This week was one heck of an experience! We seriously spent most of our time on the streets with people trying to find and teach. Not much luck so far. I just hope with all my heart that we aren’t missing someone… if God wants to give me two years of rejection then I welcome it! But, I don’t want a single person that needs the Gospel to go without it. It’s difficult, because after being on your mission for a while, the pain you feel in rejection is pain for the people. There have been times out here in the past week, that people have described to us how there is no hope left, how they have lost faith in God because of the grief they’ve seen, and have altogether become hardened in their sorrow, and yet determined, to continue in the same such depression. They refuse to look up to the light, they refuse to grab the hand reaching out to them. They refuse the love that could so easily bind their shattered hearts and minds. I ache for these people. They deserve so much better.
Besides this, there are those that have accepted it, and I have seen miracles this week in blessings, the faith of some who have not refused, and those that have taken their broken hearts in their hands and cried out to their Savior, giving it and all they have to Him. I guess I really gained a testimony this week on Loving the Lord your God. Everything can be made easier with that love. Take the Pavilion from your eyes and look to Him as your Balm of Gilead. I promise he wasn’t the one that put that Pavilion there.
Lesson wise, well, we broke last week’s record! Our district (3 companionships) is now teaching 50 lessons per week, consistently! Even though we don’t have many investigators, the Lord will always bless you if you do what He asks. So, we did the best we could, and He made up for the rest.
The most fun part of the week, however, was a scambio (companion exchange) that I did with a greenie (new missionary) named Anziano Jensen. Man, that kid was on fire! We hit the pavement running and didn’t stop for hours. The payoff? We taught loads of people on the streets, in the shops, in the Piazzi, and really gained a great deal of faith doing it! Turns out, I was the dude’s first scambio, and so I made it worth it and raised the bar for the rest of the Anziani after me by starting off the scambio with some scambio-gelato (it’s a thing) from Cioccolat’Italiani. Look up pictures of that place online and you will see what I mean.
Cultural Bit: place your thumb on your pointer and middle finger as if you are about to snap, then bend those fingers just a bit so that the space in between is a nice oval shape. Next, turn your hand upside down so that the top of your hand is facing the ground. Last, shake that hand in accordance with the emphasis of your words. Now, you know how to affectively argue in Italian.
Spiritual Bit: I’ve been trying to think all week about what to write here, because this is how I can help each one of you this week. However, I feel impressed instead to share an excerpt from an email I got from a friend serving in Rome right now:
“The other day on the bus, our phone got stolen out of my bag (this is a tragic thing for a missionary because of all the contact numbers we lose). The phone we received as replacement was an old phone of the Rome 6 sisters. We started getting a bunch of calls from a woman who mumbled and slurred all of her words, and all we could understand was that she wanted us to see her. We had no idea who she was or where she lived. Finally, we were able to understand that her name is Patrizia Gabriele. We could also hear shouting in the background. Because you meet a lot of mentally ill people here in Italy, we assumed that she was crazy. She started calling us over 15x a day. We asked the Rome 6 sisters if they knew who she was and we found out that she was a 40-something year-old woman who has been in a casa di cura for the psychologically insane for years. Before she was put there by her sister, she got the missionary lessons and wanted to be baptized. Her sister wouldn’t let her though, and she has since gotten the missionaries’ numbers and calls them almost every day asking for them to come visit her and bring her the Liahona (church magazine). After praying about it, Sorella Chandler and I felt impressed to go visit her. After SEVERAL conversations with her on the phone trying to understand her garbled Italian, we were FINALLY able to figure out where her casa di cura is. On Saturday, we told her we would come visit her. She was so excited that she kept calling us just to make sure we were coming. Neither Sister Chandler or I knew what to expect, and the other missionaries were kind of wary about us going to a mental institution. We felt strongly that we needed to go, though. We loaded ourselves up with as many Liahonas as we could find and told Patrizia to read 2 Nephi 4 to prepare for our coming.
The bus took us out in the middle of nowhere, right on the edge of our zone. We came up to a an old castle (I kid you not) with a giant stone and metal gate around it. We pushed the buzzer and were let right in. I remember feeling a twinge of fear, but immediately the spirit came to my heart and I distinctly felt the words come to my head: “Don’t be afraid. You are here in Christ’s name.” All my fear left and we walked through this grassy area with three large, old buildings. A woman popped out of one and told us to go around to the garden. We could see a garden with a metal fence around it filled with lots of people sitting, and a woman waiting with a bag inside the gate. Patrizia had been waiting for us and told us to unlock the gate so we could come in. As we came in, lots of the patients came up to us to meet us. They were so sweet and friendly! They all shook our hands and told us welcome! Many of them had scars and disfigurements on their faces, and over half of them had hunched backs from sitting for years. Patrizia led us through the inside of the castle to a dark room with benches where we could sit and talk. The castle was filled with mental patients just sitting around and watching TV. As we walked in, they immediately felt the spirit and were drawn to us like a moth to a flame. Many of them came up to introduce themselves and talk to us. They are some of the most friendly, sweetest people I have ever met. They had such a child-like innocence about them. Most of them were at least over forty years old. We sat with Patrizia and her friends and all read the Book of Mormon together. They would all be quiet, and after we would read a scripture, they would talk about how beautiful it was. There was one older woman named Maria who told me that she was feeling bad that day because her legs hurt and she started to cry. As I held her and kissed her head, I started to cry, too. The spirit of Christ was so present in the room. Sister Chandler cried, too. We felt down to our bones the deep love and compassion Christ had for these people. We testified to them of the love that Christ had for them, how He thinks about them every day. Maria cried as I held her and said, “Io so… Io so…” (“I know… I know…”) Even though these people had lost so much of their ability to function and had been shut away from the world, they had such pure testimonies of Christ. They knew He lived and they knew He loved them. They believed immediately the things we taught them about His love and how we see His love in the sun and the flowers and the sky, and how we will live with our Heavenly Father and be made perfect in the next life. They had so much hope and faith. It was so beautiful and the spirit was so strong that Sister Chandler and I couldn’t restrain our tears. One little man ran out to the garden and brought back two dandelions he had picked for us. His face was so happy to give this little gift. We showed them pictures of our families, told stories, read scriptures, and laughed and joked together. When it was time for us to go, they all gathered around and shook our hands and told us, “Buon Pasqua! Buon Pasqua!” (“Happy Easter!”) One little man named Stefano asked us at least five times to please bring him a Book of Mormon when we come back.
Sorella Chandler and I sat in silence on the bus ride back, just marveling at the incredible peace and love we were feeling. We both turned to each other and said aloud how we both knew that getting our phone stolen was an inspired act and that we knew we were supposed to go there and visit those sweet spirits. We were amazed that we were able to communicate with and understand them so well… most of them spoke with such garbled voices that we realized we never would have been able to understand them without the help of the spirit. It truly was a miracle.
As we’ve thought about it since, we’ve realized what an incredible blessing that was in our lives. We went thinking we would be standing in for Christ, ministering to the poor and down-trodden. In the end, they were the ones who were the ministering angels. Sorella Chandler and I had both been going through such a difficult time with the work, both of us just trying to keep our heads above the water and not get depressed. There have been so few times in my life where I have felt the love of our Savior so strongly, so powerfully, so beautifully as I did in that old mental asylum in the middle of nowhere. I know Christ loves us. I know it, I know it, I know it. I know that the Atonement is deep and real, that it is an act of love He did for us. I know that this is why I’m here. 100% this is why I’m here– to help others to feel that love that the Savior has for them, to bring them to knowledge of this incredible gift, to help them have hope and faith and trust in Christ. I’m not here because I’m great or because I have so much to offer– I am here because He is great and because He has so much to offer. How blessed we are.”
I just want to add my testimony to this (Anz Squire again) that Jesus Christ lives. He does in reality exist. He has a body of flesh and bones. He did in reality suffer for every one of us. I testify of the reality of this gospel, and the reality of the salvation and happiness that awaits us. Come unto Christ, and you will be saved. I close this in His name, amen.
Me and Anziano Jensen
***You can reach me at Squire.Jacob@myldsmail.net***