm so glad that they don't do that to us anymore..... I can't complain about my mission being hard since I don't have to worry about being killed. Its incredible to learn about Bulgarian history and realize that I'm teaching the Gospel right where an apostle of Christ taught it. Those are some pretty big footsteps to follow in.

Yesterday at Church no one came to teach Sunday School so guess who taught? Me! In Bulgarian!!! It was crazy. I was so nervous that I kept on tripping over my words but it ended up being okay. I talk much better when I'm with people on the streets or in their apartments. Its a lot harder for me to speak Bulgarian when I'm in front of lots of people staring at me. I knew that the lesson wouldn't be very good---goodness gracious, its coming from my poor Bulgarian---but I just said a prayer and said, "Heavenly Father, I'll do what I can. I know you'll take care of the rest."

I have a funny story about Bulgarian for you. Some little kids were showing me their sticker books and there was a page with lots of elephant stickers. I wanted to say "I love elephants!!!" but instead I enthusiastically said, "I love shelters!!!!" The boy looked at me weird, and I bursted out laughing when I realized what I said. You see, shelter is podslon (literally means under elephant) and elephant is slon. So I got a little confused. It happens all the time.

The trees are blooming and it is so lovely to walk past them. All the blooming trees have martenitzis tied to them which is adorable. I am so grateful to Heavenly Father for this beautiful earth! Not only did he prepare everything for our salvation through the atonement of Christ, but He gave us a beautiful world, beautiful families, and wonderful experiences, to enjoy along the way.

I love you! I hope you're enjoying all the blooming flowers.
Chao! Vsichko Hubavo! (everything beautiful!)

Sestra Stenquist

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Spring!

So, I'm sick again which stinks. I've got this awful cough that's dry
and hard and I cough all day long. This means that we haven't been
working very much because its way cold outside and I don't want to get
worse!!! I've been praying and praying to get better so I can serve
more! All my friends here are praying for me to get better and two
members took me to their doctors (who each had a different analysis
and gave me different medicines).

I have some funny food stories for you to hear.  First, you can't
imagine the amount of oil Bulgarians put on their food!!!! Especially
their vegetables! They say that if you eat vegetables without oil
they'll hurt your stomach. They cut up a nice cucumber, and then pour
like a cup of oil on top. Its so much!!! All their rice is smothered
in oil too. They have the biggest containers of oil at the store and I
bet they go through it in a week. Oh Bulgarians.

Second, the other day I had some eggs with cheese and yogurt. Have you
ever had yogurt on your eggs? It was pretty darn good. The yogurt was
plain, sour milk, no sugar, so its kind of more like sour cream. Its
so good. They put it on eggs, potatoes, meat, cake, or mix it with
water to have a watery yogurt drink. I love the yogurt here, its so

After the eggs Baba Maria fed us pasta with a sweet sugary sauce on
it! I've never had dessert pasta before! It reminded me of elf when he
puts syrup on his spaghetti. It was seriously spaghetti with sugar. I
laughed so hard. It wasn't bad, either.

We taught Violetka about the word of wisdom so her date is moved back
to April now and she's working on quitting smoking.

We had some lessons with some gypsys and those are always interesting.
They agree with everything, just nod and agree with everything you're
saying ( are they even listening?) and then tell you all these crazy
stories about miracles and faith. There's lots of gypsys and they're
fun. Principally, I try to avoid teaching them because I've only heard
unsuccessful things about them. They live in their own section of the
city, and most of them don't work. A lot of them sweep the streets as
jobs. A lot of them walk around looking for cardboard and bottles in
garbage cans. I always see people digging through the garbage bins as
I walk down the street.

This week I read a lot of the October General Conference talks and
they are so good! I love them! When I read them I was reminded so
strongly of God's love for me. I really do have a relationship with
Him and I love Him so much! As I have studied the scriptures the past
couple weeks it stood out to me that happiness is being near to God.
That is happiness. We cannot be truly happy, have a fullness of joy,
until we return to Him. That's why we have to do all we can here to be
ready and worthy to live with Him again. And in the meantime, He's
given us the Holy Ghost to help us and we can feel His love for us
ever day! He is so good to us! I love it so much.

Hopefully next week I'll be all better when I write to you.
I love you!!! Happy Spring!!!

Sister Stenquist

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Miracles every day.

This week was so good!!! Missions are so darn cool.

Our apartment is an orange blok right off the glav, built pretty recently. The kitchen is really new and modern. Sister Shumway's bedroom walls are purple, mine are a lime green, and our kitchen/living room area has pink and fire truck red walls. Its very colorful. Our kitchen has an oven, microwave, washing machine, and we wash our dishes. We have two bathrooms, one with just a toilet and one with a shower.

The kids here are so cute!!! From what I can tell, most of the families with kids are the families who actually have money. We always see moms walking around with really fancy baby carriages that look modern and high-tech. Yeah, the people with the money have the babies. We live right by an elementary school and its fun to see the kids running around. Most families with kids don't want to talk to us, but we keep on trying.

This week we had some really awesome lessons. We met with Violetka at her house (the woman with a baptismal date who we stopped on the street last week). We taught her and her mom about the commandments to pray and read scriptures. Violetka is so cool because she feels the spirit so strongly. When we're talking, sometimes she'll just grab her heart and grin. She's so awesome. While we were talking she gave us about a pound of cheese EACH to eat, plus sausage and bread. I never thought I would eat as much as I did, but the cheese was SO GOOD!!! I love sirene. Its kind of like a mix of feta cheese and mozzarella. Its so yummy!!! I ate almost my whole plate....... As we were living she gave us a CHICKEN. A fat frozen chicken. And she gave it to us with some cheese. WE GOT A CHICKEN?!!! It was so funny and random. She gave it to us because it was Woman's Day, and apparently its a tradition to eat a chicken on woman's day and she had an extra, so she gave it to us. I don't even know how to cook an entire chicken......

I also had the most intense law of chastity lesson of my life. One of the good things about Bulgarians is that they're really blunt and open and they don't feel awkward about things like chastity. In fact, they're probably a little too open about it. Luckily I don't understand a lot of what people say when they're talking about their sins. Anyway, the lesson was way intense because our investigator kept on saying, "I can't." "I'm too weak." "I have faith in Christ but not in myself." And I got so mad! Hopefully with righteous anger...... But I stopped him and I said, "YES YOU CAN. It doesn't matter what YOU can do, with Christ you CAN do it. That's all that matters. If you turn to Christ you can do it." I hate hearing people's complaints as they give up on themselves! Anyways, hopefully he will keep his commitment and continue progressing. We love him a whole lot and he is really awesome. He's just got to turn his faith into action.

Blagoi came back from visiting his family in Varna! I missed him so much! He's the nicest man, going to be baptized on the 30 of March, and I don't think people come more prepared for the Gospel than he did. He LOVES the Church and the Gospel and Christ so much. With all of his heart. And, what is impressive, is that he is so passionate about it that he is sharing it with his whole family!!! He introduced us to his brother-in-law, (who according to Blagoi is also ready to learn the Gospel and be baptized) and his wife and daughter. I have never had an experience like I did at their house. You can never know what we do here as missionaries. Their daughter is 28 and has Rett Syndrome. The parents are so wonderful because while many people in Bulgaria would abandon their daughter because of finances, they love her and care for her. And entire one of their pensions goes to buying just diapers for her. Can you imagine? Half of your income for your daughter's diapers. Unfortunately, no doctor in Bulgaria knows very much about Rett Syndrome or how to help it and so the family is helpless to help their daughter. The past two weeks she's been violently convulsing and they don't know why or what medicine to get to help her. We sang to her hymns and primary songs and while we sang her muscles relaxed and she didn't convulse. When she did convulse I would hold her hand or try to steady her, rub her back and arms to bring her some comfort. Poor girl. I just wanted to heal her! Her mom has a hard time believing in Christ so we are going to help her find faith in Christ. Also, we're going to help them call England for information on how to help her and go to their house and sing to their daughter once a week. It was just a crazy experience to be sitting on the bed with this poor sick girl, singing "Abide with me, Tis Eventide," while seeing the pain and struggle she is going through. I am so grateful to be here as a representative of Christ, to spread peace that is only in the Gospel.

Missionary work is intense. I have never been so aware of the problems that each person has in their life. All of us are so fallen, and so dependent on Christ. I just want to help everyone come to Christ and have peace. I am grateful that I have peace in Christ, because if I didn't, seeing all of these sad lives would break me. But with Christ we can peace, and hope, because everything will be okay. It might not be now, but it will be.

Also, I realized this week how much I want to stay in Stara Zagora forever. Not because of itself, but because of the people here. I don't know how I am ever going to be able to say goodbye to Hristo and Blagoi and Maria and Andrei and Raicho and all of my friends here. They are amazing. They have so much faith. And they love me so much! They take care of me and pray for me and help us however they can. Even when they don't have much money, they send us away with apples, cheese, chickens, prayers and love. I'm pretty sure I should just stay in Stara Zagora my whole mission. I'd be okay with that. :)

I am so glad that spring is coming out at home! I love you and pray for you!

Love, Sister Stenquist

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hurray for Spring!

I have so much more to tell you this week than last week! Huzzah!

I got to work this week! Yay! I'm out of the apartment. I still cough, sometimes a lot, but my energy is back! I actually skipped down the street a couple days ago! Oh man, before I was dragging behind Sister Shumway because I was just so tired. But now that my body's healing I feel much better.

I got some mail this week from Conner (CONGRATULATIONS!!! I'm so excited for you!!!!! Thank you for the letter!!!), Kelsi, Beth, and Pappy. Someone, please tell Pappy, I actually understood his letter this time! And I have to say, it was one of the sweetest most awesome letters I've ever received. Thank you for the mail!!! I'm still waiting on your card, mom, and I'll let you know when I get it.

This week I figured out that I need to tell you more about Bulgaria. So I will try to tell you a bit about how awesome and funny it is.

Some of the architecture is really cool and European, but most of that is all really run down and crumbling. Most of the buildings are more modern, communist, boring buildings. There's lots and lots of apartment bloks everywhere and they're pretty dull and ugly. In every city there's a glav where all the people walk around, you can buy popcorn, there's little vendors, and there's no cars allowed on the street. This is where most missionaries do their contacting. I don't like contacting on the glav because I feel like people are less likely to stop and listen to me. I like contacting on the side streets because people stop more often.  There's less people on the side streets but they're more receptive.

This week had two holidays! March 1st is Baba Marta Day, which means Grandma March. They wear martenitsas--little red and white bracelets or little dolls that they put on their clothes-- and I guess its to celebrate spring. Its a really old holiday and you're supposed to wear your martenitsas until you see a stork, and then you tie the martenitsa onto the nearest blooming tree. I think its so cute. :) I bought some martenitsa dolls and I think they're adorable. Some investigators and English students gave us martenitsas which was so cute of them.

The other holiday was March 3rd--Bulgarian Independence Day from the Turkish yoke. I don't really know how Bulgarians celebrate this. Yesterday they celebrated it with lots of riots in every city. Apparently (I don't read newspapers, we only hear from members and investigators) the Bulgarian prime minister resigned so the government (which doesn't have much power anyway, most things are run by the mafia) doesn't have leadership. So, the past couple weeks there have been lots of riots. I haven't seen any, but some of our investigators and member friends have been going to them. Its kind of exciting.

Bulgarians are pretty nice, I think. I guess Stara Zagora is nicer than most places in Bulgaria, which is why a lot of missionaries are trained here. Most people are very  nice to us. If they don't want to listen, they just say "thank you" and walk on. Sometimes, pretty often, people will stop when we ask, "Can we share a message with you?" and they'll say, "Speak/ Tell me." Out of the people who actually stop and talk to us, quite a few give us their numbers to learn more. Whether or not they show up for their lesson is another thing, but at least they're nice. I think a lot of people are curious and interested, they just don't care enough to actually take the time and effort to come and learn.

There's tons of people without jobs and without money which is really sad. Somehow they manage to survive. Its really cheap and fast to eat out so we do that fairly often. This week I had my first Bulgarian pizza. It was soooooo good! I don't know why, but it just hit the spot and how every day I just want to eat pizza! They have a thick garlic sauce that you can put on top of the pizza. Actually, most Bulgarians put ketchup and mayonnaise on top of their pizza. I just put the garlic sauce.

When we were contacting on the street this week some CRAZY things happened!!! One day, within one hour, three people cried as they talked to us about Christ. They were telling us how hard their lives are, no job, sick family, no money, but they love Christ so much and trust in him a great deal. I realized just how cool it is that as a messenger of Christ I get to talk to complete strangers about the most personal, spiritual things in their lives. It is just amazing to talk to people,  hear about their faith, and share with them the truths of the Gospel. So cool!

We had some way cool lessons this week! I have to tell you about this one because it was SO AMAZING. We went to the glav to meet a man who had made an appointment with us but he didn't show up. We headed back to the Church to finish cleaning. As we were walking on the sidewalk, both Sister Shumway and I randomly stopped in front of this lady and said "hi." "I want to read that book," she said. "The Book of Mormon?" "Yeah, I had that book ten years ago but my friend took it. I want to read it." We asked her if she had time right then to come to the Church and get one and she agreed. We sat down with her to explain it a bit and read the promise in Moroni 10. When we were explaining what we do as missionaries we brought up baptism, how its for remission of sins, and her eyes kind of lit up. She said she felt "light" as she was talking to us (hello, the spirit!!!) which reminded Sister Shumway of some verses in Mosiah 18 where the people enter the waters of Mormon to be baptized. We read some verses about the desires of our hearts to serve and follow Christ. The last verse said something like, "When the people heard these things they clapped their hands for joy because this was the desire of their hearts." She looked up at us and said, "This is my desire!" So we set a baptismal date and got her address so we can go visit her again. WHAT!??? When does that happen?! Never!!!! Holy smokes, it was the coolest thing EVER!!!!! The whole time Sister Shumway and I were just grinning, with confused eyebrows, and laughing. What in the world just happened! How did we know to talk to that woman? We didn't, but somehow we did because God wanted us to. Man oh man, we'll see what happens with her!

I will think of other things about Bulgaria to write to you next time. Do you have any curiosities about Bulgaria?

I love you! Thanks for your love!! Keep smiling--it shares the Gospel without words!!!

Sister Stenquist