Putting the Christ in Christmas

Good morning and a merry very merry Christmas week everyone! It’s so hard to believe that Christmas is so close, and the time just flies. This was a long and busy week, but one of the better weeks of my mission.

     On Tuesday and Wednesday we continued the hot chocolate activity in center. The whole thing has turned out to be a great success, and we’ve been able to talk to tons of people, including many who are willing to meet again. My favorite part of this activity has simply been the chance to help people focus on the real reason why we celebrate Christmas. Although this is my second Christmas away from home, I imagine that it’s fairly similar in both countries. This just ins’t the religious season it should be for people. It’s sad to see kids who have no idea why Christmas is even a holiday, and it just makes my work all the more enjoyable.

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(Maribor district hot chocolate activity)

     On Thursday and Friday the Christmas fun continued with our 2-day Christmas conference in Zagreb! We got up on Thursday morning, stuffed ourselves into the car and made the trip down to the mission home.
     The conference was for both the Slovenian and Bosnian zones, which meant it was a fun chance to see some of the missionaries from the other parts of the mission. We had meetings and presentations (like a normal zone conference) but in addition to that, carolled in Zagreb’s busy center, explored the Zagreb Christmas market, had a zone talent show, and ate some amazing food prepared by the even more amazing Sister Grant. It was a great conference and everyone had a wonderful time together.
     On Saturday Elder Hughes and I had the opportunity to go to Ljubljana to see our investigator Jasmina be baptized! She was the referral from the internet Elder Hughes and I got while we were together, and before leaving Kranj, we were able to help get her ready for baptism. She’s such a sweet woman, and the service was filled with the Spirit. Talk about having a Christ-centered Christmas – is there anything more Christ-centered than watching someone promise to follow him through baptism? First Sjoerd, now Jasmina –  I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it feels to watch these people I love choose to follow their Heavely Father’s plan for them. I imagine it’s a small, small portion of the joy that Heavenly Father Himself feels when we do what’s right.

 

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(Me , Jasmina,  Elder Hughes)

     All-in-all this week was a great lead in to Christmas. I was able to have a lot of experiences that turned my thoughts and attention to Jesus Christ, and I hope you have had the same. It’s so easy to overlook the word “Christ” in the word “Christmas” (ie x-mas), but He really is the reason why we celebrate. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” the scriptures say. These “good tidings of great joy” are the reason why I’m on a mission, and I echo the praises of the angels who said “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” That’s the message of Christmas, and I hope that as you all enjoy the presents and fun and family of the week, that you also remember the Savior and what He did for us.
     I love you all and Merry Christmas!
     Jack

Zdravo Maribor!

Dobro jutro everyone!

     Well, I successfully made it through my first week in Maribor. It’s still sinking in that this is my new home – that I’m not just here for a visit – and I’m slowly but surely learning my way around the new city.
     Maribor is a beautiful place. It’s a stereotypical European town with a red-roof center, large catholic churches, cobblestone squares and plazas, and a gorgeous river right in the middle of everything. Maribor also has one of Slovenia’s two universities, which means students, restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. Needless to say, Maribor is a little more happenin’ than Kranj was haha!

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(The Drava river with city center in the background. We live on the side of the river that the picture is taken from, and the church is on the other side of the river, just out of frame to the left)

     One great thing we’ve done this week is started our very own “A Savior is Born” campaign in Maribor. I translated the church’s new video into Slovene, printed out cards and posters, and we’ve now started really using them. As part of this, we got permission from the city to set up a hot chocolate stand in center a few times a week where we’re giving away hot chocolate, showing the “A Savior is Born” video, and talking to people about the real reason why we celebrate Christmas. It’s gone amazingly well! It’s so easy to stop people, offer them hot chocolate, and have them watch a 2 minute video. Very non-threatening. We’re able to show the video to dozens and dozens of people each time, and we’re seeing great success with this activity. Yay for free hot chocolate!
    The District here in Maribor is great. My companion is Elder Pickard. He’s from Moscow, Idaho, and has been in Slovenia for just 2 months. He’s a great guy, and we work well together. The sisters are Sisters Nydegger and Higgins. I was with Sister Nydegger in Celje for 6 months, so it’s fun being back together, and during the last 2 months of that time, Sister Higgins was there too. So it’s almost like the band is back together!

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( This is the only picture I took this week of everyone…I’ll take a better one next week haha. Sister Higgins, Sister Nydegger, Elder Pickard)

We finished off the week with church. The branch here is smaller than the others I’ve served in (about 15 active members), but the people are so nice and have amazing stories. Elder Johnson (who is the Branch President) asked me this week to serve in the Branch Presidency with him. The hope is that within a short time, we can have 2 branch members as counselors instead (that’s my hope at least haha). Overall though, I’m excited to learn as much as I can. I like new things and new challenges, and this is no exception – so, we’ll see how it goes!

     Well, all of that is a quick summary of my week in Maribor. Have a great week getting ready for Christmas, and I can’t wait to hear from you soon!
     Love, Jack

It’s Christmas (and transfer) Time!

Happy Monday Everyone!

     Today’s email won’t be too long, since we’re in the process of packing and getting ready for yet another round of transfers… Each 2-month cycle seems to get shorter and shorter, and I can’t believe I only have 4 transfers left. Yikes!

     After 6 wonderful months in Kranj it’s change time once again. Tomorrow morning I’ll be moving to… Maribor! This wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but the more I think about it the more excited I get. Maribor is Slovenia’s second largest city (about 100.000 people) and unlike both Celje and Kranj, it has a university, which means a lot of young people and young families. It’s going to be fun serving in a “big” town finally (although if you would have asked me a year and a half ago, I probably would have said 100.000 is tiny!), and there should be great opportunities to find and teach younger people. My new district there will be me and Elder Pickard, Sisters Nydegger and Higgins (I served with both of them in Celje) and the Johnsons. So, it should be great haha.

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( It’s goodbye to these beautiful mountains for a while…)

 

     This week in Kranj was pretty good, and it was the official start of Christmas here in Slovenia. All of the lights turned on in center, and Kranj (as well as all of the cities) look magical. We’ve started doing Christmas caroling and it’s gone well.

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(Christmas in Kranj!)

 

     One thing we’ve focused on this week is the Church’s new “A Savior is Born” campaign. If you haven’t seen it yet you can go to christmas.mormon.org and see the different videos the church is making. We don’t really get anything in Slovenian, so we took it upon ourselves this week to translate everything, make Slovene pass-along cards/posters, and begin to spread the message! The video that the church made is beautiful, and it uses Isaiah 9:6 as it’s main text. That verse says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called WonderfulCounsellorThe mighty GodThe everlasting FatherThe Prince of Peace.” 
 
     There are few verses in the scriptures more beautiful than that. Although Christmas is a time of fun, of presents, of vactations, etc. it is so much more than that. It is the time of the year to remember that “unto us a child is born” – Jesus Christ our Savior. The world is getting crazier and crazier, and we’re only going to see it get crazier as time goes on. Although the most educated, powerful, and talented people in the world are looking for a solution, the truth is that the Solution was born 2,000 years ago in a humble manger. He is the Prince of Peace and His gospel is a message of everlasting peace and happiness. Only that message will save individuals, families, and nations from sin, sorrow, and pain.
     As we gear up for Christmas it’s so important to remember that “A Savior is Born”, and that that is why we should all be celebrating.
     I love you all so much, and hope you have a great week.
     Elder Jack

How Great Shall Be Your Joy

Happy late Thanksgiving everyone!

     First things first, I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Our Slovenian Thanksgiving was fun, and all of the Kranj and Ljubljana missionaries spent it together with an American family from the embassy. We had a real Thanksgiving meal, and even played some football out in the cold, snowy yard. It was a blast 🙂IMG_4615.JPG

(A classic Slovene “Turkey Bowl”)
     Thanksgiving was only the beginning of the week though.
     Doctrine & Covenants 18:15 sums up pretty nicely how the rest of the week went:“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” This week I got a taste of that heaven-sent joy as I watched Sjoerd be baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
     We spent the week with him getting everything ready – trying on clothes, putting together the program, making treats, etc – all in preparation for Saturday. We had a lot to do, but the big day finally came. There isn’t a baptismal font in Kranj, so we all went down to Ljubljana on Saturday morning and did the service there. This was the Kranj branch’s first baptism, so almost all of the members were there. The program itself was beautiful, and one of the cool parts was a talk given by Albin Lotrič, the first member of the church in Slovenia. He talked about how the Lord had to lead him to Norway to find the church, and how Sjoerd was brought to Slovenia in a similar way to find the gospel. We missionaries sang Sjoerd’s favorite song (I Know that my Savior Loves Me) and then it was time for the actual baptism!

     If I had to describe the whole experience in one word it would be: happiness. The general feeling of joy was infectious, and I don’t think there was a person there who wasn’t smiling. It was a day I’ll never forget.DSC03398.JPG

(Elder Hughes, Me, Sjoerd, President and Sister Grant, Elder Rice)DSC03402.JPG

(Sjoerd and I!)

     That verse in the D&C goes on to say: “And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” We saw that verse play out quite literally when, just 2 hours after Sjoerd was baptized, a girl in her 20s from the Ljubljana branch was baptized. I don’t think we’ve had 2 baptism in one day in a long time in Slovenia, and the joy just got greater and greater as the day went on.
     Needless to say, it was a pretty good week haha.
     Things are going wonderfully here, and there are more exciting things in the mix. The woman who got referred to us through the internet just committed to baptism, and we’re really seeing the Lord’s hand in the work. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.
     Love you!
     Elder Jack