Monday, August 26, 2013

Great Success

Pozdrav vsem!
Life in Slovenija has started to take a turn for cooler and damper weather in the last couple of days. A storm rolled in Friday night/Saturday morning at 4:30 am and since then has been overcast to partially cloudy and cool and damp. Not cold, except in the morning, and it's rained every night I think since then. I just hope this early cool down doesn't mean that we are going to have another long, cold, snowy winter again like last year.
So the new developments!!! We received 4 new missionaries in Slovenija this last week! Elder Deringer (my grandson by missionary lingo!) and Elder Stot in Ljubljana with Elder Wilson (my ˝son˝ cause I trained him) and Elder Burdette respectively. Then Sister Legro received Sister Jones here in Celje, and Elder Simon received Elder Hunt in Maribor. It is exciting to see all these new missionaries fresh from the MTC with all the light and energy of bringing people the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Also, their Slovene is spectacular. Really, they are light years ahead of where I was at the beginning.
This week, Elder Baldwin and I had more great success working with less active members. For the one I mentioned last week, who was super strong a few months ago, then randomly stopped coming. We ran into him spontaneously on the street this last week, on Wednesday I think, and set up to meet with him the next day. We spent the afternoon with him, and at the end, he rejected the invitation to come to church this Sunday, but said he would come maybe next Sunday, or a Sunday!! Progress! One step at a time.
Then for another less active, this is the one who was very strong 8 or so years ago, and actually referred the other guy I just mentioned to the missionaries and his whole family was baptized. After we spontaneously met with him a few weeks ago, he became incredibly difficult to get in touch with and set up. We would either set up and he would text us cancelling the day of, or we would show up and his son would say he was gone. Then this week, when we were meeting with the first less active, and the branch president shows up and we start talking to him about him, and how we haven't been able to meet with him. The branch president was really good friends with him and knew him, and so we asked if he would call him and set up with us. He said, ˝ Yeah I will. Actually, why don't I just call him now?˝ And so he called him right in front of us and set up with him for Saturday afternoon!! We meet on Saturday afternoon and have an excellent lesson with him. We discuss how the gospel changed his life for the better and how it can still bring blessings to his life. We committed him to pray regularly and start reading the scriptures again and he willingly accepted. Also, we will be having a fireside in Ljubljana in a few weeks where all 70 are coming, and invited him to prepare himself to go with us and the branch here. He accepted!! He has the desire and the connections now, all he needs is the faith and courage to act. As long as we keep regularly meeting with him, I can see him coming back after 8 years of inactivity within the month. And then he has a family he can share the gospel with once he is strong again!
Miracles are happening here and the work is marching forward!
Hope all is well and that you stay cool back home.
Much Care - Starešina Benson

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Darkness and the Light

Zdravo family and friends!!
Hope all is well back home. School is starting up I heard soon. Here in Slovenia all the kids have exams today and tomorrow (they have two final exam periods, one at the end of the semester, and then the other right before the start of the next semester.) The weather has been warming up again after the rain a week or two ago, but it hasn't gotten anywhere near as hot as it once was before the storms rolled through. September will be here before too long too and it will get and stay cooler soon too.
The success of this week is that we finally were able to meet with a less active member we've been trying to get in touch with for a long time, who isn't difficult to have contact with, but is impossible to sit down and talk with him. It was the strangest experience. He came to the Friday night activity we usually have here in Celje, and when Elder Baldwin and I were alone with him he asked, ˝So, you want to meet tomorrow morning?˝ Of course we said yes. It was strange when we arrived the next morning though, as he already had a board game laid out. And so what do we do? Say we won't play and leave, or play and talk? Play and talk of course. It took a bit of time, but before long we began talking about his concerns. It was an amazing breakthrough. He still has a bit to go, a journey he has to take on his own, but he will return.
In other news, I gave a talk this last Sunday. It was my third real talk I've given in Slovene (testimonies don't count). So, here is an abbreviated version of what I said.
After praying about what I should exactly talk about, one idea came to my mind, the phrase that We as saints of the latter days, can and must do hard things. I've broken these hard things we must encounter into a few simple categories, the first, that we must over come the darkness, both the darkness around us, and within us, and then we must be able to spread the light we receive.
When we came to this earth, we did not enter into perfection. This is obvious as we look at the fallen world around us. Many people have unfair situations, and struggle with many things. In spite of this however, we are promised the manner to perfection, which runs through difficult things, and only through Jesus Christ. Darkness exists around us and also inside of us. However, the darkness doesn't have to be our prison.
President Uchtdorf spoke of this light and darkness at the last May general Conference. There are two sides to his story he shared, the first I want you to pay attention to is how the woman he described had the darkness all around her, but she was able to escape. President Uchtdorf said,
˝I’d like to tell you about a woman who grew up in a room filled with darkness—I’ll call her Jane.
From the time Jane was three years old, she was repeatedly beaten, belittled, and abused. She was threatened and mocked. She awoke each morning not knowing if she would survive until the next day. The people who should have protected her were those who tortured her or allowed the abuse to continue.
...There was no light in her world, so she became resigned to the darkness....
Then, at age 18, Jane discovered The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The joy and hope of the restored gospel penetrated her heart, and she accepted the invitation to be baptized. For the first time, light entered her life, and she saw a bright path before her. She left the darkness of her world and decided to attend school... At last she felt liberated from an environment of darkness and evil—free to enjoy the Savior’s sweet peace and miraculous healing.˝
As we can see, Jane was born into a world of bleak imperfection and swallowed up in darkness. However, when she came to know the light of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, it showed her a different option, and offered her the power to be able to make the choice and action to leave the darkness which surrounded her. However, once she had left her dark conditions, she still had darkness inside of her, the next difficult thing we must constantly work to over come. President Uchtdorf continued,
˝However, years later, after her abuser had died, Jane was again troubled by the horrible events of her youth. Profound sadness and anger threatened to destroy the wonderful light she had found in the gospel. She realized that if she allowed that darkness to consume her, her tormentor would have a final victory.
...She began to realize that, for her, the best path for healing was to understand and accept that darkness exists—but not to dwell there. For, as she now knew, light also exists—and that is where she chose to dwell.
Given her dark past, Jane could easily have become vindictive, venomous, or violent. But she didn’t. She resisted the temptation to spread the darkness, refusing to lash out in anger, hurt, or cynicism. Instead, she held fast to the hope that with God’s help she could be healed. She chose to radiate light and devote her life to helping others. This decision enabled her to leave the past behind and to step into a glorious, bright future.
Jane learned that healing comes when we move away from the darkness and walk toward the hope of a brighter light. It was in the practical application of faith, hope, and charity that she not only transformed her own life but forever blessed the lives of many, many others.˝  (Italics inserted, For the full talk and story, go to this link The Hope of God's Light)
Jane overcame the darkness around her, and then inside of her. With Jesus Christ, we receive the vision of our own potential and opportunities, a vision of the path of achieve our opportunities, and the strength to bringing ourselves to our opportunities. We can leave the darkness because of Jesus Christ, because he is the light. Christ told Jospeh Smith in D&C 11:28, ˝Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the life and the light of the world.˝ He also said when he ministered on the Earth in John 8:12, ˝I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life
Our lives become brighter when we live like Jesus lived, this is a promise. However, this light he brings doesn't just start with us, but rather is infectious. When we receive the light, we can't hide the light. In the sermon on the mount, he taught, ˝Ye are the light of the world˝ (Matthew 5:14). Also however, when he came and taught the sermon on the mount to the Nefites, he said, ˝I give unto you to be the light of this people˝ (3 Nephi 12:14) And so, the next hard thing we must do is not to hide our light, not to hide ourselves, but rather to shine.
The light Christ is giving is hope and the matter to overcome our nightmares. The nightmares around us and also inside of us. We have the power and strength from Him to change our conditions. We are never, not ever cast off, too far gone, to be saved by Him. Everyone around us also is searching for this light. Many don't know specifically that that is what they are looking for, but still, they are searching for freedom.
I hope all is well back home and you are having lots of success in your endeavours. Happy days and well wishes from Slovenia!
-Starešina Benson
PS We had transfers this week. We're now on a 6 week schedule instead of a 9 week schedule. Elder Baldwin and I are staying, Elder Hardy, Grover, and Mills, and Sister Flanders the older (we had two sister Flanderses) are going home. We are getting 3 new elders, Elder Burdette (in Ljubljana), Simon (in Maribor), and Wilson (Zone leader in Ljubljana) are training, and Sister Legro in Celje is training the new sister coming in. Sister Porter is moving to Maribor. Yep, a new missionary in every area in Slovenia. Fun times up ahead!!

Also Pics!! We had zone conference in Zagreb this last week and said good bye to a few missionaries. Here is me and Elder Hardy, my trainer. Like the only good picture of the two of us. And also me and Sister Flanders. She was in Ljubljana when I started in Kranj nearly a year ago and was like a bigger sister for me back in those days. Now all that's left is for Sister Legro to go home in November, and then I will be the oldest in Slovenia.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Hunt and Happiness

Hello all family and friends.
I hope life at home is well. This week hasn't been too hot. Just like I hear it was in Texas, it rained around Monday or Tuesday, and really cooled everything off. No hail this time (at least I don't think there was). Thankfully we wake up at 6:30 am and the storm rolled in around 6:15 am, so I was woken up around that time to loud thunder and lightening. I quickly got up to close the windows, and then went back to sleep for 10 minutes before getting up. It really cooled the whole area down though. We went from finally hitting 40°C, down to being 23 - 27°C for the day. This morning was actually quite chilly riding our bikes.
An exciting adventure from the week, Elder Baldwin found some information about people who had been baptized in Celje years ago that missionaries had left behind. One of these, was a woman who lived in a small town called Žalec just outside of Celje to the west. About a month ago, Elder Simon and I went there to try and contact her, to find she no longer lived there. We talked to the neighbors, who said she moved some 10 years ago with her parents and lived somewhere just south of Žalec. Then, Elder Baldwin found this gold mine and we discovered missionaries had visited her parents back in 2002, and had the address of her new place!! We put it into Google maps, and got directions, and then, last Thursday, went looking for her. It was actually a nice bike ride along the Savinja river for about 30 minutes (about 9km). A bit rocky in places, but eventually, we found our way. After missing a turn or two, we know we are close and are driving by these old brown looking houses when we see the address plate on the side of the house... THAT'S IT! We stop, I double check the address, and walk up to the gate with the dog barking. We talk to her dad, who invites us in for sok (juice), and quickly discover that this less active member who hasn't had contact with anyone from the church now lives somewhere in Italy. It was a fun adventure, and her dad was a colorful guy who ultimately wasn't interested, but incredibly friendly.
This week has felt like it has been a decade long, but at the same time I barely feel like it should be p-day yet. Life is amazing and so incredibly exciting. I'm so glad to be here to work with Elder Baldwin and help the people in Celje.
Lepo se imejte!!
-Starešina Benson

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sveti Naprej!

Hello all family and friends!!
This week has been a nice warm week with temperatures in the upper 30° C. It might have reached 40°C one day. Super hot for the Slovenes, but nothing compared to Texas. Then again, air conditioning is a rare thing here in Celje. Lucky for us we are the only missionaries with AC in Slovenia!
So on Tuesday I said ˝adio!˝ to Elder Simon and said ˝zdravo!˝ to Elder Baldwin. Elder Baldwin is from Arlington Texas, so now all the Celje people are going to think all Mormons are from Texas! He is also 22 years old, and is 2 months older than me, but has been on his mission already for ~21 months. We've been joking with him that he's going to train in Slovene in a few months. ;-)  He has only served in Croatia, with 1 year in Zagreb, a few months in Rijeka, and a few months in Osijek. He has a lot of brothers, and his family now lives in Virginia. He's great. It's just I don't think I have talked in so much English for almost a year. Of course he speaks no Slovene, and his Croatian is tako tako from what I can tell, but I'm still learning some good Croatian words and sentence structure from him. He has also proved the Croatian, Slovene language rule too. I can understand pretty much 90% of everything he says to me, but he understands.... pretty much nothing I say, or any members say in Slovene. I've been trying to help him learn and switch some of his Croatian to Slovene, but it is all his choice.
This week has been a kind of ongoing saga throughout the summer of helping the less active members who haven't been to church in months or years come back, not only into church, but into full activity of coming every week. A lesson I've learned is that the goal isn't just the one event of them coming back once, but that once you've hit that check mark, they are still pretty much inactive until they have developed the habit of coming every week. It does no one any good to come to church once, to not come again for another month or two and not be an active contributor to the community. 
This Sunday, we had a great turnout, despite two families and 2 other members who are usually there every single Sunday (9 people less who are always there) being on vacation. The reason for this? We had 4 less active people who haven't been there in 2-5 months come! We as Elders have been in contact with four less actives and the sisters with four also. One of the great stories was with one of the people who came yesterday. Baptized many years ago, he and his son (about 25 years old) are members. His son has been mostly active for the last two years, but his dad has been struggling to come back to church. He last came some 5 months ago while Elder Simon was in Celje, but I was still in Kranj, and he hadn't been back since that one time. None the less, he has been in contact with a few members of the ward here throughout this time. But, last Sunday, as his son was getting ready to go to church, his dad surprised him and said that he was going to church with him that day too!! They both came, slightly late, and sat down. Through the whole Sacrament meeting (the first hour, basically normal church), I thought that the son had simply invited a friend of his to church. Then as it ended, the members went over to him one by one and embraced him, welcoming him back and saying how good it was to see him. It goes to show how much power the righteous influence of one family member can have in inspiring the hearts of the less active. We learned later also that as he sat down and the sacrament meeting began, be leaned over to his son and whispered to him, ˝I can't believe I have waited so long to come back. I can feel the Spirit so strongly!˝ This is just one story of seeing the less actives come back in Celje, and it is amazing. I can't even imagine, as long as we keep nourishing the branch, what it will be like here when the holidays end and all the regularly active members come back as well!
The Lord is building his kingdom and I have the wonderful blessing of being a part of His work. There is no greater opportunity than that, seeing His miracles and being a part of that work!
I hope all is well with you all. Stay cool!
-Starešina Benson