Monday, December 29, 2014

Week 39 - 20th birthday and Christmas!

With Familie Peeters and  Zuster Smets (oldest member in Turnhout) on Christmas Eve! 

 #heisthegift #hetgeschenkdoorgeven 

Where we slept Christmas Eve.. with the best Christmas present pillowcase!!! Thanks. 

 The VanGijsels found out it was my birthday when I was talking to Emilie and she asked how old I was and I said "19.. wait, no, 20!" and they got it out of me that it was today.. and then surprised me later that night by singing and candles and cake and deliciouslyella-status super lekker (but healthy and veg) cupcakes aw. (: 

 Zuster Janssen!.. she has 5 cute little boys who are adorable/ crazy (but they sometimes just stare at me like I'm crazy when I try and talk to them)
Boardwalk inside the Wintermarkt.. good thing getting secondhand drunk isn't a thing.  Recognize that Decathlon store sign? 
 The Wintermarkt (not quite up to par with the Deutsche Weihnachtsmaerkte but still really cute and fun) in front of the big Catholic church right near our house

A picture of a picture of our cute neighbor, "onze lieve Mia" / Let's play I spy owl trinkets (she's like me with my penguin collection.. but with owls and 60 more years to collect). 
 Service project in Antwerpen (giving out free clothes to less-fortunate).. the highlight of that for me was coming home with 2 kilos of dates (the kind you eat, just to clarify) that nobody wanted (but I love- does that make them pity dates ha ha? I mean they weren't even pitted, soo "pitty" I guess?.. okay, too far) and using my two months of college French to contact a lady and get her number.. I said "je ne sais pas" a lot but it still worked (Dad, you were just asking about whether I ever get to use French in BE) 

 It snowed!!! 
Our street. Turnhout is so pretty with the snow covering the cute brick houses and old churches!  
 Yes, those are bike tracks in the snow haha

  Classics in Dutch!  

  2 of the 3 VanGijsel boys on Christmas with the Elders

 We got stranded somewhere in between Leuven and Tienen trying to get to district mtg.. but it was pretty! 

 let's just say that I discovered one way not to have to pay 50c for a public restroom in Europe. 

Week 39

Beste Familie, 
it was so so so good skyping you guys (well, aside from the sort of singing Stille Nacht in Dutch.. if a video of that ends up somewhere public haha...)!!! Seriously though, it was such a good Christmas (and 20th Birthday).. visited Tommy, Mia, Crazy Mady, ran into Abdel, spent the evening with Familie VanGijsel (where I got to talk to you guys).

So, last Monday I got an email forwarded from Mom's email from a Kathleen Vanhouten and I wasn't sure if it was a prank or a miracle.. it was from a Dutch lady with small children who is looking for something more in this life and wants to get a hold of a Book of Mormon and has seen us in the neighborhood lots.. and today she emailed me her address (which sure enough does exist) and phone number and I will keep you guys posted with what happens!!! So cool!!! Turns out she got Mom's email from my public blog.. can't wait to look her up tomorrow!

Tommy is getting baptized this Saturday which is really exciting, and we had a wonderful lesson with Ermon's family and Brother Lolas (a member who happens to know Ermon from when they both lived in Antwerpen 11 years ago!), and Attila said a really sweet prayer thanking Heavenly Father for us helping him understand what the atonement of Jesus Christ can mean for him (after a really cool lesson about repentance), and Isaac came to the Christmas party potluck (he even brought food- he's a professional chef and even cooked for Mohammed Ali at the Hilton once.. but when people complimented his salmon and artichoke lasagna, he casually shrugged and said "it's just a hobby" haha) and will have more time to meet this upcoming week finally, yay.

We've been running into a lot of people who we talk to on the street who have met with Sisters/ even Elders months or years before, as well as people we recognize from recent street contacting who we run into in i.e. the store.. one of the perks of being in a small town for 3 transfers. 
I'm gonna attach some pictures of our recent change of environment (which, btw, we do bike in and haven't slipped yet!), love you!
Veel liefs, 

Zuster Riley (: 

Proof that we bike in this ice/ snow! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Week 38 - Turnhout

Beste Familie Riley, 
Hope you guys are having a jolly holiday season and enjoying your sandy version of a white Christmas.. we have neither snow nor sand here in Belgium, but we will be having an investigator dressed in white shortly after the new year... namely Tommy! We just had a lesson with him this morning, actually, and he said that Talmage's "De Grote Afval" (or, "The Great Apostasy".. "Afval" can also mean garbage so I'll translate this for you instead of leaving it to google) has indeed helped him understand that the apostasy did happen, and he's hoping the last two chapters will solidify his testimony that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet (as opposed to merely an inspired man).. a question that we've discussed a lot with him.

Speaking of today, we're having our branch kerstfeestje - singing at a Rest home and then a potluck dinner- tonight, and we're expecting a few investigators which I am really excited about, because getting investigators comfortably integrated in the ward helps them to progress so much faster. I know you guys already do this, but I encourage you to make an extra effort to go up and talk to the non-members that come with the missionaries without waiting to be introduced, it makes such a difference. (:

Ermon is doing so well- we had our third lesson with him and his son Moses who listens attentively, and his wife and mother-in-law (every lesson there's a new family member who we meet and bond with, it's a pattern I wouldn't mind keeping up ha) who sort of listened in... Ermon continues to have great questions and listens attentively, and it was cool because Zuster Castro taught in Spanish most of the time (their native tongue is Portuguese but they can understand Spanish).

A neat experience was coming back from a Christmas concert in Antwerpen when we ended up sitting near Bernardo on the bus ride back to Turnhout. Even though we haven't met with him recently because he blatantly told us he wasn't in a position to change his Word of Wisdom habits, we left off on great terms, and he ended up getting us two new potential investigators- his friends who were interested in learning more- and I was so touched to hear him reassure his friend (after the friend had exchanged contact info with us) that we were good, Christian people at our church, and that he recommended him going.

Attila came with us to a dinner appt. at the VanGijsels, to the Christmas concert, and then today to the branch party, and he's really been enjoying those activities and everything he's learning from meeting with us. We found a really cool new potential investigator last week, Patricia, a young half Belgian/ Italian mother with adorable twin (I know, “adorable twin” is redundant) toddlers and a preteen daughter, and we set up an appt. for later this week. We also set up an appt. with Emelda, a Surinamese mother with 6 children who actually received a BoM from Elders in Rotterdam.. super cool!

I got a wonderful Christmas package at zone conf. on Tuesday, thanks so much! Aside from the handwritten penguin cards of course (which are decorating our kitchen!), I think my favorite thing so far was the 10 politically correct christmas carols- so funny, I wonder what that author's thoughts are on Zwarte Piet. Oh and I love the MoTab Christmas Around the World CD.. we must've listened to it growing up more than I'd remembered, because it gets me kinda nostalgic. Talk to you in three days!!!! I love you all! MERRY CHRISTMAS! 
Zuster Riley (:

P.S. congrats on the great grades, Rachel (: 

 Zuster Castro's super cool socks!
Our favorite store- 't Appeltje

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Week 37 - Transfer 6 - Turnhout

Our District Genk

 In a Frituur (Fry) shop in Brugge (third time there on my mission!) with the Zusters in Zone Antwerpen. 

 She's sad to leave Turnhout :(

 Zuster Castro! On her first day.

Broeder D'Haene with his wife, who is investigating the church. 

A sneak preview of Broeder D'Haene's paintings.

Familie Riley!
First of all, Zuster Castro (which btw the Fidel Castro jokes are proving even more frequent and less original than twin or vegan jokes), my new companion (greenie), is great- she's 22, from Georgia, half Hispanic and speaks fluent Spanish (I'm trying to get her to swap the Spanish word for every Dutch word I teach her.. but so far, ajo = knoflook (garlic) is all that I've retained), and I've learned a lot from her already about listening to people and asking inspired questions, being open and honest, and doing hard things. We hit it off really well, and it's actually a really cool miracle that I am her companion. She told me that even before she got out here, my face always stood out to her from the mission Facebook page and she recognized (and met briefly) Madi at the MTC, and being nervous to come out here, on the plane the Robinsons and my face came to mind. And voila, who does she end up being trained by? Wow, really neat, and no coincidence. Anyways, I miss Zuster Hansen.. I wish I could've just had twins (to train), because it's common knowledge that twins are altijd (always) better. (;

So, keep reading to hear about my moment of fame that is potentially one of the coolest experiences of my mission: So, on Tuesday, Zuster Hansen and I were getting off of our 2.5 hour bus ride back from District Mtg. in Leuven and saw a food truck selling warm drinks at the Turnhout Markt, and because I know Z. Hansen, I asked her if she wanted to swing by and buy her last cup of warme chocomelk in Turnhout. She happily complied, but when we got closer, we saw camera men holding microphones, and were told that they were busy filming something and we started to walk away.. until a cute young girl stopped us, asked us where we were from, and started asking us questions in English (she did a human interest/ public media internship in D.C. last winter and wanted to practice her already flawless English), and after explaining the basics of who we are and what we do, she asked us if we wanted to be on T.V. There's this program that plays after the national evening news on channel één (I've even heard of that channel because it's often playing in the background at peoples' houses) called "Iedereen Beroemt" (“Everyone Glory”) where they pretend to give random people a good cup of coffee/ hot cocoa and then talk to them and hear their stories, unstaged. So a few minutes later we went and talked to the lady on the set for 45 minutes and just testified and explained and laughed in Dutch (often switching to English for my greenie) and it was so amazing because she listened and asked great questions and told us that we were so interesting that she sincerely wishes us good luck and told us at the end that we sparkle. It was seriously SO COOL, just talking about what we do every day but being received so warmly and getting the chance to testify of Jesus Christ and of Heavenly Father's plan for me in front of potentially hundreds (millions?) of Belgians.. it went so smoothly and we gave out 2 cards and 2 Book of Mormons to her and the camera men and the first girl, and she's going to send us the link when it's all ready (which I'll forward to you).. it'll probably air on a Thursday evening in January. They kept zooming in on our nametags and the books it was just so great and such a miracle. So, Zuster Hansen's love for hot cocoa is definitely inspired. (:

Attila came to church today and members were already arranging to carpool with him to a Christmas concert activity in Antwerpen, it's so great having members who fellowship well. We had a great lesson with him on Saturday.. he's been praying every night and found it weird but good, and is reading Elder Ballard's 'Our Search for Happiness' (great read btw). We also talked to his sweet mom who has been through a lot of hard times and who loves her 3 kids - "her diamonds" (Attila is the oldest)- more than anything in the world. Even though Attila’s mom said that nothing in the world could convince her that there is a God, we talked about life and time and families and she will hopefully join us next week. They live in this big house that looks majestic/ haunted from the outside and that gives you fortune-teller/ art gallery/ gypsy vibes on the inside... it's covered in giant, beautiful (and creepy) portraits that his grandma painted.

Isaac is finally getting it through his head that we don't worship/ pray in the name of Joseph Smith, and asks a lot of great questions but then keeps talking before we can answer them... but he keeps saying that he's liking what he's learning and feeling, and prayed for the first time since he was a child yesterday (he's now in is 60s). He's such a good guy, cooking for the Elderly and raising 4 great kids and turning his back on religion because of horrendous and hypocritical things he's seen in the news and in his home country of Nigeria but never really turning his back on the belief of a God. We had a great lesson at Branch Pres. Peeter's home with Tommy about how to recognize true prophets versus inspired men, and he's doing great- he taught the Gospel Principles class on the Gathering of Israel (keep in mind that his baptismal date isn't until 3 Jan. - he's still a non-member), and signed up to feed the missionaries.. he'll be taking us out to eat!

D, a young and always so busy Ghanaian mother finally let us in and gave us her full attention until she got a phone call and bolted downstairs to pick up an electric drill and shooed us out of her house haha it was random. A calmly waltzed into church with his 'fro in a ponytail and still hasn't exactly apologized for coming to church high and disrupting sac. mtg. (but did text us saying he felt like he was being exiled for his exuberant behavior- sweet new Dutch words- when we had the Elders start meeting with him instead of us), but said he's been reading the BoM from the beginning and met with the Elders twice.

Turnhout is so cute and festive.. lights and ribbons and bows and ice-skating and a giant nativity downtown (#heisthegift) ah I love it. Any advice for keeping toes warm from my fellow (Ukraine/ Minnesota/ Russia) winter veterans? I'm so grateful for all the spiritual moments I've had this week- epiphanies/ personal revelation during studies, bonding with comp, testifying when confronted with objections, answering Qs through teaching, visiting with members.

Oh yesterday we met a homeless guy on the street who used to teach high school gymnastics and still brings food to his ex-wife and dog who said to call him "Guy" who originally told us that he was ongelovig but eventually opened up to having just poured out his soul in desperate prayer an hour ago. He said he can hardly believe what we do, that it's "glorious", because his 20 yr old granddaughter thinks only of her iPhone and living in the moment. It was a neat conversation on the street.
Merry Christmas! Thanks for your love and support!
Veel liefs, 
Zuster Riley (: 

P.S. We will be skyping somewhere around 10am- 2pm your time on Christmas. Can't wait. (:
 Thanks to Zuster Bush for these pics of Brugge, where the sisters went for Pday

 Transfer Meeting (3 photos from the mission blog: Meeting Zuster Castro for the first time

Monday, December 8, 2014

Week 36 - End of transfer 5

 Prettige Feestdagen van de Zusters te Turnhout (: 
(Happy Holidays from the Sisters in Turnhout)

 Zwarte Piet! 

Sinterklaas Eve  

Familie Riley- 
I am staying in Turnhout, Belgium for a third transfer (my fourth in Belgium) and training again! Zuster H is leaving me for Dordrecht, Nederland.. it's unfair that we're already being separated- I really liked getting to be her companion and learned so much about obedience, boldness, keeping the right perspective, and giving it your all from the start. But her fire is needed elsewhere! So, Ermon is really promising, and showed the Restoration video to his son (who joined us at our second lesson) and to his wife (who wants to join us at our next lesson), and Eric is on a baptismal date, and Attila is still great about reading and keeping appointments - we're just really trying to help him understand that these beliefs that we hold so dear can mean something to him, too (he is a 21-year old German student), and Isaac is still coming to church and asking great questions and we visited a former investigator dubbed "Crazy M___" and as her name suggests, there is never a dull moment in that little house of hers that smells mildly like cat mixed with strong perfume and she's still been reading and wants to come back to church again. L asks good questions but doesn't really listen.. but is so sweet and hospitable and even invited us over sometime around Christmas.. and her sweet 13-year old daughter, M, listened in on our lesson and is coincidentally (like that exists.. ha we like to say "toeval bestaat niet" (no coincidences) ) good friends with a young man in our ward from school.. I'm excited to really build strong relationships with the members here, and to help these investigators take the next step. 
I love you all!

Zuster Riley (: 

By the way, this is Abdel (taken 6 weeks ago)

"Being awkward" with Tommy (: 
Our delicious groente afval (or grote afval?) (vegetable waste/compost) /
 Eating persimmons from Mia, our 80 year old neighbor

In Arendonk a few weeks ago! Love this girl!   /   Crazy M!  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Week 35-Turnhout

Christmas in our appt.! 
 The Moreiras! 

Familie Riley... 
Fijne Sinterklaas! Be sure to leave your shoe out beneath the fireplace with a carrot for the Sint's horse and a pint of (root?) beer for Zwarte Piet (the Sint's debateably politically incorrect little helper- it's a racial controversy here) and find some cadeautjes on the morning of the 6th (sound familiar to the O'Riley leprechauns?).

Turkey Bowl was fun on Tuesday, mostly because half of us were playing real football (ever since I gashed my shin open, I'm not the hugest fan of American football), and on Thanksgiving day we got to hear from the amazing Sister and hilarious Elder Moreira (he's a Portuguese member of the Seventy)- they talked about teaching with love, opening our mouths to see miracles, and how even with advances in communication via social media, the missionary force is important because we are to personally represent the atonement in every home.

On Tuesday night, we had to swing by someone's house in the nearby dorpje of Arendonk, and had some extra time so we knocked doors to find people... but, turns out it was Sint Katrienas (village patron saint) Dag which meant all the kids and parents were also going langs de deur with lanterns and singing songs, and getting bags of treats... one lady was really sweet and explained this holiday to us, but so many others were so stingy and said they were here for the kids, or would recoil with horrified gasps as soon as we mentioned the Savior's name. But then we came back to Turnhout and ended up finding two new investigators and were let in to teach a lesson to Mvr. Dierckx, and talked briefly with Ghilal and his family and will return with a Greek book for him.

On Wednesday morning we met an older and wealthier Belgian man who'd met with missionaries years ago and has concluded that the Book of Mormon is at best interesting science fiction and told us that we were blindly following so-called prophets and we need to take a step back and Zuster H bore passionate testimony, but he wasn't listening because we also agree that it's important to reason and think for yourself... in fact, we share a formula for more light and peace and knowledge, and let people ask the source of all truth themselves, to see if it can mean something for them.

The ward has been having someone fast every day this past moth for missionary work, and we've seen a lot of miracles in finding new people. On Vrijdag we were walking because Zuster Hansen ahd a flat tire, and that proved to be quite the blessing, because we were able to talk to so many more people (eye contact= I contact), and we found Alyssa! She's our age, so sweet and cool and Christian and wanted a BoM and set up an appt.! She also loves that we're American.

We also met Tijren, who met with Elders 35 years ago (when I totally wasn't even born) and she is really interested in Family History.. speaking of which, we gave the Evangeliebeginselen class at church on that onderwerp, and the photobook you made me was a hit.. we passed it around to show pictures of the temple. Attila is still open and curious, but we need to help him realize this can mean something for him personally, too. Ibrahim crawled under a table to avoid our appt. (on Thanksgiving night actually) haha.. we had a good lesson with Isaac at Familie Nwafor again. And found Ermon, and had such a cool Restoration lesson.. he said he has all the same Qs as Joseph Smith. 

Love you all! 

And our cute street. 

From the mission blog:

I spy Zuster Riley! (sitting, on the left)