Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Week 47 - Turnhout

This sweet lady from Paraguay threw a party for Elder C, after talking to the Elders for a mere 25 mins! She has a really sweet 17 yr old daughter, 

 The Elders gave a memorable spiritual thought reminding us to put our trust in Christ and not in man (that's raw egg on Elder C)- shout-out to the VanGijsel kindjes photobombing (:

 Sneak preview into the behind the scenes of #Zusterlyfe... love these Zusters! 

 A is a certified cook and made us dinner! His 17 yr old brother was there, as well as his mom and her two best friends (they call themselves "the three witches").. one a ginger, one with dark hair, and she's a brunette- flashforward to Torri and Isabella and me in 35 years haha? Anyways, they were really fun to talk to- met at a ballet academy 45 years ago when they were 12 and have all been professional ballerinas throughout Europe and are still all best friends.. we had great conversations about free-range pork and iPad airs, but they weren't too interested in the BoM. Really gezellig though. 

I tried foo-foo for the first time! B made it for us.. you may think that's a bathroom behind us, but it's also the kitchen (a makeshift portable stove on top of beer crates).. it's boiled cornmeal with a type of sauce.. and in our case, seasoned with lots of tobacco fumes ha he is a nice guy but it was sad talking to him and hearing how in denial he is about wanting/ being able to change his bad habits; lots of rationalizing and self-justification. 

Dear Fam, 
Yep, transfer calls are this Sunday, crazy! We're emailing today because we're about to go to Flanders Field (we got permission to switch P-days). I'm excited. This week we were inside a lot because Z. Castro wasn't feeling well, but here's part of an email I sent to A (cool young girl studying and researching law, met on the bus) (who we will hopefully be able to meet up with later this week- before one of us possibly leaves)-

   "Two things stood out to me in your writing- first of all, I find it particularly noteworthy that you mentioned the purpose of life and the inner good of people. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ has answered many questions I've had regarding these concepts and through studying the scriptures/ words of prophets and attending church and most importantly through prayer, I've come to know for myself that God has a plan for each one of His children- we all come to earth to gain a body and build eternal family relationships, to be tested to choose good over evil, to learn and grow, and through following the Savior Jesus Christ become free from guilt and pain and shame and become worthy to return to our loving Father in heaven. I believe that we are all spirit sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father and we all chose to come to earth and accept this plan and all have a glorious divine potential for good and the light of Christ- or as you called it, inner good- within each of us. (Because Heavenly Father respects our agency- our freedom to choose- unfortunately, some people choose sin and temptation, contrary to God's plan.) 
   “I also liked how you mentioned the power of gratitude- I also believe that being grateful in all circumstances is directly related to true happiness, understanding, and hope. Being grateful is not just something we do after our problems are solved, but it is acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but one day we will. 
   “Hm, my story? In short, I've moved every 2-3 years in true nomadic Air Force family style (my dad is a physician in the U.S. Air Force), often living in places as remote as Guam or Germany (okay, Europe isn't so exotic to you), where there were not many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My loving, faithful parents raised us 5 children in the gospel, teaching us how to communicate with Heavenly Father through prayer, prioritizing weekly church attendance and nightly family scripture reading, and instilling in us good values such as caring for our bodies by living a healthy lifestyle and abstaining from alcohol/ drugs/ sexual relations before marriage, and encouraging us to be honest and hard-working. In my teenage years, I didn't always agree with my parents (as a typical rebellious teenager who thought she knew better than her parents) and seriously questioned a lot of what I'd been taught, and started to wonder if my school friends were right- were my parents and church leaders ridiculously strict, old-fashioned, and even brainwashed? Considering myself an independent individual (I have an identical twin sister and we grew up fighting for "twin civil rights" and independence (: ), I decided I wanted to find out for myself if this church really was the Church of Jesus Christ restored on the earth with the fullness of truth and priesthood authority, and if Joseph Smith really was a prophet of God, and if the Book of Mormon really is the word of God written by true prophets who lived hundreds of years ago in the ancient Americas. After reading in the Book of Mormon one night, I poured out my soul to God desiring to know these things, ready to live my life in accordance to my answer. I felt a powerful, warm, feeling of confirmation and the reassuring thought that I already knew deep down that yes, this book is from God and this Church will bring me lasting happiness and yes, this gospel contains true doctrines.
   “As for coming on a mission, in Fall 2013 I was at college looking into internships/ study abroad programs, thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and the more I thought about it, I decided that I wanted to take the opportunity to share this joyful gospel with others, and decided to put school/ hobbies/ frequent communication with friends and family on pause for 1.5 yrs to come on a mission. And now I'm here, 11 months in, and it's been an amazing experience. 
   “So, bad news- there's a good chance that I may be leaving Turnhout for a new city in two weeks... but the good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for us to still meet. Church is every Sunday from..." 

anyways, writing that to her was yet another confirmation of how blessed I am to have grown up in the family I have. (: 
   I'll send some pics in a sec- mostly of food appointments ha.  Love you all! Happy Birthday Mom! Liefs, 
Zuster Riley (: 
We taught the youth Sunday School lesson about using music to understand gospel principles ie PoS (Plan of Salvation), and made these for them.. and played a lot of games probably more age appropriate for primary. (: 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Week 46 - Belgium

A Norwegian soldier(ette) agreed to take a photo with us
Pink skies/ moon in Turnhout! 
The Royal Palace! But the royal flags aren't waving so they're not home- no door contact today. 
Some cool EU building 
Mary...                   ...Elis(z)abeth!
Picture the Atomium in the far distance.. apparently you can see it from here on non-foggy days (:

Beste Fam,
This week we swung by Brussels twice (wow, one day I'll look back on this and it'll seem so crazy, being a few hours' train ride from all these major European cities), once for P-day and once for Zr. Castro's legality paperwork, and it's always so fun to windowshop (+ enjoy free samples) in the dozens of chocolatiers and enjoy the beautiful centrum.

On Tuesday, Zr. Castro and I were looking someone up and ended up meeting a friendly older atheist lady who we had a neat conversation with about what it means to be a good person/ how to find lasting happiness and satisfaction/ how important it is to think for yourself (which she encouraged us to "start doing"), but she couldn't wrap her head around two "young, energetic girls with so much going for them who don't want to take a step back and just enjoy life" and we were able to point out common ground and clear up some skewed ideas, and she said we can come back to exchange stories. Coincidentally, her name was Emma de Smith- so we met the Flemish ongelovige Emma Smith. (:

I continue to be amazed by the strength of the members here, and am so grateful for this time to serve the Lord full-time and be completely immersed in the things that matter most. I'm grateful for the knowledge that Heavenly Father has a plan for every one of His children, and that through sending a redeemer, He "bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world" (see Alma 42:26) - our earthly lives go so much deeper and we are so much more than we realize.

I love you all! I hope you felt some Belgian vibes of love all the way from Turnhout to Niceville, Florida this Valentine's Day. (:
Veel liefs, 
Zuster Riley (: 

Mmm cool flavors

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Week 45 - Turnhout

Elders Thomas and Lovin came to work with us and helped us find people in the cold.
Turnhout Grote Markt ft. de Elders te Geel.
Beautiful Leuven!  
Goofing around haha! 
Fijne Valentijnsdag!
Dag Familie Riley, 
so around 7.45u on Tuesday morning I was sitting on the bus on the weekly 2.5 hour pilgrimage to District Meeting in Leuven and the usual rush of cute little well-dressed Flemish kids piled on, many of whom I recognize by now and try to smile at and I'm sure they recognize me... anyways, 3 girls were snap-chatting and chit-chatting all around me and I was reading until I kept feeling like I should talk to them... the thought "open your mouth" kept coming to mind and I felt like I should talk to them, not only to set a good example for Zuster Castro of confidently and naturally talking to everyone, but because I knew they were occasionally curiously eyeing and whispering about my nametag, but as much as I hate to admit it, I felt SCARED. European pre-teen schoolkids can be intimidating. I finally ended up asking the girl next to me if they use instagram or vine here as well (yes and no, respectively), explaining that I'm not from here, and asked how old they were, and they're 13- I told them I had I li'l broertje their age all the way in Florida, U.S.A., and then they had to get off, waving an English "bye" as they got off- no first lesson or even potential investigators, but also nothing scary/ awkward either. I just overthought it too much (flashback to cliff jumping in TX.. I knew I'd be glad I'd done it once it was over, but it was just hard to initiate it!) but more hesitation= less inspiration so I am going to work on being better at courageously acting on promptings.   

Towards the end of that bus ride, right as we were pulling into Leuven station, a friendly young woman stepped on the bus down the aisle and after complimenting her faded red leather boots we got to talking- she turned out to be genuinely curious and admiring of what we do (and has the connections with KU Leuven which is cool- she's a Law research assistant) and she was really cool and just sent me a neat e-mail, I hope we keep in touch and that she checks out the website.   

President and Zuster Robinson came and worked with us on Thursday which was neat- we ended up getting let in by 3 older, friendly, Catholic former investigators, and had a cool (lovingly bold) first lesson focusing on the Restoration through Joseph Smith. We also went to Isaac's and President said he personally feels that the reason Isaac is suddenly so intrigued with religion is because his wife (passed away almost 20 years ago) has accepted the gospel in the spirit world.   

On Friday, we stepped inside Sint Pieterskerk and ended up getting a thorough run-down of the church's history (dating back to 1200!) and the legends of St. Hubert and St. Barbara with stained-glass illustrations... and ended up having a lesson sitting on the pew there, explaining and sharing scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the message of the apostasy thus necessity of the Restoration. Sitting there in the giant, beautifully eerie Belgian church speaking to Flemish Jan, the active Catholic maintenance man about our views on how babies are pure and innocent and don't need to be baptized was an experience I won't soon forget.. I think every missionary has a few of those surreal moments of realization where you feel for a second as if you're watching yourself in this unique and cool situation from the outside, and it just hits you that not only is this sitting in a beautiful old church in Belgium speaking vlaams real- but the contents of the message you're sharing is real, too- that there is a prophet on the earth today acting under God's authority who clears up spiritual fog and that's why ie a big tweede vaticaans concilie in the 60s isn't needed. Also, I got to go back in the VIP Bishop's coffee room to use the WC so thanks Jan. (:   

Zuster Castro and I are having fun here in Turnhout! She's getting pretty pro at biking with no hands therefore I am a successful trainer (;, and when I tell a cheesy joke and laugh really hard at my own joke, that in turn makes her crack up haha. We had a 4th lesson with M (the former investigator we've started teaching again, previously referred to as "Crazy M" just for reference- in a good way of course!) and when we found out that she does believe in the BoM and Joseph Smith, we asked her why she isn't a member yet, and she said good point, so hopefully we'll be helping her and L who is finally moved out from living with her (abusive) bf towards the waters of baptism, which is so exciting.  

Happy Valentine's Day! Love you all! 
Veel liefs, 
Zuster Gosling (in honor of Valentine's Day bc #ryangosling haha just kidding) 

Shoutout to Colin and Josh Gill all the way from Arendonk, Belgium. (:  /

With G - who I hadn't seen for weeks, and she left for Africa for a month last week- of course we had to strike a pose with her haha. Yes, she's great and all, but wow she is relentless when it comes to trying to poison/ intoxicate/ whatever you wanna call it/ the Zuster zendelingen (tried to feed us chocolate with "accidental" alcohol.. again).

Broeder and Zuster Nwafor invited us over for dinner on Saturday night and casually mentioned, "yeah, it'll be a party, woo!"... and they meant it! The are so sweet and loving and made us feel so happy and loved after cold and long day, it was perfect! 

Uplifting e-mail from a cool lady I talked to on the bus!  

Dear Sister Riley
Dear Mary, if I can call you by your first name 

My name is A____. We met this morning - by 'coincidence' (of as part of Gods Devine plan?? - let's keep that open) - in the bus and at the station this morning.  

I will write you in English, for I don't know if you can read Dutch - although I don't want to underestimate you, taking into account your amazing level of (spoken) Dutch, after only 9 months in Belgium!! Excuse me, in return, for the mistakes I make when writing you in English. 

To be honest, I had noticed you before stepping out of the bus, because you had reached for my bag that had fallen. Since that moment, you - in a way - had grabbed my attention: your kind presence and big lovely eyes made me smile, and I found you looked very good in pink! 

Anyway, glad and thankful to have met each other. Wish you all the best in realising the mission that brought you to Belgium. It is astonishing to see how two young girls, like you and Sister Castro (if I remember her name correctly), share the enthusiasm, and have found the courage to spread the word of God/Jesus, in a far (and cold) country, and this in times when a lot of people are disconnected from 'the message', locked in their busy life or prejudiced by the fear of fundamentalism. Despite that, I wish you all the best and hope you will persist in your vocation. What you do is admirable, really! 

And, although our view points can and may differ on certain details - and I think that is not a bad thing either, I think we both believe in the inner good of people, the force of connection/empathy and the benefit of thinking 'pink' and positive.

I will take a look at the website you suggested.

Besides, I will give you my professional contact details (of the University), in case you have questions with repsect to studying law in Leuven;

Have a wonderful day - talking to you already made mine! 


Monday, February 2, 2015

Week 44 - Turnhout

The tonijnman we ran into at the Markt! Blijkbaar zijn klompen niet alleen in Nederland te vinden. (Apparently clogs are not only found in the Netherlands)

Beste Familie Riley, 
First of all, wow, this week I hit the jackpot at zone training with so many awesome and uplifting and supportive and inspirational letters/ cards/ photos/ dearElders/ giant birthday package from Torri and Isabella/ "hump day" package from home.. and then I got a Valentine's Day package in the mail today from (my really attractive guy back home) I mean home! and hahaha i laughed SO hard at the Valentine's Day collage of men...  Wow, thank you so so so much I am so incredibly blessed (en dus grateful!) ah so good. <3 

So, on Tuesday, we had a lesson with Abdul - a 22-yr old Ghanaian student I'd met on the bus a few days prior- we taught a "RaD" and he was very open and cool. I'm always amazed at how the Restoration answers so many questions before they can even be asked, Preach my Gospel is inspired. Ha Abdul and I bonded on the bus because my Vera Bradley bag looked like African fabric, and I have a wooden elephant keychain (that Greet, a Belgian woman who had a Ghanain bf) on my bag that matched his keychain on his lanyard.

On Tuesday, I went to Antwerpen and had the privilege of meeting Lynn, an incredible young Belgian girl who is so open and sincere and it was a very spiritual lesson. Heavenly Father really does have a plan for each one of His children.

Ermon is doing so well and really gaining a personal testimony of the Book of Mormon.. he'd read up to 2 Nephi 9 and written down questions he had, and we had a neat lesson about the law of chastity focusing on the divine family unit. He told us that a few days ago he was sitting in his house, reading the Book of Mormon, and even though according to the thermostat his house was cold, he felt so warm on the inside. Moseis, his 12-yr old son, loves the seminary activities as well, and enthusiastically went last week. Also, Ermon is an identical twin as well, so of course we bonded over that.

We met Augusta on the street who already has a BoM from a few years ago and is willing to have us come over in a few weeks. Zuster VanGijsel came with us to Attila, who we hadn't seen for 2 weeks (he was in Nederland) but who is going to start his in-depth study of the BoM this week and will have work off next Sunday so can come again to church. I'm excited for him to start reading, because that is how he can gain a testimony of these things we've been explaining to him- by nourishing his "seed" (in his case is a mere desire to know if there is a God with a plan for him) by reading.

We also met with Kathleen and talked about the gospel and Zuster VG came to that as well and I was inspired by Kathleen's studying the additional questions in the pamphlets/ gospel principles lesson book so I went home and did that (and it is so helpful and informative) and it's so cool to see someone take advantage of these resources and take this seriously. Also, her 5-yr old daughter is so cute and knows us as the American girls who want to be her big sister (I told her she's my Belgian zusje!) and talks to her Mom about Jesus, aw.

Isaac made delicious sweet and spicy veggie soup for the branch potluck after church, and we're getting to practice patience with him.. he is such a good guy, but progresses slowly and talks a lot, but his prayer after our lesson was so sincere, thanking God for sending these patient and persistent "angels" to teach him, aw. Speaking of good cooks, Br. Klas sure knows how to put those Surinaams seasonings to good use, and they're a fun family I've been blessed to get to know (we went to their house last night).

I've contacted a few people around town, including a grocery store cashier, who have recognized me from my 3 minutes on TV! Ha pretty funny. I've gotten asked to lead the music during sac. mtg. the past few weeks which usually is no biggie, but yesterday we sang some hymn about geneology that I guarantee no one in the congregation knew haha it was pretty funny.. the stake president used that as an opportunity to make this hymn mean something personal to each of us ie sing it during FHE. (: Speaking of our stake president (Pres. Boom, really cool guy), his wife is from England and knows the Pentreath family- LDS +Air Force = no shortage of mutual friends and random connections, love it. 
I love you all! Crazy that it's already February, eh?
Met liefde, 

Zuster Riley (: 

M with her hand-knitted stuffed animals that she donates to charity- We met her on the street a few weeks back and she met with Elders YEARS ago.. she is very friendly and is a single retired HS math and religion teacher who does not agree that there is only one prophet on the earth but is a very good Christian woman!