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Monday, July 22, 2013

Passau: July 22, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

We had a pretty fun week this week. I guess I will start with the big news (relatively), I didn't get transferred! And neither did Elder Barker. So, as we had guessed, we will be staying a second transfer here in Passau together. What did surprise me however, was the assignment to be District Leader again...This will be my sixth transfer as District Leader, and will mean that there will be about an exchange every single week, because there are four other elders in our district besides us, and I have to do an exchange with every one. The Sisters here in Passau are also going to be in a trio next transfer, so there will be 5 full-time missionaries to a branch of about 14-16 active members.

This week may also be a little bit more stressful for me, because I will be having to plan the District Meeting for next week, and at the same time I need to prepare a 20 minute talk for Sunday, the assignment was also just given to me yesterday. That reminds me, I did spend the week practicing one hymn, and I played just the right hand of High on the Mountaintop for the beginning of church. It was not perfect, but it was probably better than nothing.

I really appreciate the advice that you gave me about Elder Barker, and it is interesting, because that is more or less the same conclusion that I came to. I have just been telling him to do a ton of things, not in a bossy manner, but just because we both know if I don't tell him to do it, it won't be done. He doesn't mind it when I give him instructions. That is one strength that he definitely has, being humble. We have had some conversations that I never thought would happen without someone becoming offended. I have learned a lot more patience in this transfer, and I am really pleased with the progress that I am making. Not trying to say that in a cocky way, I feel good about where I am going with my life, like I am on the right path. I think I may have told you, but I had prayed for a companion who would help me to love my mission to the next level, as in that I could be even happier. Somehow Elder Barker is helping me to do that. I have never had a companionship that was so relaxed. It is really a completely different feeling, something I have never experienced up to this point.

Something really cool happened this week. So we were at the Müller's house, a family in our ward, and they are moving (don't worry, within our ward boundaries) and they have asked us to come help them. We dedicated all of Friday and Saturday to serving there, because the new people who are moving in keep trying to create new work, so that the Müllers can't get out on the appointed day, which would mean that the new people have to pay less money. Anywho, while we were working there, they found an old pair of Lederhosen, and wanted to have us try it on. I let Elder Barker try it on first, and they were a little small for him. Long story short, the Lederhosen fit me, and they gave them to me! They are real Lederhosen, which would cost about 200-300 Euro normally, and I got them for free! Another kind of funny/kind of sketchy story. So Sister Müller wanted to make sure that I really fit in them, so she made me put them back on, and when I came out to show them (her, her son and his girlfriend), they were helping me get the suspenders on, and making sure it was on right. Then she said, turn around, and so I turned around, and then she slapped my butt, and said, 'So muss es sein!' Which means, That's how it's got to be, or something along those lines. It was hilarious, but I guess it means that I have a good booty for the Lederhosen. Don't worry, Sister Müller is like 65, no problems developing there.

Your question about the investigators. Sensitve subject. We have been spending a lot of time recently doing other things, like service and whatnot, but we are still finding potential investigators, and are hoping that some of those people who give us their information will eventually want to meet with us. We'll keep on keeping on.

Anywho, life is still strangely good here. I am excited for the next transfer. I was telling Kimmie about this a little bit, but I feel like I now have a firmer grasp of who I want to be, and have become more and more okay with who I am right now. I like who I am, and am excited to keep getting better. I set some good transfer goals this last week, and am going to try and keep them in my mind for the next few weeks.

Anywho, nothing else is new. Love you!

Elder Merkley

Passau: July 15, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

This week was really great. We were in trains for EVER though. I think it was straight up around 15 hours of commuting for various meeting or finding days or just appointments.

It's so weird to think that Scott is home from his mission. We've been mission buddies for a long time (my entire mission), and it is weird to think that he is now a civilian again.

It is really interesting to think about how different missions are for every single person depending on your mission president, your mission, and just you. A lot of my friends who are serving in South America email me, and are always talking about how their 'finding' is more like 'sorting', where they just have to try to teach the people who will actually make progress. I swear, sometimes in our mission I feel like if someone says that we can come back, we come back. It's hard for us to drop people who are nice and like to talk with us. I understand it is important though, because then we can use our time wisely, and find more people that are interested.

I have heard rumors about them relaxing the standard for missionaries a little bit. President Miles talked about how they wanted to get rid of backpacks, and I'm just ahead of the curve, because I realized like 3 months ago how tacky they look, and that's why I bought a bag. In fact, they were even mentioning how a little lighter suit colors are ok too, and then Sister Miles kind of pointed out my suit, which is a lightish gray, and said that that kind of suit is totally okay. I had never even thought that it was borderline, but it was nice to get a confirmation about that, haha.

We didn't see Samira this week, but we are hoping to have an appointment with him in the next few days. It wasn't his fault that the appointments fell through, we couldn't actually come when we had said we would, because we had to go to another are for a finding day, and it took like 3-4 hours to get there with the train. So we were sitting for a really long time that day.

The Sagmeisters are also doing great. I was so impressed, Br Sagmeister and Johannes came to our English class on Wednesday. And then the next morning Johannes left on his mission. I was so surprised, and kept asking him what he was doing there. If I had been his mother I would have been angry at him. But it was really nice to get the support from them, and it made our class a lot better.

Yeah, we definitely cover a big area. We mostly just stay in the city because we have to pay for tickets to get anywhere outside of it. I can't describe how big it is, but there are members who have to drive for thirty minutes to get to church, and they aren't even the farthest out. We took a bus and train combination to visit someone, and it took over forty minutes to get to this dorf where he lived. The members are pretty spread out too. Only two active members live in Passau itself, and a few less actives as well. In general the members are a lot more spread out than I am used to. It also makes it difficult to visit them because we can't just hop on any train or bus that we want, we have to pay for it all.

Yeah, they rely on the missionaries a good amount in the branch. Yesterday Sister Garrett led the music, and Mom, you're going to laugh, but they don't have anyone to play the piano, and if I could play hymns very well, I would be used every week to play them... Still not regretting the quitting though, well mostly not. There is a keyboard in our apartment, and I bought batteries for it this week, and I plan on spending some time practicing this week. A missionary is expected to talk at least once a month, so there are quite a few talks from missionaries in the branch.

We did have a fun experience on Saturday. We actually changed our Pday to Saturday last week, and we went to a city called Landshut, where they have this huge celebration right now. It's like this reenactment of this wedding that happened in 1475 or something like that. A ton of the Landshut citizens dress up in the old clothing, and they are all members of guilds and what not. You actually have to grow out your hair to do it, so they are way serious about it. We went there on Saturday and walked around and just kind of enjoyed the day, it was a lot of fun.

We did have a cool experience last night. I was talking about some of my frustrations and concerns with Elder Barker, and then he ended up offering me a blessing. Before he had offered it I had kind of had the thought that if he offered me one I would take him up on it. And so I did. It was really a very good blessing, and I had the idea to record it, and then copy it down into my study journal, so if I remember I will type it up and send it with my next email. It really strengthened my testimony of priesthood blessings, because it totally addressed a lot of my concerns and worries. I am really grateful that the Lord can work through anyone to talk to us.

Anywho, it was a good week.

Elder Merkley

Monday, July 8, 2013

Passau: July 8, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

Well, this week was pretty good, and Elder Barker and I have finally seen a little bit of success!! But before we get to that, I just want to comment on Tanner's mission call. Dominican Republic? Crazy!! I'm so pumped for him! I am, of course, mildly disappointed that he wasn't called to this mission, but I am more excited that he will be going to the temple and then going on a mission. I know it will be a great experience for him. Also, Scott's coming home this week. Wow. That is ridiculous. I feel like he has been out forever so it will be weird to think about him back in the normal world.

I don't even know where to start this week. I guess I can start with our success. So we found our first investigator yesterday! His name is Samira, and he is from Afghanistan, but speaks really good English, and actually was offered a job from the American Military. This is essentially the first time where I have had a lesson in English with someone from the Middle East without having some sort of communication problem.  It wasn't a hugely spiritual lesson, but we gave him a Book of Mormon, and talked about the importance of being open to an answer about it.

So, my relationship with Elder Barker is actually pretty good, we can talk pretty openly with each other, and that makes it easy for us to give each other feedback. It's really great because he doesn't get offended when I mention things that we can do better at. That's something I am still trying to develop; because I get instantly defensive if I think that someone is saying that we aren't doing something as well as we could be.

The weather has been pretty good this week, still a little warm for people who walk around all day in dress-shirts and ties, but overall I would call it enjoyable. The three rivers that meet here in the city help to keep things a little bit cooler. Our apartment is right on the Donau (Danube River), which is really great because, as I have complained about before, the Germans don't use air conditioning. The river helps to keep the apartment relatively cool, thank goodness.

The branch here is pretty great. Like I was saying last week, the Sagmeisters are super great, and are definitely the core of the branch. I'm working on trying to love them more, I know it is important, but I would say that for the most part I do love the members.

There were actually around 40 people in church yesterday!! It was so ridiculous! It was Johannes Sagmeister's last day, and so a lot of his extended family came, and then another random member family from Switzerland showed up. I guess they were in vacation and saw the church, and wanted to come to partake of the sacrament. I talked to the dad to see if he maybe knew Daniel, but he's from the Bern area, and so he didn't know him. He was really nice though, and he complimented my German, saying that he was unsure if I was German or American, which of course made me super happy. I love it when people compliment my German, though they are usually just nice when they pretend they don't know I'm American.

Unfortunately, the only temple in our mission is in Switzerland, and since American missionaries can't really go into Switzerland the chances that I'm going to be able to the temple are minuscule. I haven't been to the temple for over 13 months, Father, and I don't expect to be able to go during my mission at all, which is too bad. Like you were saying, I think it would be way interesting to be able go to the temple right now, as a full-time missionary, but alas, tis not to be...

So I got your two packages to me, Mom, thanks a ton!! I don't want to complain, but there were some small problems with them... I loved the idea of throwing the nerds in the package too, you know how much I love those, but I did learn something new this week: wet nerds+a new white shirt=big rainbow stain. The other shirt is fine though. Also, I guess I didn't think i had to mention it, but the crew neck garments are a little bit uncomfortable, and are about a half an inch higher than my collared-shirts, haha. Also, another thing I guess I failed to mention, I'm short, Mom. I don't know if you had forgotten about that, or maybe you thought that I had grown a few inches, but I haven't. Keeping that in mind, the garment bottoms are really cool. And I think I will be able to use them if I buy some of those awesome European man-caprees. Unfortunately, anything that is shorter than two-three inches below the knee won't be compatible with the new garments, because they were designed for someone who is about 6'3'' or so. I'll just order myself some online, and save us any trouble in the future, haha.  Sorry that I forgot to mention those things when I asked for them! Also, you did include pictures, not a ton of them, but you did include a few, don't hesitate to send more though. I love getting pictures from you guys.

OH! I almost forgot, I did have a cool experience this week. So we had interviews this last week, and during my interview with President Miles we talked about Elder Barker a little bit, and he said something that really helped my understanding of Elder Barker. He talked about how child-like Elder Barker is, about how naive he is, and he expressed his admiration of that. That just kind of helped me to understand who Elder Barker is a little bit better. At the very end of this interview President Miles looked down, and as he started to talk I just had this feeling that what he was saying right now was coming right from God. He told me that he doesn't understand why, but he knows that he put me with Elder Barker for inspired reasons. I felt the Spirit really confirming that for me, and so I know that Elder Barker and I are together for a reason. I don't know why, what I am going to learn from it, or why I need it at all, but hopefully I'll figure it out at some point.

I hope that they figure out what is going on with Katie. I feel like this has thing with her has been going on forever, is she still in a lot of pain? I keep her in my thoughts and prayers.

I don't know what else to write, other than all that, this week has been pretty boring. A lot of finding and contacting. This has been a lot different experience for me in finding too. Before I came here we always had an area book, so we didn't have to often just do straight up contacting. Here we have nothing, and so we have just been doing straight up dooring or streeting for the last few weeks. Streeting has also become a little more difficult for me, because I feel like I'm doing it alone. Even when I need help, and straight up look at Elder Barker to try to get him to jump in, he just looks at his hands and doesn't say anything. It has become pretty emotionally draining for me to do hours of this without any sort of assistance. We've talked about it a few times, but so far it hasn't really gotten any better. I'll take your advice though, and think of Scotty. I'll try to develop a more helpful attitude.

Anywho, I love you all!

Elder Merkley

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Passau: July 1, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam, 
This week has been pretty great. That is probably because, as Dad noted in his email, the weather was really enjoyable this week, maybe even a little bit on the chilly side. 
First off, I am glad that you are taking good care of Gideon, and not letting him suffer too much from the heat. I can just imagine that poor little guy sitting outside right by the door, panting up a storm. Speaking of dogs though, that's terrible that Aunt Tami's dog died. I'll be including her in my prayers this week. There's got to be something good coming her way soon, she has expereinced so many hard things recently. 
As for packages, I will be picking up one of them today, the second one hasn't come yet. But, do you want to know something really cool? I did get a different package this week! It was the only piece of mail we got (I think, I have bad memory), but on Wednesday or Thursday I got a package, and I had just assumed it was from you guys, but when I opened it, I saw a small card, and realized that it was written in German, so then I got a little suspicious... Anywho, do you remember Stefan Schmidt? The Priest that Daniel met and taught on his mission? I guess he just decided to send me a box, quite literally full of chocolate. It was just about the nicest thing ever, and I was super surprised by it. And the chocolate is also Swiss chocolate, so it tastes super good. 
As for teaching pool, we still don't have any investigators, but we did have a couple lessons this week, and wow, one of them was super super powerful. So in those letters you sent me, you had included this one random email from Michael Watking, about setting baptismal dates and using the first vision. As I read it, I was thinking about the first lessons that I have had, and I was just realizing how seldom I use the first vision on my mission. I decided I wanted to change that, so I brushed up on the first vision, and decided I would use it in our lesson that day. We had this appointment with this 17 year-old guy, whom we actually found through a presentation at a school. he just came up to us afterwards, and asked if we could meet another time. Anywho, so we went to the church building and had this lesson, and I tried that basic thing that Michael had described in his letter, and I recited the first vision. Holy crud. The Spirit was so strong there. I can't remember the last time I have felt the Spirit that strong. It was just such an amazing experience. I know this kid, Aaron, felt it too, and we even talked about it a little bit. He said he would be baptized when he finds out that it is true, which, if he really reads in the Book of Mormon, is only  a matter of time. Anywho, in the closing prayer he prayed that Heavenly Father would help him, because we had given him a lot to ponder about. One downside: he has finals for these next couple of weeks, and then he is going for for weeks into Italy and Croatia, so the next appointment won't be for a while. 
Yeah, so besides that awesome story we had a lot of fallen out appointments, and spent a lot of time finding as well. We have a few more appointments set up for next week, so we hope that something will come of that. 
The branch is pretty great here. There's not a lot of them, but they are pretty supportive. I would say that this one family, The Sagmeisters, are the biggest strength to the branch. The wife is the relief society president, the oldest boy, who got back from his mission about 6 months ago, is our GML, and now the next two boys both have their mission calls, and should be reporting to the MTC in the next month or two. They have invited us and the Sisters every week to eat, and they are our only eating appointment, which is already pretty good, though. They let the Sisters bring one of their investigators to our eating appointment last week, too. Yeah, it will be a big blow when both of those boys go on missions in a few weeks. We are starting an English class this week, and at least two or three of them will be coming to support us in that too. 
The Sisters here are super great, and we have been trying to stay coordinated with each other. We are doing the English class together, and have been both giving out fliers and trying to hype it up a little bit. I also tell them where we have been dooring, so that they can try to avoid dooring the same areas as we do. We actually have been avoiding dooring for the most part, though. We have been doing streeting. Which reminds me, I did see a part of this cool broadcast thing yesterday. Our branch president decided spontaneously that instead of having a normal sacrament meeting we should watch that, and it was great! Except that I had to translate for two hours, and let me tell you, the Apostles are extremely educated men, and have very large vocabularies. I won't lie to you, I don't have a huge German vocabulary. As in, trying to translate a translation of what the Apostles were saying, back into the original language was really mentally exhausting. Anywho, that's not important, I was reminded of this because one of the Apostles was explaining how when he was on his mission they used to just stop people on the street to talk to them about the Gospel, but about how in our world today that doesn't really work anymore. I wanted to yell, 'AMEN!' but I restrained myself. I've just only been in areas so far where finding is essentially the only thing we do, and I'll be perfectly honest, I start getting frustrated. I talk to people all day, I talk to every person I see, why am I not seeing more success? I also know that I am pretty good at it (not trying to brag, just being honest), as in, I'm not a robot, I have real conversations with people who will actually stop and listen, and yet somehow we still see very little success. I mean, I have spent hours and hours talking to people and trying to find investigators during the last three weeks. We have literally found none.  
Our mission is a lot bigger than it used to be. In fact, they just created a new Freiburg zone, and put the Zone Leaders in Singen, where Daniel served. But yeah, looking at where all the missionaries are, you can notice that they are putting more than one companionship into a ton of areas, mostly just the areas where the ward is big enough to support them, but I guess also a couple where they hope the missionaries can be an extra strength to small branches. I don't know if the whole mission feels like it, but I definitely feel the hastening of the work. The new missionaries coming in are really prepared, and are stepping up to the plate and working miracles. I have been impressed with the young Elders and Sisters. There is an 18 year old in my district right now, and he is super cool, and was super ready to come on his mission at 18. 
Things with Elder Barker  have gotten a lot better. I am SOOOO grateful that I was with Elder Jerman for the last couple of transfers, because that kid taught me all about how great service is. He would always pray that we could serve and love each other, and then he always would do little things for me, and eventually I started following his example and serving more. I was really excited to try and apply that with my new companion, and I have really been trying to serve as much as I can this week. It has really helped. I have also tried to be super patient and just try to help Elder Barker as much as possible. He was having a really hard time teaching, because of a lack of knowledge about the lessons, and also because of the language, and so we have been doing role plays ever day in comp study on the first lesson this week, and are planning on staying on it until we can teach it really well together. I have seen a ton of progress with him, mainly just in confidence. He has been teaching a lot more clearly this week.  I have also been trying to just have real conversations with him a lot more too, which has helped us to become more comfortable with each other. It's weird, because I am never angry with him at all, sometimes just...exasperated. But it is getting better, and I am learning to love him for his quirks. 
Holy Moly, I wrote a lot. I think there is a lot more I could write, but I still have other emails to write, and you probably would start getting, I love you all, and I hope you have a great week. 
Elder Merkley