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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Klagenfurt: May 5, 2014 (The Last Email)

This first part was added by Robin, Andy's mom:
 This is the last email from Elder Merkley.  Such mixed emotions.  I'm mostly excited, but just a little sad that I'll no longer wake up to these wonderful, spiritual emails.  Unbeknownst to him, we get to meet him at the train station when he arrives in Munich on Thursday.  I'll be wearing a big smile and waterproof mascara, especially since I'm crying now as I write this.  Thank you for your love and support of this wonderful missionary.  We'll be home just after midnight, Wednesday, May 22nd and you're welcome to come over that afternoon.  If you can't make it then, his homecoming will be Sunday, June 15 at 9 AM at the stake center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2121 E Route 66, Glendora.  We love you!

Dearest Fam-bam,

This is a pretty surreal feeling. Knowing that I am writing you an email as a missionary for the last time makes me really ask myself where all the time went.  We'll get to that later.

The weather here has been a little temperamental. The last couple of days have been a little bit cooler, and if you are standing in the shade then it was a little bit chilly. For the most part though I have been wearing short sleeves for the last week and a half, and it has been very enjoyable.

You will definitely be able to meet Elizabeth. She knows when we are coming to Klagenfurt, and she should be there in Church on that Sunday. If she isn't there for some reason I know where she lives, so we could get a hold of her. I think she will be fine. She is forming good connections with the ward, and yesterday she made me give her Radu's number, because she told me that she had felt something good in him, and that even though I was going she wasn't going to give up on him. She is really converted.

We actually just taught Ulrich today, and it was definitely a better lesson. We really focused on talking about prayer, and then at the end of the lesson he said a really short memorized prayer, and we all said Amen, and were about to leave, but then I just had the feeling that he needed to pray again, and speak it from his heart, and so we stopped and asked him to pray one more time, and to try it in his own words. He did it, and I think that will be a major step for him as he continues to study and pray about the Gospel.

We haven't had an appointment with Magnus since the last time I wrote, but we did make a lot of progress with him, too. We invited him to the baptism on Saturday, and he came, and then afterwards we were invited to a member's house for a barbecue, it was a very select group of people there, but Magnus was invited too, and it was a ton of fun. There was another young member, one of the only YSAs in our ward, and her boyfriend, who is not a member, that were there, and then Lukas, the 24 year-old who was baptized. I was looking at the four of them, two of them nonmembers, and I just could see the future of Klagenfurt. If those other two were to get baptized the young single adults of this branch would become so much stronger and more solid.

We're trying to focus more and more on preparing Elder Dickson to take over the area, but I am slightly concerned that he doesn't know it well enough. We'll see what happens. Taking over areas is a lot more complicated than in some other areas of the world, because not only do you need to know the members and investigators well, you have to know where they live, how you get there with the bus or train, including when and where they go from, what the name of the stop is, etc, and you have to know about buying tickets, language, and all sorts of other things. Sometimes it can get a little bit stressful, and I know that Elder Dickson is feeling it. I have seen a ton of progress in him though, and I know that he is a lot happier than he was when he first came. I am looking forward to staying in contact with him throughout the rest of his mission, until he comes back to BYU to become a track star.

Yeah. I'm not super proud of the teaching pool I will be leaving behind. There are a few solid investigators, but not nearly as many as I would like to have left. Had I left before the Great Recession of Investigators that happened about two and a half months ago, then I would have been proud of it. As it stands though I am happy with the work that I have put in, with the relationships that I have built up, and with the people I have helped come closer to Jesus Christ. I feel like I gave my best, and I will continue to work hard for what is left of my time.

Also, Mom, the word I used to describe my mission/what I learned was love. I learned to love people, I learned to love myself, I learned to love the Lord more, and I learned to love my mission. Love I think is something that describes my mission very well, although I still feel like I have miles and miles to go before I reach any point at which I could say that I was charitable.

Also, I know you like a record of my studies, and so I'll tell you about what I studied this week. I was privileged to give a talk at the baptism on Saturday, and I talked about the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I really was just so happy for Lukas that he was going to be able to receive this gift, and as I talked about it I realized what a marvelous gift it was, and how he can really guide us and help us to make good decisions in our life, and also help us to help others on the path. I'm very grateful for his influence in my life.

Well. I kind of feel like a part of me is dying. I'm really excited to come home and see you all, but I also relate with what you were writing, Dad. I just feel like part of my identity is going to die, and that I'm taking off a major part of my armor against the Adversary. I know that I will still study the scriptures and pray, but I also know it won't be the same. I'm going to miss the Spirit of the Mission, and I have been really drinking it in recently, and trying to live in it as much as possible. 

I love you all. I know the Church is true, and that Jesus Christ lives. He loves us. I also know that being really sad about ending my mission might indicate a lack of faith, because I also know that God has a lot of good things in store for me. I'll see you on Friday!

Elder Merkley

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Klagenfurt: May 1, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

I just wanted to send you a quick email, now that I actually have time, and just give you a breif recap of the week, so that you know that I don't just sit around all day thinking about going home and making plans.

The Mission Tour was awesome. It was great being in Vienna (Wien in German, sorry, I forget sometimes to write that in English. We always just call it Wien. I was kind of confused the first time I heard it too), and it was great to have a few hours where we could really just concentrate on finding people. I really did enjoy it, I felt good, and it felt really good to be able to talk to a lot of people and share my testimony with them. We were able to meet a good amount of people who gave us their information and wanted to talk to us a second time too.

Elder Barker is still the same Elder Barker whom I knew in Passau. His German is definitely better, but he still has those same endearing quirks that I got to know so well. I really love the kid, and I really enjoyed working with him again. We had a lot of fun chatting with each other and we were even able to stay in his apartment, which was also a lot of fun.

Our teaching pool is going alright. We have found a new investigator recently whose name is Ulrich. He is a really nice older gentleman who sometimes has some funny tendencies, but he has done some of his reading in the Book of Mormon, and it looks somewhat promising with him. We had an appointment yesterday, and he had three friends over, whom we were able to teach too. It was great, because they seemed pretty interested as well, and one of them committed to come next Monday to our next appointment. 

Magnus ended up coming with us on a hike, that our GML organized, kind of spontaneously last Friday, which was super great. We have a way better relationship with him, and we committed him to live the Word of Wisdom at last night's lesson. He says that the only potential problem would be forgetting and then drinking Black Tea. We are praying for him, and I know that he has the willpower to do it. It is great because we had a joint teach last night, and she was really supportive, and it seems like they are building up a bit of a friendship as well.

Elder Dickson is doing well. He is making the effort to participate more in every lesson, to say more in our street contacts, and it is really noticable that his German and teaching skills have improved a lot. We have a lot of fun together, and we especially enjoy our morning runs. It's a good chatting time, haha.

Ok, well I need to go! I only had about 20 minutes to type all that, so I hope that it is legible. Also, spell check is in German, and so I am not accountable for any spelling mistakes!

Love you!
Elder Merkley

Monday, April 21, 2014

Klagenfurt: April 21, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

Ok, so sorry that I am writing so late. I have also a very limited amount of time tonight, but I am going to be trying my best to get in all the things that needed to be written. The reason things are kind of more stressful recently is trying to email all these people from my old areas and get all this stuff figured out, and it leaves me very little time for writing you, which I really regret. I don't necessarily enjoy writing such long emails every week, but I really like for you to know everything that is going on in my life, well everything that I can fit into an email, I forget a lot of things. Thanks for complimenting my emails, Mom. I really do try to put in effort and write the important things from the week.

Anyway, something cool that will be happening next week. We will actually be heading over to Vienna next Tuesday so that we can have a Mission Tour with Elder Dyches of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. That by itself is really cool. Just last night, however, we got a text from our Zone Leaders and found out that we will be doing a finding day in Wien while we are there, and we will be doing exchanges with Elders from the Wien zone. And I guess they thought it would be cool to put a couple of Father-Son pairs together, because guess whom I will be working with? Elder Barker! I'm really excited to work with him again and see how he is doing. He's about a year on his mission, and I'm really excited to see the progress he's made since the last time I saw him.

Easter was a lot of fun. The Wades actually invited us over, and had a really great Easter lunch with us, complete with a lot of pretty typical American foods, which I really enjoyed. Sister Wade is a great cook, and she has such a great heart. In this part of Austria, they have a cold Easter lunch (I think, at least that is what I heard, and what we kind of experienced today. Today was a holiday here too-because it's the day after Easter, I think?), with meat, and a lot of horse radish. My sinuses were on fire at one point from smelling it/from eating it.

Elder Dickson and I are still going running every day, that pain behind my knee has essentially gone away. In fact, we just stepped up the distance today, and probably ran over three miles at a decent pace. For me, a decent pace means around 25-26 minutes for that. It was a lot of fun, really beautiful, and we were able to chat the whole time, which made the run way more fun and less painful than it normally is. You two should bring your running stuff when you come, so that we can still get up in the mornings and start our days off with a run, I love doing that.

Well, we did get one new investigator this week. His name is Amir, and he is from Iran. He is Muslim, but he wants to convert to Christianity. He is one of the students that we found in the Mozartheim, which is where Radu lives. I don't think this University is anything that special, I just think that this house is where most of the foreigners live, because it is pretty cheap, I would assume, and located within ten minutes from the University. Anyway, Amir is cool, and we actually met with him twice this week with members there. It was a cool experience, and we are hoping that he will be able to start progressing and accept the baptismal committment. We do want to make sure that he doesn't want to convert just so that he doesn't have to go back to Iran, which is something that he has mentioned to us before.

This week I have been learning a lot about love. I have just realized how much I need to work on my charity and selflessness. I think that a lot of the other Christlike attributes I am missing could be developed if I first would have the basis of the pure love of Jesus Christ. I'm really trying to focus on developing this.

Anyway, sorry this is so short, but our email time was a little short today. I love you guys! I know the Church is true, and I love being a missionary. I'm looking forward to coming home, but I am also looking forward to these next few weeks of service.

Elder Merkley 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Klagenfurt: April 14, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

So just before I forget, I spoiled you this week and put a few more pictures on Dropbox. Please, enjoy.

This week has been a lot of fun.  The best thing has been the weather. It has really been a very enjoyable temperature, and it even feels like Spring may already be passing, as many of the blossoms are falling off the trees and there are real leaves starting to appear.  I think this is the first year that I have experienced a real Spring. Last year we went straight from Winter to Summer in the matter of a week and a half or so, haha. We have also seen more success in our finding efforts, although we did not find any new investigators yet... but we have a couple of appointments set up for the coming week, so I have hope that things are going to keep getting better.

Kind of a funny story from this week, so Elder Dickson and I went to the place where Radu lives to meet up with him, and when we knocked on his door his roommate answered and told us he wasn't there (Radu lives in some sort of Student Dorm), and so we began chatting with him. We chatted for a few minutes and then ended up explaining our purpose as missionaries and invited him to hear more. We got his number and actually had an appointment with him last night. It was really cool, though it might be kind of awkward when Radu sees the French Book of Mormon lying around... Radu seems kind of like the jealous type to us, so we are wondering if that might cause some problems... Anyway, the appointment was cool because we were able to get a member there, and we were really able to establish our purpose, and that of the Book of Mormon well. We invited him to hear more, and he was hesistant, because he said he wasn't really ready to change his Church. We ended up leaving him a pamphlet, and we are hoping to be able to follow up with him about it next week at some point.

Speaking of Radu, things are...unchanged. We have tried to meet with him, and we saw him once briefly, but he was just playing Ping Pong with some other guys, one of whom is someone who had just given us his number last week, that was pretty fun, haha.  Anyway, he keeps putting off really sitting down and meeting with us, because he has always had a test coming up, and can't take the time to talk with us. It's really sad, because I can just feel his priorities completely shifting. Before it was all about God, and everything else was second to that. In the last month or so it has been school and ping pong first (not necessarily in that order), and God is a very distant second or third. It has led me to thinking a lot about what I need to do in order to stay strong in the Gospel and avoid letting my priorities change too.

We have actually found a ton of young college students from around the world in this same little dorm. It's been a lot of fun talking to them, and we should be having another couple of appointments this week with students from the University here. We're definitely looking forward to that.

Besides that our teaching pool has really become very small. It's saddening to see how many solid investigators have dropped off the map, or how many became one hit wonders- those are always big disappointments to me. I have really improved my attitude a lot though, when it comes to this kind of empty time. I am looking forward to this time where we can go out and look for those really prepared people. There have been so many of those kind of people that I have taught here, and I look forward to trying to find more of them.

This week I have actually been studying General Conference a lot, because I had received the assignment on Wednesday to give a talk about General Conference on Sunday. I was really happy to do it, but the short amount of time was a little annoying/stressful, and to make matters even more complicated, the talks weren't available in German, and so I had to either translate things spontaneously by myself or listen to the talks in German on, and painstakingly pause the recording every few seconds to write down three of four words at a time. I did a combination of both, and they were both pretty difficult, haha. I was studying a lot about love this last week, and was really struck by President Monson's remarks. I read this morning in 1 John 4, and was really surprised by how clearly it says that if you say you love God, but you don't love your neighbor, then you are a liar... That threw me through a bit of a loop. I definitely have some improving to do.

Other than that I have been studying in Preach My Gospel about the Book of Mormon and the role that it plays in missionary work. We actually had Interviews this week, and President and Sister Miles were emphasizing our goal of giving away a Book of Mormon every single day, and so I want to strengthen my testimony of the great power in that book. I just realized though, kind of like that email you sent me from Tanner said, that all we can really do is just invite people to read and testify of the results of that. Whether they actually do it or not is their choice. A lot of times I take myself way too seriously, and gauge my success on the actions of others, but I know that I am still a successful missionary even if no one uses their agency like I would want them too. I remember Spolmes telling me in the one letter I got from him on my mission (he went on his mission shortly thereafter, and we email pretty regularly, so I'm not trying to bag on him), that his grandpa had given him the advice to just 'invite, invite, and invite' on your mission. I have really seen the wisdom of that. That's all that we can really do, and it is so important that we actually do it!

Elder Dickson is doing well. We are working on his German, and I think he is getting better. Progress is nothing groudbreaking, but it is still definitely there.

Ward support is still good, in fact they just called an Assistant GML yesterday! Which is awesome, and he lives in Klagenfurt too. Our GML lives in Villach, which is a thirty minute train ride away, so I wonder if they decided to call an assistant here in Klagenfurt so that he could assist us in a more hands on fashion.

The Welsh woman (Rose), came to Bible Course with her husband on Thursday!! It was so cool! Frau Lahoda came as well, and so we had a pretty full class (relatively). There were three nonmembers, two members, and four missionaries. We brought that up in the various organizations on Sunday, and we are expecting a few different members to come on Thursday, but we will see.

I'm feeling really good about missionary work, even though success isn't going exactly like we want it to right now. Well, I got to get going! I love you so much!

Elder Merkley

Monday, April 7, 2014

Klagenfurt: April 7, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

Well, this week was just as crazy as we anticipated it being. I really did enjoy General Conference, just like you all did, from the sound of it. I was able to see all sessions this year, because we sat down with the senior couple this morning after seminary and watched the Sunday afternoon one. What I find so amazing is that although none of the speakers are given topics, their talks still work together so well. There were three or four times when after a talk I thought something like, 'Wow, I really need to work on that', and then the next talk was exactly about that topic. Everything just fit together really well.

Other than that and service we didn't see a lot of success this week. We didn't have a ton of time, and we tried to fill that time in with effective activities, but not as much happened as we would have liked. One cool thing that happened is that we brought cookies to a former investigator from Wales, in order to say hi, and to invite her to our Bible course. She was super nice and said that she would come this week. She loved the cookies (thanks, home teaching. That helped me to memorized that no-bake cookie recipe, and then we also have Aunt Janet's cook book that she gave me. My whole apartment is super thankful for that. We use it for baking all sorts of treats to give people), and she was super open because of them. It is really interesting to see how cookies can melt someone's heart. I don't think anyone can be mad when you are standing in front of their door with a plate of cookies.

Elizabeth is still doing great. She seems to be progressing in the Gospel very well, and comes to Church regularly. She was resistant about the idea of home teachers, but if I'm honest, I'm not sure she understands what they really mean at this point, so hopefully we can get her some assigned soon. The language barrier still makes it hard at some points. We need a member who can speak fluent Spanish and German. That would be ideal.

Gin is still investigating. In fact, he read all of 1st and 2nd Nephi for our appointment on Saturday. I don't know how much progress he is making, but he did just send me an email with about 16 questions from his reading, so we'll see. To be honest though, the questions are often a lot more of the nit-picky, generally accepted as non-important things, haha. I'll let you know how things develop.

Well. Some really heart-breaking news with Radu. He didn't answer any of our texts or calls up to Friday. I even had asked him if he wanted to go get some breakfast/lunch on my birthday, and he never responded, and so we were really worried. We ended up walking over to his dorm on Friday and tracking him down, and he told us that he didn't have the courage to tell us, but he said he was never going to come to Church again. He said that he realized that God doesn't love him. He still believes in God, but he believes that God only loves certain people, and only certain people deserve to be happy in this life, and he's not one of them. He said that he would not read in the scriptures or pray any more, because it doesn't help him at all. It really made me sad. He will at least answer our texts and things now, so we are going to try and keep contact with him, but it is just so sad. I know that smoking and his reading in the Book of Mormon played a part in it. At the beginning he was so adamant about how easy it was to read 2 chapters a day, but after a while he started getting distracted by school and before long I think his reading became a little sporadic. In addition to that, he never was able to give up smoking, and I think these two combined to lead him away from the path. It goes to show you the importance of keeping the commandments, and daily reading your scriptures in order to strengthen yourself against temptation.

Elder Dickson is doing well. We are speaking a good amount of German, which is really good for him. He is still hard on himself, but we have been focusing on being more positive, and so I think things are looking better. He knows that in a few weeks he won't be able to rely on my German, and he is already worrying that he will get a companion who can't speak good German, and that he will have to take over a lot of the things I do. I try to give him oppurtunites to do things like that, but I think I need to make a more concentrated effort to help him prepare for taking over the area.

We found out recently that at the end of April we will be having a mission tour with Elder Dyches of the Seventy. So right before we go to Vienna together, I should be able to go to Vienna with my zone, although I won't be able to really do any sight-seeing.

Anywho, this week was good. Thanks for all your prayers! I can feel your love and support and it inspires me to be better. Oh, yeah, you asked me about what I have been studying in Preach My Gospel. Something I have been really trying to work on is gaining a strong testimony of Scripture Study and prayer. I feel like the very basics of the Gospel are where I have problems being effective. Something I have felt the power of recently is really putting your name in the scriptures. Literally trying to make every verse apply to you. One other thing that I kind of have been trying out on my own is my posture when I pray. I had been thinking about it recently, and I realized that my posture when I pray is often pretty disrespectful. Well, when I pray at night I kind of am half lying in my bed, and it doesn't really look like I am speaking to my Father in Heaven. I have tried sitting up, and being really respectful, like you always see if you watch Mormon Messages, and have really focused on trying to feel the connection to Heavenly Father. I feel like the more I focus on understanding what I am doing, and really speaking to Heavenly Father, the more I can really feel this connection to him, and receive answers to my questions daily.

Ok, well on that note, I love you!

Elder Merkley

Monday, March 31, 2014

Klagenfurt: March 31, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam!

This week was pretty interesting, but altogether I definitely enjoyed it.  Our week was filled with a lot of good things, that weren't your traditional type of missionary work. We did service again last week, and we should be doing it this week probably about four times, which has eaten up our week a lot. Today we won't be having much of a Pday, because we already spent four hours this morning helping a member, and then in about an hour or so we will be going to another member to help them as well. I may make this short so that I can try to take a nap before we go, because I also lost an hour of sleep yesterday because of the time change, and got up at 5 this morning for seminary, so I'm pretty tired...

In regards to the missionary work, I wasn't very pleased with it this week. There has been a lot of stuff going on with Radu recently, and I don't really want to go into details, because I'm not sure myself what's going on exactly, all I know for sure is that he didn't come to Church yesterday or answer our texts, which is something really weird for him. So I'm kind of worried about that whole situation. We're going to try to get in touch with him soon, and see how we can help him.

Elizabeth is doing well. She planned a little party thing for my birthday, and so we should be doing something with her and with the other Elders then. I'm looking forward to it. She had me order her a Spanish Preach My Gospel, although I think she was unsure what it actually was, but it will be great for her to be able to read through the lessons and that kind of stuff by herself.

We found a new investigator yesterday! His name is Jakob and he is 18 years old. His interest in looking into the Church seems to be more of a objective interest, but we gave him a Book of Mormon and invited him to read about it, and hopefully we will be meeting again in between a couple sessions of General Conference next week.

We had a Fireside this week, and it was great because our investigator, Gin, came to it. I don't know if I have already talked about him at all, but he was a self-referral through the internet, and we have been teaching him for about two and a half weeks or so. He is really funny, and speaks super great English. He is Muslim, and always asks some provacative questions when we meet. Up to this point he has been a little hit and miss with his reading, and he went to the Jehovah's Witness Church last week, so hopefully he'll be able to come next week. We'll see.

Yeah, so we have had ups and downs this last week, but I am really looking forward to next week, because of General Conference. I love General Conference, and it will be a great chance to strengthen my testimony about modern day prophets. I still need to make sure that I write down a couple questions and a few things that I want to learn while I am watching, because that is always how I get the most out of it.

Other than that a lot of my stress has been taken away about school, so thank you for that! I'm glad that I can finally know where I am living, know that I am at least signed up for classes (I may have added a Bowling Class... I just saw one opening and struck, deciding that I can always drop it later if I don't want it. Sometimes I'm an impulse shopper).

I did get a few cards in the last week or so, I definitely got one from Grand and Grandma Grace, from various people in the ward (sorry, I didn't write it down!), and definitely one from the Holmes, which was really nice.

Sorry this email is pretty lame, but on a scale of 1-tired I'm at an 8. Running on fumes right now, and I have a few more hours of yard work in front of me today. Love you all! I pray for you every night!

Elder Merkley

Monday, March 24, 2014

Klagenfurt: March 24, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

The weather this week was really nice! Almost every day we were able to go outside without any jackets, and as we were doing yard work for a couple of members, we were able to work in short sleeve shirts because it was so warm! One of the other Elders actually got sunburnt on his neck... Don't worry, I put on sunscreen, so I was fíne.

Other than that this week was pretty normal. Thanks for setting it all up with Elder Persicke! I'm really looking forward to seeing that guy again. As for things with Elder Dickson, they're going pretty well. Yeah, I help Elder Dickson a lot with his German, we are working on speaking a lot more, and I help him figure out how to say things pretty often.

The ward is being really accepting of Elizabeth. In fact, one of the members remarked yesterday that they felt like Elizabeth had gone through a big change while she was in the Dominican Republic, which is something that I had noticed as well. It is clear now that she understands the Gospel a lot better. I think that hearing the lessons through one more time really helped her prepare for baptism. We actually went to her apartment this week to celebrate Elder Janis's birthday, which was a lot of fun. She has already set up an appointment with me on my birthday, so that we can eat together and celebrate, so that was really nice of her.

As for Radu... there was actually a little bit of drama this week. He failed another class, and was really doubting his faith in God. We met with him on Saturday and went on a walk, because he was refusing to go into a Church, claiming that he would never go into a church again. We talked to him for a while and he was feeling better by the end, and did end up coming to Church yesterday. So things are going better with him again. We are hoping to be able to meet with him more regularly this week, which should help him start making steady progress again. He will hopefully be coming to FHE tonight with the Wades, and a couple of the other young adults.

Dominik and Peter did come to church yesterday! It was cool, because they actually came by themselves, because Gudrun had to stay home to take care of Peter's mom, but they came anyway. I don't know what else needs to be done in order to help them have a better experience there, they only come for Sacrament Meeting. I actually have started joking about baptism with Peter, but he still claims that he is just an observer... The annoying thing though, is that starting this week he probably won't be at our lessons, because he is working again, and because he is a truck driver, he works really weird schedules.

The only funny story from the week is when Elder Janis and I were explaining the concept of a 'guilt trip' to our GML and his wife, and they haven't invited us over to dinner in a while, and so we proceeded to start giving them examples of how guilt tripping could happen. We told them about how when we go home, we usually just eat flour with water, and sometimes put it in the microwave to shake things up a little bit. This guilt tripping went on for about five minutes or so, and then they proceeded to invite us over to eat with them on Sunday. So we went there yesterday and had a delicious dinner, after which we told them that they had bought themselves a few weeks reprieve, but that it wouldn't satisfy our hunger for ever. Maybe it doesn't sound as funny as it was, but it was actually hilarious.

I did hear from Elder Barker! He seems to be doing well, I don't think he and his companion are best friends, but he is about 95% sure that he will be transferred this transfer, so he isn't too worried about it. I think he is on crutches though, because i think he has a torn meniscus or something? His email was a little scattered.

Let me know what we should do with Anna and the apartment thing. If she really wants me to room somewhere where she can be in my same ward, than I will definitely go to a different complex so that we can make that happen. Just let me know.
Anyway, maybe I'll add more later, but I'm tired, and I have a lot of school stuff I still need to take care of. Love you!

Elder Merkley

Monday, March 17, 2014

Klagenfurt: March 17, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

So this week was pretty great! I think I will just start out by telling you the coolest thing that happened this week: Elizabeth is back. And she was baptized in the Dominican Republic!! She showed us pictures of her at her baptism, and also of her in front of the temple in the Dominican Republic, and it was so awesome, because she was telling me that she knows that it's not all done. She said that she knew that she had to wait a year to go into the temple, and that just because she is baptized doesn't mean her work is done. It was clear to me that when the missionaries in South America retaught her, they emphasized that point, something that obviously must be a problem for converts there. It was so cool though! She asked me for a list of all the callings in the ward, so that she could know who is responsible for what. She is definitely planning on staying around.

The second coolest thing that happened this week has to do with Radu. Every Sunday, we tell a success story to the members in Priesthood, Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women's, and this time Elder Dickson convinced Radu to come with us and bear his testimony. So although a good amount of the members already knew who he was, yesterday he stood up in front of them and told them that he is going to be baptized in May, and he told them about how 'Andy and Elder Krieger' talked to him on the street. (Yeah... he figured out my first name at some point, and now he just calls me Andy, even when he is talking to members. They get really confused by it.) The whole thing was really cool, and I think he feels like he is more of a part of the ward now. I'm pretty sure he still has a smoking problem, but we haven't really had a lesson with him for about a week and a half or so, because he has been studying like crazy, preparing for a couple of tests that he has this week, and one that he has next Monday. We probably won't see too much of him this week either. We try to have daily contact through texting, calling, or something.

As for our other investigators... there were a lot that we didn't see this week. Zsuzsanna really surprised us this week when she called and explained that she wouldn't have the time to meet with us on Saturday, and then proceeded to explain that she would like to stop investigating the Church.  That was really sad, but we spent about thirty minutes on the phone, and I just gave her my testimony and really promised her that it would be something that would help her, but she decided to stop meeting with us. She said that her family didn't want to watch the kids, and that that was the reason, so I'm hoping that with time she will start investigating again, we'll see. Other than that we had a good lesson with Dominik and Peter, but they didn't end up coming to Church yesterday, which was too bad. That is the biggest problem with them, their inconsistency. We are hoping to teach them how to keep the Sabbath Day holy, and hopefully that will help them to understand why it is important to come to Church.

We also had our first Bible Study group on Thursday. We essentially started it for Frau Lahoda, who came this week, and so that we could have something to invite investigators and people on the street to. The first one was awesome. The member who we asked to lead it totally ate it up. He used a power point, dressed up in a suit, and you could just tell that he loved the responsibility of doing it. I have set a personal goal of trying to get two new people to come this week.

That's crazy that the Markhams had Spolmes at their house! I can't believe that the Markhams didn't call you and freak out. I would have freaked out if I had been in that situation.

I can't believe that Matt Secor is coming home so soon!! That is crazy! I still feel like I have a long time on my mission still, so that is crazy to me that a missionary who hosted me is going home now! And Adam Welker is going home pretty soon too... Wow. Time goes by quick.  And then we have Matt Hyer, on the other side of the spectrum. He already has his mission call?? Oh my word. That is so cool! Crazy, because I feel like he is still very young, but super cool.

Elder Dickson is doing very well. We go running every single morning, which is something that helps him start off the day right. I like it too because it is getting me in shape. We only go about two miles or so, but I am running faster than I ever have before, and have already shaved about three minutes off of my time, so I feel pretty good about it. I have noticed that same kind of thing about some of my companions, Mom. I do often feel like a big part of my mission has been working with my companions, and also working with the members of my District. I don't know how Elder Barker is doing, but I did send him an email, and so I hope to be able to give you some sort of an update next week.

What is this Honor Society thing with Anna? What kind of society is she being accepted into? I'm kind of confused, but that is really cool that you are going to Conference! I have never been to a live session of conference up until now. Hopefully I will be able to go when I am back at BYU, but we'll see.

Ok, I think that is all. I love you so much!

Elder Merkley

Monday, March 10, 2014

Klagenfurt: March 10, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

I enjoyed this week a lot. Even though we had a ton of fallen through appointments I feel like we were able to be really effective with our time and get a lot done. Another plus was the weather. Just like the reports are telling you, Dad, the weather is very Spring-like. I went to Church yesterday with just my suit coat, which was the first time that has happened in months. It is kind of an awkward time though, because it is too warm with my big jacket, but a little too chilly without it. But I would rather have that problem than the problem of freezing.

I don't know exactly when we change to Daylight Savings time... I assume it will be soon. I was actually thinking about it this week, because it has been very light recently as we have been waking up at 6:30, which I love. Getting up to a lit room is the best feeling in the world, and I kind of had this feeling that it wouldn't be a while before the world took that away by switching the time on me. Luckily they can't stop the natural sun patterns, and so soon I will be waking up to sunlight again.
It's so weird that Nicole is already home. I remember hearing how she went on her mission, and now she is home already... Crazy. It's also really interesting to me how each mission is totally different. In our mission for example, President Miles has never commented on how long lessons should be. We try to keep them under an hour, but I have also had lessons that have lasted an hour and a half to two hours. We had this one investigator who would get mad at us if we took less than an hour and a half. I think the different cultures play a role in that too, because our eating appointments also go a lot longer than they would in America. It's also really cool that you are able to go and teach with the missionaries, Mom! I think it's so awesome that you have been able to have more and more missionary experiences.

It looks like Radu is still smoking one or two a day at this point. He still loves coming to Church, and is becoming more and more an active part of the ward; and we just hope to help him overcome the last boundary in his life between him and the fruits of the Gospel. I don't think he has told his parents yet. I don't know if he will either. I feel like that is something that he will try to avoid.

Things with Elder Dickson are still going pretty well. It's hard to keep him positive and happy, but I'm doing my best. To be honest, I feel kind of sad, because I feel like I'm sacrificing German speaking for communicating with him right now. His understanding is very limited, and even when I talk to him in German he understands about half of what I say, if that much, which can get frustrating for both of us.  I don't know, I worry that I'm not doing my part in this companionship in leading out in German speaking. I just don't want him to get even more frustrated than he is, but at the same time, I know that if we don't speak German, his won't get any better, and mine won't either. It's a tough situation, and I have just been trying to be as positive as possible, and when he beats  up on himself I just ignore it, and try to stay positive. I feel like I have been a little sadder this week though.

Our meeting with Zsuzsanna went really well this week. We took our Bishop with us, and invited her to baptism. She said if she does find out, she will be baptized, which we are really excited about. We are hoping to set a baptismal date with her this week as a goal, and work towards that. Her only problem is time. It is already hard for her to get away from her kids once a week, but I think if we were to set a date with her for about six weeks or so in the future, and then ask her to make the effort of also getting away for church every Sunday. We think helping her set a date will help her to show her faith and be able to make a more concentrated effort.

We did actually find a couple new investigators this week. One of them is a pretty cool story. Elder Dickson and I felt this week like we were teaching a lot less than we wanted too, and we really wanted to find new people to teach. Well, we prayed that Heavenly Father would help us to find new people, and the next day we seemingly coincidentally found a new investigator. We had had an exchange the day before, and Elder Dickson had talked to some guy in the bus, the next morning we were walking around in the city to take care of something for Radu, and had stopped to talk to this lady on the street. While I was talking to her, Elder Dickson saw this man again and went and talked to him. We ended up getting his number, and after we had gotten home we actually end up getting a call from him, asking us to come over to his house on that day. We went over and taught him, his name is Bernhardt, and he is pretty cool. It was definitely a miracle.

The next day we talked to this guy on the street who ended up inviting us into his house and letting us have a little talk with him and his roommate. It was funny, because it ended up that these two college kids are living in the top part of a member's house. He's like 87 or something, and is currently in the hospital, but it was just interesting to see how the Lord led us. Even though we didn't do as much teaching this week as we had hoped, we definitely had a lot of oppurtunities to share our testimonies and invited people to come closer to Jesus Christ.

We found another investigator whose name is Raheeb. I talked to him on the bus on Friday, and we ended up meeting on Saturday. He is Muslim, from Pakistan, and is currently getting his PhD right now in Austria. His English is essentially perfect, and the lesson went really well. We really focused on helping him to understand our purpose as missionaries, and the importance of the Book of Mormon, and our message altogether. Although he said straight up that he isn't necessarily looking to change his faith, he did understand why it would be important, too, if he were to find out that the Book was true. We are hoping to try the same tactic with him as we are planning for Zsuzsanna.

Umm, that's about it I think. The ward is still supporting us a lot, and we are really trying to work with them as closely as we can. I think that we are doing that pretty well. They like us, and we have seen a good amount of investigators coming through them, which is something I haven't really experienced before.

I love you all so much, and pray for you all every night!

Elder Merkley

Monday, March 3, 2014

Klagenfurt: March 3, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

This week has been a lot of fun. Elder Dickson and I are getting along really well, and so that makes everything just a little bit better. We have been seeing a good amount of success together too, so I'm excited about that.

The biggest news from this week is that we have set a baptismal date with Radu! He is planning on being baptized in May, the last Sunday before I leave. We're still a little bit unsure where he stands with smoking, but we're going to try to be a little bit more forthright with him about that so that we can make him feel accountable. That is still the only thing standing between him and being baptized. He even came to the baptismal service of an boy who turned eight this week. We're really excited about the progression we see happening there.

We actually got a call from Elizabeth last night. She is definitely going to come back, and should be here in the middle of March, so around a week and a half or two weeks. I'm still unsure if she was baptized there or not. I asked her, but she just chastised me for being so curious, and told me that I would find out when she gets back... so yeah. If she isn't baptized when she gets back she will hopefully be baptized during the summer, we'll see what happens though. From what she said she has been going to church there as well, which is definitely a positive thing.

Frau Lahoda, one of our investigators, finally came to Church yesterday!! But we're still dropping her... I had received the feeling twice in the last few weeks that we need to be ready to drop her, and in the lesson this week it became clear to me that she is not ready to be baptized right now. She believes in the Book of Mormon, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and all that, but she doesn't believe that our exclusive attitude in relation to the truth is right. We are going to be trying to start a bible course next week, and we think we will substitute taking time to meet with her with inviting her to this course and then letting her build up her connection with the ward through that. It will be nice for future missionaries, because if she comes consistently then they can keep a feel on her level of readiness to keep commandments. I think within a couple of years she could be ready to be baptized, but we'll see. It really hurt me to drop her though, because she reall s a sweet lady.

The lesson with Zsuzsanna went pretty well. We didn't get as many concrete things taught like we had wanted too, but we should be meeting again on Saturday, and I hope that things will start developing there. We also plan to talk to her about her husband, because she is married with four kids, and teaching the whole family would be great for the ward here.

All the other investigators are doing fine too. I don't have a lot of time to write today, and there was no monumental progress made with any of the other investigators, so I am not going to take the time to comment on them all, alright?

My acne has made a pretty significant improvement in the last few days. I have noticed it clearing up, and I have had no crazy emotions recently, and so I don't think it is messing me up. For this medication I need to have my blood drawn once a month, and then go to the doctor's and talk to him about it, so I have another appointment in about a week and a half.

The ward is doing great, they are super supportive. I think the key to working with the members is to really just help them do things. Everyone knows someone with whom they could potentially be working. The missionaries should just help you to figure out ideas of how to get them into contact with the church, Family nights, different activities, maybe inviting them to dinner, things like that. That's how we have started to try working here, and it is a lot more successful. A lot of the investigators we have have come through members, which is obviously ideal.

I love you! (sorry this email was a little short. I'm starting to get a little lazy/my time is up)

Elder Merkley

Monday, February 24, 2014

Klagenfurt: February 24, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

Ok, so really big news this week pertaining to my police report: it came. It came, and I went to the city hall and I already have my Visa, and so they won't have to emergency transfer me!! I'm really excited about that, because I was definitely starting to get worried there for a little while. Thank you all so much for your prayers, I don't think I could have gotten it all taken care of so quickly had it not been for that.

In regard to the plan you sent me, Dad. It sounds great! I'm going to avoid pondering that too much though. In my mind, the end of my mission is still very far away, and that's how I want it to stay. I don't want to get distracted with thoughts of going home, because I know that it will reduce my effectiveness and my happiness.

These last few days with Elder Dickson have been going pretty well. At this point I would say that we are getting along pretty well. He is a really good missionary with really pure desires to do what Heavenly Father wants him to do. I am slightly concerned, because he is really hard on himself, and gets really down on himself for any mistakes that he makes. In addition to that he is really self conscious about his German, and has had a hard time taking any part in the lessons we have had this week. I really want to help him with his German and his confidence, but I have already noticed how much more English we are speaking than ever before on my mission, and that is something that I want to change, because I know speaking will be the thing that will probably help him the most.

Also, I'm probably not supposed to tell you this, because Elder Dickson likes to keep this on the DL, but he is a crazy fast runner. His fastest mile time is 4:01. Crazy, right? We went running on Tuesday, which was really nice, he is good at pacing himself so that I don't die, haha.

Things are going great with Radu. We actually had a Fireside on Friday night, which he came too, and he bore his testimony there. It was so cool, because I think that the seven or eight members who were there will take him a lot more seriously now, and will really see him as a part of the ward. We are trying to start get him integrated into the wards through activities, because we are already running out of things to teach him, but he loves coming to Church so much that we want him to still be able to come and get that spiritual boost. I think it is going alright with his smoking, he is still sticking to his program so far, but I haven't talked to him today, so we'll see how it goes.

I haven't heard anything new about Elizabeth yet, but I am hoping that we will hear something from her before she just shows up. I don't know, I would really have preferred it if she was baptized here, because I feel like it would have been great for the ward. It would have been a lot more real, rather than someone just showing up and saying that they were baptized on their trip to South America.

Dominik and Peter are still doing pretty well. We had another good lesson with them this week, but they didn't come to Stake Conference this week, so I don't know what is going on with them. I feel like their biggest problem right now is consistency. We are going to try focusing a little more on the basics, so that we can get them reading and praying regulary, which will hopefully also lead them to start attending Church.

Gehardt is the name of the referral from the ward member. Things are going really well with him. He really listens to all the lessons, he is coming to Church consistently, and he really has this honest desire to change his life. I think we are going to have to reteach the Word of Wisdom again though, because he mentioned something in our lesson today about only smoking every now and then, which threw up some red flags for me, because we had committed him to live the entire Word of Wisdom a while ago. We'll see what happens.

I had a really cool experience this week. So it all started a few months ago, where one of our members invited one of their acquaintances to the Christmas Party. She came with her family, and we invited them to English Class and just chatted them up a little. The wife started coming to English Class a while ago, and a couple weeks ago I was praying, and I had the feeling that I should ask this lady, Zsuzsanna, to meet with us and talk about our Church. So we went to English Class this last week, and I was really praying for help, because I was really worried about messing something up. Long story short, I got up the nerve, and asked her right after English Class, and she said yes! So we will be teaching her on this Saturday, right before there is some sort of party in the Church, which she will be staying for. I'm really excited because it would have been easier for me in that moment to just turn away and not do it (for reals though, the feelings I had reminded me of how it felt to ask a girl on a date. I was really scared she would say no and that she wouldn't come to English Class anymore), but Heavenly Father helped me to have the courage. It was pretty awesome.

So ward support in general is still going really awesome. We are still getting more joint teaches than we have ever had, and I am really grateful that Heavenly Father has led us to so many prepared people, and that the members are so willing to come and be a joint teach with us. Our GML has us give him a list of the joint teaches every week so that he can keep track of it and tell the members at the end of the year how many times they have gone with the missionaries.

Honestly Mom, I don't really need anything for my birthday. I don't know if I would really need/want candy. I eat a lot more healthily than I used to, and at that point I would be getting home in a month or so anyway, and so I don't think it would be as appreciated as it potentially could be. If you were determined to do something you could put a little bit of money in my account, but that's not really necessary. I'm pretty content with what I have. I am just trying to ride it out with all the missionary stuff I have, and then buy some more cool stuff before I go home. 

I don't know what else to tell you. Life is pretty good. I'm trying my best to be positive, trying my best to love my companion and serve him, and I think I am doing pretty well in general.

Anyway. I love you!

Elder Merkley

Monday, February 17, 2014

Klagenfurt: February 17, 2014

Dearest Fam-bam,

Well, a lot of things have been happening this week. First off, until today the weather was awesome. We had sunshine and temperatures in the high thirties/low forties, and it was AWESOME. It snowed all day today, and was pretty terrible. In fact, Elder Krieger and I were standing on the side of the street earlier, and a car came by and splashed water and drenched us, which can be a little dangerous when you have below freezing temperatures... It's ok, we weren't outside for long afterwards.

I think the biggest news is that Elizabeth is going to be baptized in the Dominican Republic. She left on Friday to go there, I think she is planning on staying about a month or so, and right before she left we showed her where the Church would be in her city, and I guess she went Sunday and told the missionaries that she wanted to be baptized. This trip explains most of the drama that had been happening, because she hadn't told us that she was going to be going on this trip, and so she had wanted to cook with us, and we had to cancel last minute, and that's why she was mad at us. It makes sense, because she knew there wasn't going to be another opportunity. I don't know when she will be baptized, but I'll be honest, it was a little frustrating to feel like the only part of her baptism story that I don't get to see is her actual baptism...

I'm so glad that you have had a missionary experience, Mom! You have mentioned often how you haven't been feeling like you have had as many as you would like, and so I have been praying for you to have some, and I will keep doing that! I'm also glad that President Miles told you that I was staying when he called you. He called me on Friday morning, aka the day before I found out about what would happen, and talked to me about my Visa. He gave me a real scare, and I tried my best to convince him to let me stay, and at the end of the conversation, when he talked about calling you, I suggested that he tell you if I was staying or not. I knew you would love it. I also told him to tell you that I said hi. I hope he relayed the message!

Oh yeah. I guess I should tell you my new companion's name... His name is Elder Dickson, and he is from Buckley, Washington. I met him briefly in Munich when he came into the mission, and he left a very favorable impression on me, and so I have high hopes for the next couple of transfers. He has only been in the mission field for about 4 months, so it will be a lot of fun to work with somebody that young. Elder Krieger was actually transferred within the zone, to Salzburg itself. Elder Smith will be going to Wiener Neustadt, which is an area right outside of Vienna. An Elder Graver, who is currently serving in Heilbronn(!), will be coming to Elder Janis. 

As for our trip, I just want to spend a Sunday in Heilbronn, and a Sunday in Klagenfurt. Other than that, I would love to see Vienna and maybe Salzburg. If you could just plan those in, and then just tell me when we're in places I can try to write people to set up places to stay and stuff. 

Sorry, so this Email is super scattered, but my visa is still not solved. I still have a week and a half or so to get the Police Report, and I am praying that I will get it in time. I'm really looking forward to this next transfer, and I really don't want to be emergency transferred out of here. The time it takes is supposed to be somewhat regular, and so I should supposedly get it by Wednesday, if everything goes right.

The work is going really well. We had another baptismal date fall into our lap this week. A member's relative started meeting with us, and he is super humble, and is ready to change. We set the date for the beginning of May, so I'll let you know how that develops.

We taught Radu the Law of Chastity today, and he agreed to live it. He is also doing great on his smoking thing, and this week will only be smoking three cigarettes a day. He is still making a ton of progress, and we are meeting with him like three or four times a week. I found out this week that he is pretty good at Ping pong. he gave me a run for my money...the first game. I have only played like twice on my mission, so it took me a while to get warmed up, but by my second game I was on. Elder Krieger isn't bad either, and he scored the first point against me...and then I scored 21 in a row. Sorry, that might have sounded prideful. Humility is a Christlike attribute I am still working on.

Things are going great with Dominik and Peter too. Peter drove us back from our last appointment with them, and we had a real heart to heart in the car, and I feel like he will probably come around eventually. He really likes what we do as missionaries, and he really enjoys coming to church and seeing how happy everyone is there.

Joint teaches are still happening a lot. We had two today, and we are trying to involve the women of the ward a lot, which has been awesome. With Radu we are trying to get the few youth we have to come as joint teaches, which has been going pretty well. We have already had two of the younger women in the ward come as Joint teaches, and they actually did really well. It is interesting, because we always have to find joint teaches who speak English, and that can limit the options a little bit.

All in all things are looking good. I am looking forward to my new companion, who is coming from the same District as Elder Jerman, who is a Zone Leader now, did I ever tell you that? He started training, and then they made him a Zone Leader a couple transfers ago. I'm really proud of him. But yeah, life is good, and I am happy.

Elder Merkley