Monday, April 22, 2013
This Saturday we'll get transfer calls! I am so excited. I need a change and I am praying so hard to be put where I need to be and who I need to be with.
This Saturday the Elders had another miracle baptism. He's young, nice, has a job, and really fun. And now he's the newest member of Stara Zagora Branch! Its really exciting to see all these people come in and strengthen Stara Zagora. For the baptism we made brownies, lemon bars, and bunny buns (little bunny breads with orange glaze. They're sooo good! I made up the recipe after Sister Shumway described them to me). Then for Sunday I made apple cake for our luncheon. I LOVE baking. It is such a joy.
The highlight of the week was probably learning how to make musaka from Maria. Maria is a wonderful woman who loves to cook. She's fed us several times (including the seven course dinner on Christmas). She taught us how to make one of Bulgaria's most popular dish--musaka. Its potatoes, onions, meat, and tomatoes cooked together with an eggy layer on top. Its so delicious! You eat it with a good dollop of sour yogurt on top. I'm going to make it for you when I get home! Plus, since Maria is a trained cook, she taught us some tricks of the trade in cooking and chopping which were fun to learn. I love Maria so much. She hugs us tight, and then wiggles back and forth as she squeezes. She's adorable. She also taught us how to dance the Hora, a traditional Bulgarian dance.
Elena, who's sixteen, is starting personal progress which is fun! We went over to her apartment to start it with her. She's so amazing! She's been baptized a few weeks, and is the only youth in the branch. She's already sharing the gospel with her friends though. She really loves the gospel and is so sweet. I love her too!
We watched the two Saturday sessions of General Conference at church yesterday and I understood more than I thought I would. It was so good, I loved listening to their talks. The music was also really beautiful. Next Sunday we'll watch the Sunday sessions.
Missionary work wasn't too exciting this week. We dropped a lot of investigators because they're not progressing. We found some cool new investigators though, so I'm excited to meet with them some more. Its all just a big long continuous funnel of contacting and searching, finding, teaching, and baptizing. Each phase gets smaller and smaller, which means lots of time contacting and searching. Its a miracle anyone ever progresses or gets baptized! But miracles happen every day, especially in Bulgaria.
Monday, April 15, 2013
I am so exhausted! Sister Shumway and I are beat. I don't feel like we're working any harder, except that I am more tired and our numbers are bigger. I don't really know what's going on. The Lord's blessing us though.
There was another baptism in Stara Zagora on Saturday and there's another one on Friday! Both of these young men (in their twenties/early thirties) were taught by the Elders. We are baptizing so many men in Stara Zagora! The man who got baptized is really cool, because his grandma is a member in Stara Zagora. She shared the Gosopel with him and gave him as a receive to the Elders to contact. And now he's baptized! It was adorable to see Baba Zhechka and how proud of her grandson she was. Maybe they'll go to the temple together in a year. That would be wonderful!
We had Branch Conference yesterday which was wonderful and an answer to prayers. My whole goal for Stara Zagora is to have callings! For the past few months the only calling has been Branch President. The Branch President doesn't want to call anyone to any responsibility. I guess this is a popular problem with the Church in Bulgaria, and President Wilstead (Mission President) and all the missionaries are getting really exhausted by it. At Branch Conference we got some callings! We now have counselors to the Branch President, a Clerk, Elder's Quorum President, and a Relief Society President. Now we just have to get some teachers! Right now the missionaries do everything and its exhausting. Not because we don't like helping---we love serving people---but we know that by helping this much we're just crippling the faith of the members. They need to learn by faith, to serve each other, and to have their own Church run by Bulgarians! In President Wilstead's talk he talked about the importance of working and serving in the Church. He said, "If you are sitting in the congregation listening, and you don't have a calling, you aren't living up to your baptismal covenant." Wow! Bam! He's so bold and blunt! I loved it! That's exactly what the members needed to hear. I am hoping they follow the counsel of the President and ask for/accept callings.
Remember how at the MTC I told you that Bulgarian women have mustaches and beards? Well, its pretty true. There are quite a few babas with mustaches (nicely trimmed and groomed), goutees, or hair coming off the tip of their nose. Its so funny. I want to get a picture of a mustachioed baba! I am grateful for my beardless face. The other funny thing that Bulgarian women do is dye their hair weird colors. None of them want gray/white hair, so they dye it. However, they dye it blueish, reddish, or purplish. Its so unnatural. Some of them have bright blue hair. Its ridiculous.
Easter isn't until May 6th. I have no idea what Bulgarians do for it, except they probably go to the Pravoslav Churches to light a candle. Candles are the big thing at the churches here. You go to a cathedral, pay for a candle, and go light it inside. And if you do that on the holidays, you're a good Christian. Lots of people, when I ask them how they follow Christ, they say, "I go to the Church on holidays." The Pravoslav Church has a million holidays, though, so I guess that could be going to the Church quite a lot. I swear, every other week is another holiday of a different saint. The Pravoslav Churches are pretty, but they're really dark. They have lots of paintings of starving saints and somber Christs staring down at you. Their Churches are called Temples which makes it complicated when we tell people about temples. We have to explain that Temples are different than the Pravoslav Temples.
We have a lot of friends who we meet with, but I am getting frustrated with all of them because they're not progressing. They would progress if they would just read and pray, but they "don't have the time too." To me, this shows that they don't have the desire to follow Christ. If you don't have five minutes to read one page of the Book of Mormon, how are you going to have enough faith to keep your baptismal covenant, keep the commandments, and inherit the Celestial Kingdom? I know there are people who are ready to commit to Christ, though, and I just need to find them. There are tons of miracles happening all over Bulgaria. In Sofia there was a man who in his spare time would read conference articles on LDS.org, before he had even met the missionaries. He was baptized within a couple weeks of meeting the missionaries and quit his job so he would have more time to serve in the Church (he found another job which left room for him to serve). He's a miracle! That is so much faith! The elect are here and we just have to find them and take care of them.
Next Sunday we'll listen to 4 hours of Conference in Bulgarian. I'm assuming I will understand 5% of it, so I'm excited to get the Liahona with the articles.
My Bulgarian is coming along. I think its easier to teach in Bulgarian than in English, which is a good sign. When I teach in English, (a lot of young people know English well) I end up just going into Bulgarian. There's still a lot more to learn--vocabulary and grammar--but I'm slowly learning.
Transfers are in two weeks and I'm nervous to found out where I'll be/who I'll be with. Its exciting but scary! I might stay in Stara Zagora, but I could also go to a new city. Exciting!
The gelati is out on the glav now! There are lots of little gelati stands and I am pretty excited for it.
Wishing you a happy week of Spring!
Monday, April 8, 2013
Zdravei family and friends!!!
Last week we did so much work which means we have even more work to do this coming week. Bulgaria, and Stara Zagora, are just exploding! Its incredible! I don't know why I'm so lucky to be here right now! We had 18 lessons, and got 17 receives of people interested. This might not sound like much, but for Bulgaria that's pretty big. I know its not because of Sister Shumway or I, its just because God is great and He's bringing His children to us.
For example, one day we walked out of the Church to get some bread to eat, and talked to two young men within two minutes. Both of them were interested and we met with them yesterday. That's two receives in only a couple minutes! Incredible!
For some reason, Sister Shumway and I typically only teach men, while the Elders teach a larger number of women. Ha ha, I think its really funny that we're teaching all these awesome men. Its amazing because priesthood is what Bulgaria needs! I'm excited to help the priesthood power grow in Bulgaria. Blagoi, who was baptized last week, received the Aaronic Priesthood on Sunday! It was fantastic!
We have four investigators with baptismal dates and they're all really amazing. Violetka has pretty much stopped smoking and will get baptized on the 27 of April with Yordan. Yordan is a funny man. Sometimes the way he looks at me creeps me out, but most of the time he's really cool. Goodness, he's interesting. He has a lot of faith and is really looking forward to being baptized. Reni, has a baptismal date for the end of May. She's the sister of Blagoi (who was baptized last week), and her daughter has Rett Syndrome. I'm so excited for Blagoi's sister to get baptized!!! Eternal families! Reni is so strong and her faith is growing so much as she reads the Book of Mormon and prays. The other investigator with a date Nikolai, a really awesome man in his late 20s. He has to quit smoking, (he used to smoke 30 cigarettes a day!) so it might take him a while to be ready. All of these people are really amazing and I'm so grateful to know them!
This week I learned how amazing the Holy Ghost is!!! We were in a first lesson with two young gypsy men. Neither of them went to Church, but they had some faith in Christ. As we were talking, they kept on being enlightened and sharing truths! Without us teaching them first! The spirit was there in the lesson teaching them. When we showed a picture of Christ being baptized by John the Baptist, Mladen said, "I just realized something I never knew before! We have to be baptized before we receive the Holy Ghost, because baptism prepares us for the Holy Ghost." What a profound truth to come out of his mouth! Ivan, the other one, asked us, "What is this warm feeling I have in my chest?" Sister Shumway explained that it was the Holy Ghost. He got a little teary eyed, and said he didn't realize he would feel it that fast. It was truly amazing. I know that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, do EVERYTHING in missionary work. I really just walk around, having no idea what's really going on, trying to help God. God leads us to people, Christ gives them the power to change, and the Holy Ghost teaches them truth. I just get to work and learn from God; its so incredible.
There is so much work to be done to share the Gospel. I have an invitation to everyone who reads this email. I invite you to share some light--a talk, a scripture, your testimony, or any material about Christ--with someone who needs it this week. If you pray about it, and exercise your faith, God will lead you to someone who needs that light. You'll bless them, and God will bless you both! Best of luck!
I love you all! Happy Spring!
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Happy Easter to you! Bulgaria doesn't have Easter for another month, but it was fun to hear about your Easter celebrations!
This week I felt like I didn't work at all and then at the end of the week our numbers were huge. We had 14 lessons, and got a lot of receives from people. We even met a few families who want to meet with us! I've heard that you get what you work for, and I'm working for families. I try hard to talk to every family we run into and we've been tracting a lot to find families. Its terrifying but really exciting!
The most exciting thing about this week was that Stara Zagora had two baptisms! Blagoi, one of my favorite men in the world, got baptized, as well as a 15 year old girl. Blagoi was so ready. I can't imagine anyone being more prepared than he was. The baptisms went smoothly and this time I didn't even cough. For the baptisms Sister Shumway and I made lemon bars, homemade brownies, chocolate-chip cookies, and apple cake. The apple cake was so delicious! I love baking and sharing it with everyone. I am so happy for Blagoi!
At Church yesterday I got the hiccups which is something I have been dreading! My hiccups are so loud and disruptive! It was awful. Sister Zoya came up to me at Church and said, "Sister Stenquist, when you were at my house on Wednesday you took something." At first I was confused because I wasn't sure if I was hearing her right. "You took something from my house. Don't you lie to me." I was really confused and worried and asked her what it was, "You know, you took it. You need to give it back to me." What?! Then she started laughing. She said that to get me scared so that I would stop hiccuping. And it worked! I stopped. She said its the best Bulgarian medicine for hiccups. It was so funny and I'm so glad that she was just joking!
Its really hard to help people progress to baptism. It seems like people either come all ready and gung-ho, like they're pre-packaged. Otherwise, they just flounder until we eventually drop them. We invite, invite, invite, invite, and its exasperating when people don't do what they need to. I've learned that we just need to obey! No ifs ands or buts! We just need to obey, trusting in God, and then we'll see the blessings evidenced in our lives afterwards. God always blesses us when we obey, and when we don't we're only denying ourselves the blessings of heaven. This is so clearly seen as a missionary because everything depends on people obeying and keeping commitments. When they do, they progress and their faith grows and they are so happy! When they don't nothing happens. Their lives stay the same, because they don't do anything to change it. It is sad to invite people to partake of God's blessings and hear them say that they can't, they won't, its too hard. With one sister, who is extremely poor, we had a lesson about tithing. We explained how it opens up the windows of heaven and I felt so strongly that God has so many blessings waiting to pour out on her, but can't do it until she follows this one law! But she thinks its impossible for her to do, and won't do it. Everyone comes up with their own exceptions to at least one law. We think, "With God everything is possible except this law in my life. I can't do it and therefore don't have to." Everyone just needs to stand up and obey to receive the blessings of heaven.
I'm so glad you all had a wonderful time celebrating Easter. I'm really excited to celebrate it here. Its so exciting and joyful to celebrate the Resurrected Christ!
Vsichko Hybavo, everything beautiful,