Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"You guys are way better than the Jehovah's Witnesses!" - Mahji, an 80+-year-old

Begin tangent
In Iraq there are three prevailing churches (and by three prevailing churches I mean one dominates and the other two are trying): the Catholics, the إنجيليّن (Evangelicals), and the شهد يهوة (Jehovah's Witnesses). 90% of the people we meet are Catholics. I'd say about 9% of the others are Evangelicals (Baptists, Protestants, etc.) and I think I can count on one hand the number of Iraqi Jehovah's Witnesses I've met. Out of those three, the Jehovah's Witnesses are looked down upon the most largely because of their unorthodox views on Christ and their lack of praying to Mary. Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't in Iraq, pretty much no one knows who we are and assume that we're either the Evangelicals or the Jehovah's Witnesses. Once we find out we're not the latter they tend to be all ears. 
End tangent

Transfers are tomorrow and spoiler alert: I have to pack. Before I get around to that dreaded exercise, I should probably talk about what happened this week and what's going down tomorrow at transfers! 
This week, we...
- Have a very patchwork Wednesday!
- Split Weekly Planning up over three days because we're too busy
- Add Maryam and Frial then have a fancy dinner with a ward missionary
- Do splits and add Amer!
- Do service on Mt. Helix with President Schmitt and his family
- Show up late to stake conference after having to pick up some other missionaries
- Re-add a former named Dalia!
- Teach a former named Ibtisom
- Find out how Morad's doing with the Word of Wisdom
- Have a very circular lesson with some old people
- Go on splits to teach Suhaila and a less-active
- Get transfer calls!

Wednesday is the day that we normally use a lot of time and miles to go down to National City to teach عادل (Adil) English. But he cancelled on us and said to try on Thursday. So we spent a lot of companionship study working on how to fill the two-hour block that just opened up. Once we did that, we went out for the day. We tried potential after potential and former after former and didn't get in the door with anyone, which wasn't the ideal but hey, it happens. After that we had a member dinner wherein we taught her nonmember son a lesson. He really wasn't interested and was just kind of there because his mom told him to be there, so the lesson wasn't that good. Then right afterward we got a call from the Zone Leaders asking if we could do a mini DLC (District Leadership Council) at the end of the night. So we tried more people with no success and finally just went to the DLC tired and a little frustrated that things didn't work out. 

On Thursday we commenced Part I of Weekly Planning and then had a lesson with Maryam, a lady I mentioned in my last email. Her sister? Sister-in-law? Daughter-in-law? Some sort of relative... was there, and they were pretty receptive. We said we were going to use the Bible and the relative, Frial, asked, "Which part?" and then proceeded to pull out a very used Bible with highlights, notes, and everything. 

I almost wept tears of happiness in that moment. 

Tangent #2
Most people we teach don't read the Bible. The idea is that the priest or the deacon interprets the Bible for them and so they don't need to read it or study it. All they need to do is go to church, stand up, sit down, stand up again, listen as the priest reads some scriptures they don't understand, and then go home. Despite that, most people would proudly say they've read the Bible dozens of times when in actuality their priest has read portions of the Bible dozens of times for them. 
End tangent #2

They were pretty receptive of the message and the only concern that they had was that Frial works on Sundays. We've got a return appointment with them for Thursday, which will be great.

After the lesson, we printed off some flyers for an upcoming family history event with one of our ward missionaries and had a very fancy $10 dinner with him that consisted of two Little Caesar's pizzas and some red pepper flakes. After our luxurious dinner we had a lesson with Fawzi, our less-active recent convert, about fasting. We had planned to go over at 6:45 but forgot to tell both Fawzi and the member we were bringing of the time change, so we wound up going at 7 and that really threw everything off. At about 8, just as we were wrapping up, we got a call from a member who was going to come with us to visit Morad asking where we were. We closed up the lesson as fast as we could, rushed over to Morad's, and looked for our member who came running across the street to tell us that Morad forgot that we were going to come and so wanted us to come the next day. We apologized for being late to the member who was more than understanding and then went back to the apartment to commence Part II of Weekly Planning. 

On Friday we had a great Zone Meeting wherein we talked about focusing on achieving our goals and then had a shawarma lunch from one of several international markets in El Cajon that actually sells good Arabic food. 

Tangent #3 (my, there are a lot of those today!)
Most Middle Eastern restaurants don't do Middle Eastern food justice. Coincidentally, there are many much restaurants in El Cajon that try to cater to the Iraqi population but fail horribly. The best places to get as close to authentic Middle Eastern food as you can get in El Cajon without spending thousands of dollars and risking your life in an attempt to get authentic food from Baghdad is to go the international markets, then to the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that don't do a whole ton of advertising but are swarming with Iraqis preparing and cooking the food for a bunch of Iraqis who are eating the food.
End Tangent #3

That evening we went on splits to visit Morad and a potential named Amer. Elder Jensen and I went to visit Amer and had a great lesson with him. He's a painter from Iraq who has learned through sad experience that his degree in hotel management that he got from a university in Iraq means absolutely nothing here in the US. Right now he's working on selling the paintings he's got and trying to find a job teaching fine arts in order to pay his monthly rent. The lesson went really well and he was asking really good questions and follow-up questions to understand more... and then it got a little political and he talked about how he doesn't like the way things are working out here in the U.S. We couldn't get him back on track before we ran out of time, so we told him, "We've got to go, but will you read the pamphlet and pray about it before we come back on Wednesday?" He said yes, and he said he'd come to church with us. We concluded with a prayer and that was the end of the night. Elder Greer told me the lesson with Morad went really well. 

On Saturday we did service on Mt. Helix preparing for the El Niño rainstorms that are supposed to hit this winter. We thought it was just going to be us and maybe one other companionship, but it turns out that we were there along with President Schmitt and his family, the Assistants, and two or three other companionships from the San Diego East Zone. It was a lot of fun. 

After that we finished Weekly Planning Part III and then went out for the night before the evening session of stake conference. As we were walking along talking with people that evening, we saw a big blue light in the sky. We were confused as to what it was and started throwing out guesses. A supernova? A missile attack? Aliens? A bunch of kids in the area were freaking out and saying they saw "a bullet" in the sky. Turns out the Navy was testing a missile and that people as far away as Salt Lake City could see it. It was more than a little weird, though. 

We had stake conference that evening at 7. About 6:45, we got a text from the Zone Leaders asking if we could drive out to Alpine to pick up the elders out there. We reluctantly accepted, seeing as how Alpine is about 20 miles east of us and a trip there and back would make us late. We wound up picking up the Alpine Elders and got back to the stake center about 20 minutes late, awkwardly shuffling in while President and Sister Schmitt and Elder Schwitzer of the Seventy were seated on the stand. Either they didn't notice or didn't care, but it was still rather embarrassing. Elder Schwitzer was hilarious! He talked about keeping the commandments and was making it a fun time for everyone in attendance. 

On Sunday we had the final session of stake conference. We weren't late to it this time, thankfully. Elder Schwitzer talked about and testified of the Book of Mormon. After stake conference we called a member to come with us to an appointment at the church building. The investigator never showed up, so we asked the member if he would mind coming out with us to visit some potentials. We parked on a street named Redwood and started walking around, trying potentials. No one was answering. As we were walking back to the car, the thought came to me, "Elder Greer wanted to visit a former named Dalia who lives right here. Why not go now?" So we stopped by and she let us in! We shared the Restoration with her and invited her to be baptized. She told us that she didn't have any problems with what we taught but that the leader of her church said that if she joined "the Mormons" she'd get kicked out and they wouldn't help her with rent and food. Needless to say, she was a little hesitant. We asked her if she would be baptized if God commanded her to. "How would he command me?" she asked. We responded by talking about the Spirit and what its role is, and promised her that she'd know our message was true if she read the Book of Mormon and prayed about it. She said she'd read and pray and that we could come back! It was an awesome lesson!

After dinner that night we had an appointment with a former investigator named Ibtisom. We were sharing the message with her and she laid out her concerns. Basically, she's not sure if she can say it's true or not because she's never heard of Joseph Smith before. Getting down to the root, it's really fear and the thought that she needs to know everything in order to be baptized. The member we brought with us bore testimony of how we wasn't sure about Joseph Smith either, but as he prayed and read he felt it was true and that while he's still learning he can say that it's true. She didn't set up a return appointment with us, but she said we could call and find out what her schedule is like and then come over. At the end of the night when we were looking at what had happened this week, we found that we had added seven new investigators! At the beginning of the week, we had fasted and prayed that we'd be able to find 10 new investigators, and we were really grateful that we came so close to hitting that goal. 

On Monday we went and taught Morad. He's doing better with the Word of Wisdom in that he's drinking herbal tea now, but he's still struggling to quit smoking. We prayed about it and he felt that he would be able to quit on Wednesday. In the lesson we talked about following the prophet and Joseph Smith's experience. He said he wasn't sure about Joseph Smith, so we invited him to pray and ask God about it. We don't think he'll make his baptismal date for Nov. 21, but he's progressed so far and he's so close! Please keep him in your prayers!

Later on yesterday we had a lesson with the aforementioned 80+-year-old and her 60+-year-old daughter. The entire time they all had good questions but had a hard time listening to us. At the beginning we asked if we could pray and they said yes. They then proceeded to go on a ten-minute tangent about prayer and where we were all from and something about where our ancestors came from. The member we brought with us was born in New Zealand, but they kept asking if he was from Iraq. We started the lesson by talking about how we're all the family of God and the Mahji (pronounced like Maggie but with a 'j' sound instead of a 'g'; I'm guessing on the spelling) told us, "I already know this. Why aren't you teaching anything new?" We kindly explained to her that it was the beginning of the lesson and that we'd get to that. And that really set the tone for the entire lesson. We'd say something, then they'd go off on a tangent about something, then we'd bring it back, then they'd ask what we were talking about, then we'd repeat the whole process. In our discussion about apostasy Ikram, the 60-year-old, told us, "You're like the old apostles, yes?" We said, "Sure." She responded with, "Yeah. They preached about Jesus and then they got killed. You won't get killed here. But if you went to Iraq to preach to Muslims, maybe they'd kill you!" 


Other than that, the lesson was pretty good and they said we could come back this week. We finished up the night by going on splits with the zone leaders; Elder Greer and Elder Godby went to visit a less-active and Elder Jensen and I went and taught Suhaila and her sons about scripture study. I'd just like to set the record straight that Mario is super solid. Suhaila knows it's true but is in the stage of "I don't want to admit it's true" and Marceleno could afford to pay attention a little more, but Mario is solid. He's going to be a great missionary! 

Last up... transfers.

I'm going to be training in Arabic North, and Elder Greer and Elder Jensen are going to be training in Arabic South! We're getting two new missionaries! This is going to be a ton of fun!

That's it for this week! We've got some crazy stuff happening this coming week, and it starts at 6:00 tonight! Thank you all for your letters and emails and most importantly your prayers on my behalf; I really appreciate it!

-- Elder Hawkes
Elder Christian Hawkes
California San Diego Mission
7404 Armstrong Place
San Diego, CA 92111-4912

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