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Monday, September 23, 2013

Passau: September 23, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

First off, I'm glad you received my letter, Mother, and I'm glad that my improved handwriting impressed you, because I have been working on that for the last couple of months. It is still not as good as I want it, but I'm not going to give up until it is very neat.

When is Dad going to Munich, and for how long? Could he potentially bring some of that gel that I like (you can ask Daniel what kind that is), and send it to me while he is here? Post is pretty inexpensive within Germany, and I wasn't sure that it could be shipped international, because it could potentially look like something kind of sketchy.

The missionary work went alright this week. Unfortunately I didn't have any flashes of inspiration like I did with the zucchini. I'm going to keep trying to find new and creative ways of finding people, and I'll let you know if I come up with anything else that works. Oh, and Mom, it was nothing special that I made with the Zucchini, it was just a way to cook it. I essentially just put some oil in a pan and then cooked them with other vegetables, and then made a sauce to put on top of it all. It was pretty tasty. Oh, but, I do have a really awesome recipe that you need to try. It's no-bake cookies, but instead of putting in three tablespoons of cocoa, try putting in a cup of peanut butter after you boil it. They are some of the most delicious cookies I have ever had the pleasure of eating.

My relationship with Elder Barker is still good. My patience was super tested this week, I knew I shouldn't have started praying for something like that, because then God gives me all sorts of situations to work on it! 

Ok, cool story. Do you remember that man who answered the door in his underwear, and then the next day the Sisters doored into him too? We visited him again this week, and he became an investigator!  We invited him to be baptized, because he told us that he knows without a doubt that the Book of Mormon is true, but he said that he wants to talk a little bit more about what the consequences of baptism are. I am unsure if he really is as Golden as it sounds, because he is a little crazy sometimes, but we have an appointment with him on Tuesday, and we are going to focus on helping him understand what baptism really means. We hope to set a baptismal date with him this week.

Ok, I have a lot of other people to email today. i love you all!

Elder Merkley

Monday, September 16, 2013

Passau: September 16, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

First off, that's so cool that Scotty got his mission call!! That will be such a cool experience for him to serve in the Family History Center. How long did you say his mission is going to be?

As for the Oktoberfest, I have no idea how this will affect me actually, because this is something that really only happens here in Bavaria, so this will be the first time where I will ever notice a difference because of it. I think it should start in the next couple of weeks and should go for a few weeks, but I'm not actually sure. I guess I will really find out when I go to Munich for any meetings and have to walk right past the place where they have it.

So, as for Elder Barker's German...I don't know. It is definitely improving, but I still get a little sad, because he speaks very little German with me, regardless of the fact that I speak so much German with him. I just sometimes get the feeling that he isn't really trying to speak that much German. I'm going to try to keep pushing him, and at the same time just keep setting an example.

We actually did run into this Romanian guy again, just a couple of days ago. I asked him if he had read, and he told me that he hadn't had time yet. He said he was going to do it, and then he would send us a text. We didn't get his number though, so he will have to contact us in order for there to be anymore information there.

We had a couple of teaching opportunities this week. We taught this less-active member with the Sisters on Tuesday, which was okay. He is from Africa, and hasn't come to church in a pretty long time. The lesson was pretty good, and we ended it by giving him a blessing. We are going to try and keep contact with him, and I'll let you know if he starts making any progress.  The other teaching opportunity we had was a potential investigator whom the Sisters wanted to pass on. He is an Albanian Muslim, and is a little sarcastic. I guess that when the Sisters still had the trio they had met with him once, and was a little skeptical of them, because their German wasn't as good as his. I guess that my German is better, and so he was a little more withdrawn during our little lesson. We just gave him a commitment to pray and ask God if Jesus Christ was really his son, and we will check up with him next week. If he hasn't done it though, I don't think we'll meet again, because it just wouldn't be worth the time and effort to talk with him. He is a talker.

I don't think I got any letter these last week or two.. Oh wait! I got one from the Millers, from Sister Hansen, and from you, or rather from the Bowens. Those all came last Monday. I swear you all conspired and send them on the same exact day. Other than that I don't think I got anything. I also can't really think of anything that I need... Wait, can you send me Scott Whitworth's email? And I was thinking about Christmas time, what if I were to ask you to maybe not send a ton of presents and just money instead? I'm sorry if that sounds mean, but it may be easier for me to just buy some things here instead of you buying them and hoping that they get to me safely, and then hoping that things fit me, you know?

Other than that this week was pretty boring, but went by strangely quickly. We ended up playing soccer and Frisbee with Luis, that guy from Peru, again on Thursday, and he said he had read 3 Nephi 11 like we had told him. We keep trying to set up another appointment where we can also talk to him about the Book of Mormon, and he keeps saying that we can, but up until this point we haven't been able to get a hold of him in order to actually do that. We have a lot of hope for him and really want to meet with him this week.

Our GML, Tobias, finally got back from America this week, but we haven't seen him, because he went right to Munich to work apparently. I guess all he wants to do is to save up enough money to be able to fly back to America and start working and studying there. So we may lose our GML, as soon as he has enough money to get out of here, haha. My relationship with the ward is actually really good. I really like the members here and enjoy going to church and being able to talk to them. 

Elder Barker and I have been trying bus contacting this week, because our mission has really been focusing on trying to find people in more natural ways, which is a little difficult to do when you stop them on the street. There is very little that is natural about that. Anyway, we really want to find people through this, and I hope that we will be able to get better at it this week. I actually gave out a Family: A Proclamation to the World brochure this week. Funny story, I actually used a Zucchini as a finding technique. I put it in my bag, and when an older lady would sit anywhere near me I would show her the zucchini and tell her I was trying to learn how to cook and wasn't sure what to do with this zucchini, both of which are very true. Because of that I made a really tasty lunch one of these days with zucchini in it, and learned a new word, so it was a win-win-win.

I'm getting tired of emailing, sorry that I didn't have any great stories this week! I'll try to give you some good ones next week!

Elder Merkley

Here he is, wearing some Lederhosen!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Passau: September 10, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam, 
Ok, so I tried to throw up some pictures on Dropbox, but it took me a little while to figure it out, so this email may be a little shorter than I had originally intended. I swear that I start out every email with some sort of excuse as to why this email is going to be shorter than I want... 
By the way, Mom, I didn't forget your birthday. I had included a nice little paragraph dedicated to that in that email two weeks ago that was magically deleted. When I had to rewrite it, I forgot to recreate the touching dedication that I had written to you. I hope you forgive me. Don't worry, I know how Katie gets with birthdays, and so I am planning on sending her something. 
Oh yeah, Elder Jerman did get transferred into my Zone! I was really happy when I found out and am looking forward to being able to talk to him at a Zone meeting, though the first one we have this transfer isn't for another month or so. 
Something cool that happened Monday night: well, I had written you about how we were planning on having a Family Home Evening for the members who live in the area of Passau, and that is just what we did. It went so well! Schwester Heumos and her son (who is less-active) came, as did another two or three members. It was a huge success. We had a great spiritual thought, played a lot of card games, and then ate some cake. We're hoping that we will be able to get a lot of people regularly to come, because some of those people who did come came because it was Sister Garrett's last Monday, and they just wanted to spend a little more time with her before she got transferred. 
As for your questions about temples, Dad, you have in fact asked before. No, unfortunatley, I will not be able to go to the temple during my mission. The only temple that is within my mission boundaries is in Switzerland, and so it is pretty far away from here. The missionaries who live in Switzerland can go there, but all the missionaries outside don't have the option. I'm pretty sure that includes situations where you have somebody whom you taught who would like you to come with them for their first time there. 
Mom, thanks so much for your conversion story! I had heard bits and pieces of it before, but I'm pretty sure that I have never read it out like that. It really inspired me, and I printed it out so that I can show it to my other missionary friends and brag about you. I hope you're ok with that. Maybe I'll even translate it into German and show it to members and stuff, that could be cool. Anyway, I just really enjoyed reading how you came to the Church, thanks a lot! 
Your story actually reminded me of a conversation that I had this week that kind of shook me a little bit. Well, I don't know if that's the right word, but it just kind of consumed my thoughts for a couple days afterwards. So we stopped this guy on the street, and he told us that he didn't speak German, and so we started talking to him in English. He's from Romania, and spoke the best English I've heard from a foreigner in a really long time. He explained about how he used to be really religious, but then with the time he had become atheist. He then told us, if you can give me proof that God is there, I will believe. Even if you just give me a small piece of evidence that I can't explain, then I will at least have one 'session' with God, because I have already studied this topic a lot, and I don't want to go back to it unless you give me something really convincing. It's funny, but the first thing that came into my mind was that scripture that you mentioned in your conversion story in Alma 32, about not asking for signs or whatever, and I translated it for him. I don't know, it's hard to explain this whole story, but I racked my brain and shared most of the spiritual experiences that I could think of, and then he just explained to me how he rules out anything that has to do with feelings, because 'they can be manipulated.' And so he proceeded to explain away most of the spiritual experiences in my life, while relating times in his life where he had had super similar experiences, but has since denied them. After sharing something from my patriarchal blessing, he finally agreed to have a session with God, and to read one chapter in the Book of Mormon. I don't know, I just felt really bad afterwards that during this conversation (which was straight-up an hour long), I couldn't help this guy to believe on God. It was pretty frustrating because I felt like I wasn't fulfilling my purpose. 
Well, during the next couple of days I ended up reading a couple of talks on faith, and really pondered the topic of faith. I realized that this man was making a serious error. He is confusing faith with knowledge. He kept explaining how pieces of evidence are the most convincing when they are repeatable, and when there are multiple people to support them. After reading these general conference talks though I came to the conclusion that you can't force yourself to have spiritual experiences. Faith is not even about spiritual experiences, it is just about being true to the things you do know, the experiences you have had. I thought about it a lot, and it made me feel a lot better. I actually ended up giving a talk about that on Sunday, because Sister Garrett was supposed to give one, but because she was transferred I decided to prepare on just in case. Good thing I did... Anyway, I have also realized that I always have the best studies when I really study the topic that is the most important to me at that time. Like I have had super great studies about prayer during my mission, at times when I really felt that I needed to be able to communicate better with God. 
So this week was a bit of a learning experience for me. It also led me to declaring a theme for my next transfer, Die Versetzung des Eifers or the transfer of Enthusiasm or something similar like that, I can never translate the word Eifer right (My theme last transfer was, The Return of the King, because I was made District Leader again. The theme this transfer is a little more serious.). I really just want to focus on putting more effort into the work, trying to be a more diligent missionary, and just try to really use my time as well as possible. I'll keep you posted on how it works for me. 
Anyway, I want to write the siblings now, so I'm going to wrap this email up. Thanks for your emails, it's always great to hear from you, even if you do write when you're half asleep! 
Elder Merkley

Monday, September 2, 2013

Passau: September 2, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

Wow. I can't believe that Anna is at BYU now!! Where does the time go? I hope she has been settling in well, the transition is really something else. 

Anywho, so coming to the question that you essentially all asked in your emails...transfers. Well, Elder Barker and I will be staying here in Passau together for a third transfer, which is not a surprise. And I will be starting my seventh transfer as District Leader, which, to be perfectly honest, was also not much of a surprise. I've just grown to kind of expect doing it. In fact, I've been District Leader more than half of my mission so far. I'm hoping that this next transfer will be really good, and have decided that I really want to focus on spiritual growth for the next six weeks. I really want to be a more spiritual person when I get home, so I figure I got to start working on that at some point. 

On Sunday, Sister Heumos, the branch President's wife, stood up and bore her testimony about how she has been praying for a while that all five of the missionaries here would stay (The trio here is being broken btw, Sister Garrett is transferred away, and the other two are staying), but that she finally prayed that the Lord's will would happen. The night before transfers she had a dream that Sister Garrett would be transferred, and then I called her that morning, and it is what really happened. I guess she is just really hoping that the five of us can have a positive impact on Michael. We are starting to have FHE every Monday night here, and invite all the single members that live here, and we invited her son to come, and he said he would be coming tonight, so hopefully we can make something happen.

Another cool thing, a member from Heilbronn came and visited me yesterday!! Bruder Kisling was on vacation, and was more or less in the area (Passau wasn't the closest ward building, but he knew I was here, and so he thought he would just come here instead), and so he stopped by. I freaked out when I saw him. It was totally an answer to my prayers, but I guess I should explain a little bit of the back story here. So I had heard recently that someone in our Zone was transferred back to an area he has already been in for around six or seven transfers, and one of the missionaries in Munich is going to go whitewash Heilbronn again (No idea why, Elder Buck and I just whitewashed it less than a year ago), and I was thinking about how much I loved Heilbronn. I love this ward here too, but I just feel a special connection in some ways to Heilbronn. I was sitting in the Chapel kind of thinking about that, and wishing that at some point I could also be transferred back there. And then like 10 minutes later Bruder Kisling walks in! It was so awesome, kind of weird too, like two different worlds crashing together, but I loved it!

As for language, I think I have stopped mentioning it because I don't really pay attention to it much anymore. I don't really feel like it is that much of a barrier. I do get frustrated with myself, because I feel like my vocabulary isn't as great as it could be, but I don't really have any problems expressing myself. After my talk last week a couple members came up and were complimenting me on my 'flawless German'. They say that my grammar is really good, and that my accent is almost German. I know I still have a little bit of an American accent, but i also know that it is not super strong. I still have a lot of room to improve, especially in vocabulary (I'm often limited to a church vocabulary still), and so I still have a long way to go. I feel like training has kind of limited the increase of my vocabulary, and slowed my progress with German altogether, because I have to speak a lot more English nowadays. Elder Barker still speaks about 80-90% English, which doesn't help the German very much. I still try to speak mainly German, because I need to improve my language skills too!

Funny stories this week? Elder Barker and I got locked out of our apartment... We went jogging, and normally I have the keys, but then I forgot them on this day, and we ended up having to get our branch president to come and bring us the key (I still don't know why he doesn't have it in the Church. He lives like a 20 minute drive away, it would be a ton easier if he would leave it there.). To do that though we had to book it to the Sisters' apartment, borrow their phone and actually their bus passes, and then we drove to the Church and arranged it all from there. It was good though, we found some tea while we were at the church, so we just started comp study and drank some tea. The story goes on, and gets even more embarrassing. So that night we had an exchange, and I normally have the keys,  Elder Barker should have some, but he often just forgets to carry them, and when we change we normally change keys and stuff, but we didn't think about it this time, so forty minutes into their train ride, Elder Barker calls and says that he doesn't have his key in his backback... So they had to call the Heumoses about that as well. Luckily they were already in Passau, but still... To make matters worse, President Heumos bore his testimony about this whole experience to the entire branch on Sunday (ok, to be fair, the entire branch was only about 18 people).

We didn't find any new investigators this week, both we and the Sisters have been having a finding problem in these last few transfers. We're all doing everything that we know, but we are still not finding anyone. We have even had two finding days here in Passau, where we found a grand total of three potential investigators, none of whom became investigators. It has been a little frustrating, but we're trying to regroup, and figure out how we can find new people to teach more consistently.  Missionary work has just been kind of slow recently. I really want to try to get my heart in it more, so that I can have more fun doing it, and so that I will hopefully see more success from it.

I don't know what else to write. Life is still good, the church is still true. Like I said earlier, I want this transfer to really be more focused on Spiritual matters, so I'll let you know how that goes.

Elder Merkley