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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Klagenfurt: December 16, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

Ok, so I'm going to jump straight into Christmas preperations, so that I don't forget. Well, there actually is an offer to skype from our Bishop's house, and that would be on the 24th of December. If we were to do that then we would Skype around 7 or 8 o'clock our time, which would put it around 10 or 11 in the morning your time. The other option is that I could potentially Skype at the Casellas' house on the 25th, it would probably be a little earlier though, maybe around 6-8 o'clock. I don't know if you have a preference. It could be that the internet at the Casellas' house would be a little slower, but I'm not really sure. Ok, so let me know next week what you prefer, and I'll make it happen.

Mom, that's really cool that you were able to help out at the Conference for the Arcadia missionaries. That's so crazy to me that they are all close enough together that they can all get to one place. That would be impossible for us. We didn't even do anything as a Zone last year for Christmas, we just had a Zone Conference a month or so before, and didn't even really focus it on Christmas.

It's also crazy that your companion just randomly texted you, I hope that I'm able to keep such good contact with my companions after the mission. I also hope the people that I've trained will be able to say that they had a good trainer too. I can definitely say that about my trainer.

Scotty's emails are HILARIOUS. I love reading them! Can you actually give me a more exact description of what he does? It sounds like he is really enjoying his work, which is obviously centered around Family History, but I am still kind of confused about all the mechanics. By that I mean what kind of rules and restrictions he has, what his responsibilities are, and things like that. I also didn't really notice, but did Ben use to count the months in his emails? Did he really not like it at first?

The ward here is AWESOME. Really, I love them so much. I think I mentioned last week how I feel like the work is going really well here, and I can only reiterate that today. Elder Krieger has said that he hasn't seen Klagenfurt having such success the whole time he's been here. Between our two companionships we have three investigators with baptismal dates, and we are finding a ton of people. Last week we found a total of 28 potential investigators between the two of us, and we have about 4 or five appointments with new people set up, most of them for tomorrow. I metion that in conjunction with the ward, because up to now we have never had a difficulty finding a joint teach. Every time we have wanted one we have been able to get one. The Bishop's wife saw us standing around kind of forlornly yesterday, because we hadn't been invited anywhere, and as soon as she found that out she invited us to her house, even though we'll be going there next week anyway for Christmas Eve. I have already made some good friends with some members, and I know almost everybody's name now.

We had our Christmas party this week, and it was so cool. There were over thirty non-members there! Most of them were people whom members had invited, and some were people whom we had invited. We are working on the members to help them each develop their own family mission plan, and we are making sure we know who brought whom, so that we can help them to do more work with these people. We even saw a little success through email. We had met with this woman last week, and she is super nice, so we sent her an email on Thursday with a link to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir webpage, and an invitation to our Christmas Party. And she came! And brought us a pineapple, tangerines, and socks! It was so nice of her.

As for the language, I am adjusting pretty fast. I mean, if someone speaks real Kärtnerisch I have no chance, but Germans wouldn't have a chance either, so I don't feel bad about that. I translated again at Church again, and it was a lot easier this time, I was able to translate really fluently. I also know though, that my ability to speak the language, and translate aren't from my own abilities. I had such a hard time learning German before my mission, I've only been able to learn it out here because the Lord has blessed me with understanding. I'm convinced about that.

Our best investigator remains Francesco, who has come to church four weeks in a row. We meet with him around twice a week, and our lessons have been going pretty well. I really think he will be baptized on the nineteenth of next month. We are going to try to teach some commandments soon, so pray that he will be able to give up his coffee when we teach him the Word of Wisdom! He already has a great relationship with some of the members, in fact, some of the members even invited him over for Christmas day! We're going to work on expanding his base of friends though.

I figured something really cool out this week! So far on my mission I haven't done a ton of bus contacting, mainly because the buses haven't been ideal for contacting up to this point, either too full or too empty, and it hasn't really worked out well. The buses in Klagenfurt are awesome! I've been really focusing on starting a conversation in every bus, and I even found two potentials this week through it! It's been so cool to see how easy, and how normal it is. I'm trying to focus on making sure that I bring every conversation back to the Gospel, so that I can bear my testimony and fulfill my purpose as a missionary. It's been a good week in terms of contacting.

Other then that I don't know what to write about. The holidays are right around the corner, and I am a little worried because this will be the last week where people will really want to meet with us for two weeks or so, because of all the holidays, so the work will probably slow down considerably.

Well, I don't really know what else to write, except that I am really excited to talk to you next week!

I love you so much!

Elder Merkley

Monday, December 9, 2013

Klagenfurt: December 9, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

 Well, this week has been a lot of fun.  I don't even know where to start. I feel like I have been settling into the area pretty well, but I have been getting a little frustrated with myself, because I feel like I'm learning the area a lot slower than I want to, and I haven't been able to contribute to planning as much as I have wanted to. I'm working on getting to know what the area looks like, where people live, and the buses though, and I hope that during this next week I will be able to get to know the area a lot better. I feel like we have been filling up our time with a lot of good things this week, but I think that we can be using our time even more effectively, and I hope that we will be able to do that this week.

Things with Elder Krieger are still going well. He's already been in the area for two transfers with two different companions, so we think that we will stay 2 together, but of course there is no guarantee.  I wouldn't say that we have a perfect companionship, however I am really enjoying the time together, and I think that we communicate and teach really well together.  It was actually really cool, because we had a good amount of opportunities to teach this week. On Monday we found an investigator together, his name is Valentine, and is from Nigeria. We met with him twice this week, and gave him a Book of Mormon on Saturday. A lot of time it is tough to teach people coming from an African culture, just because they aren't always super reliable, but Valentine is really solid, so I hope that we will be able to see him a time or two this week, and I'll let you know as things develop.

Someone else whom we were able to teach a couple times is named Francesco and is from Italy. I don't know if you know, but we are really close to the Italian border here. In our last lesson with him, we actually set a baptismal date with him for  the 19th of January. He doesn't have a testimony quite yet, however he has been reading in the Book of Mormon, and has come to Church the last three weeks, so I think it is only a matter of time. What is really cool is that he and a member, Danelle (who is a man. I just wanted to clarify, because that name doesn't necessarily answer the question), have become friends. They are both Italian, and Danelle has been at almost every appointment, and they sit next to each other at Church, and it is great. We should be meeting with him again on Wednesday, and we are really excited for him.

We found one other investigator this week, his wife is Schwester Karner, a member of our ward. He has apparently already looked into the Church a while ago, but I guess due to a couple of badly timed transfers and a couple of missionaries whom he didn't like things didn't really work out. We met with him on Saturday and invited him to read the Book of Mormon, because although he and his wife have been married for 46 years, he has never read the Book of Mormon. I'll let you know how things go there as well.

Other than that the weather here has been way cold. It was in the low 20s for a couple of days, and hasn't really reached above freezing consistently for the whole time I've been here. The people I've talked to have said that it has been pretty normal here, but that in the winter it isn't uncommon for the weather to reach up to -20 °C for a couple of weeks. That would be super super cold. It sounds like we get a lot of snow here, but typically the sun is out between the storms. That is one thing that I have noticed this last week. I swear we have had more sun in this one week than I had the entire last winter. I know I told you, but last winter was the least amount of sunshine in about 55 years or so. I hope this winter is different. I really don't like the cold though. My hands and feet have already been way cold, but I survived last winter, so I know I'll be able to deal with it.

The mountains nearby are part of the Alps. I really don't know how to describe it though. Just beautiful. There is this really pretty lake in Klagenfurt too, and everything is just super beautiful. 

Yeah, I am way far away from Munich. I have no idea exactly how far, but I think it typcially takes around 5 -6 hours with a train to get there, so we are definitely pretty far away. Yeah, Dad, I've noticed as well that President Miles likes to send me to the outskirts of the mission. Right now, I'm more isolated than I have ever been, because our District is the four Elders, and the Senior couple, who are leaving next Tuesday. So for the next six weeks or so we will literally be a District of four Elders, all of whom live in the same apartment.

This last week with the members was a lot of fun. We actually had a few eating appointments this week. We actually had three on Saturday... It was very painful. We went and served with a member in the morning, and then they fed us lunch, then we went to Valentine, who also gave us lunch, and then we went to the Karners' house, and they gave us dinner. I literally gained four pounds in one day, and was in a very real pain. Yesterday we were also invited over by Danelle and his wife, and we had some delicious Italian food. It looks like the missionaries typically get invited every Sunday here. I won't say for sure, because Elder Krieger told me that last transfer that didn't happen every week, but I hope that it keeps up this transfer. We also got invitations for Christmas Eve, and one for the first Christmas day. I'm not sure how skyping is going to work, but I'll let you know. I think I should be able to skype on Christmas day itself, but there is also a possibility it would be Christmas Eve. I'll try to figure it out in the next couple of weeks.

I have not received any Christmas cards yet, and I haven't received the packages yet either. There is a special Christmas Conference a week from this Saturday where we will be able to receive those, I believe.

I've been understanding a lot better this week, it's not like I really had a ton of problems to start, but I'm starting to get used to how they pronounce things. In fact, it's been really funny, but there have been a couple people who have been able to know that I've spent my whole mission in Germany so far, because they say that I speak German like a German, and not like an Austrian.

Overall life has been good this week. I feel like there is a lot of work to be done here, and I have been inspired more and more by the other missionaries whom I live with. I have become friends with all of them, and that has been really helping me to enjoy life a lot more. Although I will reiterate, journal writing has suffered. I'm getting better and more consistent, but it's nothing that awesome.

I love you so much!

Elder Merkley

Monday, December 2, 2013

Klagenfurt: December 2, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

Well, things are going to be a lot different this transfer. I don't even know where to start, life is a lot different right now. 

First off: new companion. He's really cool. Like I said last week, his name is Elder Krieger, and he is from Salt Lake City, and has been on his mission for about 10 months. He went to BYU before his mission, which makes him the first companion I've had who has gone to BYU. We get along really well, and I feel like we are actually friends, so I think this transfer is going to be a lot of fun, as long as our relationship keeps developing like it has been.

The four-man apartment is also going to be a lot of fun. I'm just going to say this right off the bat though, my journal writing is going to suffer. I've had some major problems getting my journal written in, there's been too much socializing. One of the other Elders is a little bit interesting, which is one of the things that I was concerned about, but I don't foresee any problems.

Oh my word. There were so many people at church yesterday!! Ok, well it is all relative, but for realsies, there had to be more than 60 people there. We were sitting in Priesthood, and I counted the brethren there, and I realized that there were more men than there were members in Passau. I was feeling really overwhelmed trying to remember all the names of the members, but I think I learned at least 20 names or so, so I think within a couple of weeks I will know the members pretty well. We even were invited to eat somewhere yesterday!! That's the first eating appointment I've had on a Sunday in six months! It was so awesome. I think that there should be another eating appointment this week too, so I'm way excited.

Something else that is super crazy about this ward, they have youth! They have a seminary class to which four kids come. I think there is a second class in another town that is pretty far away, to which a few other kids go. Every Monday the missionaries come to this class too, so I woke up at 5 this morning, so that we could come to seminary. It was awesome! I had forgotten how much I liked seminary, it was really nice to start the day with a spiritual boost.

Relating to weather. Oh my word. It has been cold. Winter has definitely arrived, and we saw some snow this week. We have had temperatures under freezing, and I have not been super happy about it. I don't like the cold, because my feet and hands are always ridiculously cold. I feel like anything above 25 degrees or so is ok, but once it starts getting colder then life just stinks, and no matter what you wear you are just cold. Well, the winter has only just begun.

So Thanksgiving was not anything special for me. We had to get a train at 9:00 in the morning, and I didn't get in to Klagenfurt until 7:30 or so. We didn't have any sort of celebration or rememberance of it. I didn't even realize it was Thanksgiving until around 5 or so that evening. My Thanksgiving lunch consisted of a sandwich that I had packed with me, it wasn't very American, I even used delicious thick German bread to make it.

Klagenfurt is about the same size that Heilbronn was. I think that there are around 100,000 people that live here. I don't have a great feel of what the city is like, because I haven't spent much time walking around. Elder Krieger and I had to go to a meeting on Satruday, and it is over three hours to get there with the train, so most of our day on Saturday was dedicated to traveling to Salzburg and back.  I've heard though that this city and area does have a lot of history, so I'll let you know as I find out more. What I do know is that there are actually mountains here, which is really awesome. The countryside here is very pretty.

The Austrian German is definitely different. One of the first days I was talking to this kid on the street, and I had to tell him that he needed to speak High German, because I had just moved there. When they try to speak High German I can usually understand them, though. Yesterday at church was interesting though. I had to translate for about four American who were in our ward, and there were a couple of times where I just had to say, sorry I don't know what they're saying right now. I could usually still keep up with what they were saying, but sometimes my understanding just wasn't as effortless as it normally is, and so I was having a hard time translating what they were saying. I think within a week or two though most of the major understanding problems will be gone as I get used to how they pronounce things differently.

The teaching pool isn't awesome, we haven't had a lesson with any investigators yet. but there were still two investigators in Church yesterday. Their names were Walter and Francesco. Like I said, I haven't met with them yet, so I don't know them, but we're hoping to see them both over the next few days. Francesco is from Italy, and Walter is a very old Austrian man. I hope that we will be able to find some new people this week though.

I don't know what else to tell you... I was really sad to be transferred though. We ended up having three eating appointments over the course of those three days, and I really was sad to have to say bye to those members. They really want us to come visit them when you pick me up, so we should keep that in mind. In fact, as I was on the train, a member found me in the train and gave me some stuff from a bakery, and said bye. I'm going to really miss that branch.

Other then all of that the week has been pretty uneventful. Like I was saying at the beginning, I'm really hoping that Elder Krieger and I will be good friends. We're both pretty good at communicating, and I feel like that is going to be one of our biggest strengths. Our companionship has a really good feel to it after three days. Oh yeah, Mom, Elder Krieger was telling me that his mom doess all those kind of wacky Missionary Mom things that you do, so you could probably find her and be friends if you want.

Before I close I don't know how much I'm going to be able to tell you about Andrej. We weren't able to meet before I left, so I don't know how he is doing, but I hope that Elder Nicoll and his new companion stay on him. I won't be able to return for his baptism. My mission president changed the rules so that nobody could return for baptisms outside of a zone anymore. I will be able to find out if he does get baptized, but I just won't be able to be present at the actual ordinance.

Sorry that I'm not writing more, but I am just really overwhelmed right now. New area, new companion, new dialect, and a huge new ward. I'm trying to process it all myself, so hopefully next week I'll be able to give you a little bit more information. I love you all so much! I am very grateful for all that you do. Thanks for sharing that scripture with me, Mom!

Elder Merkley

Some of Andy's Mission Buddies