January 25, 2016

ПРЕЛАДНО (TOO COLD)  Elder Chingas and I were driving in Kosovo to do exchanges with the missionaries there. When we left Skopje, it was a pretty comfortable -9C(16F). We had been driving for about an hour when we looked at the temperature again, and it was -21C(-6F)! We rolled down the windows and the wind felt more like a knife cutting me than anything, it was so cold. Despite the cold, we had really good exchanges! I would send some pictures, but we're at a new weird internet place in Aerodrom that Elder Chingas got a virus at a couple weeks ago, so I'm going to play it safe.

In Gjakova, I was with a new missionary that's only been in the field for about 4 weeks named Elder Riepel. In Kosovo, the Albanian gets altered quite a bit, which makes the language harder, especially for the new missionaries. Despite that, Elder Riepel taught 3 lessons in complete Albanian, even though I can't speak too much Albanian, it was clear it taught them well. One of the long time investigators, Valentin, really wants to get baptized, but doesn't follow with the commitments. Elder Riepel taught him about the sabbath day, and he came to church this week for the first time! It's strange conducting exchanges where you can't really teach or do any more than stop a person while contacting. It's always interesting to me to see the different ways that people do the work, and seeing what works and what doesn't. Especially when we've got such a small rotation here in Macedonia! We also went to Pristina for an exchange, where I was with Elder Watson, who goes home in 3 weeks. He was the Gjakova Branch President for about 6 months.

After returning to Skopje on Friday night, we heading back up to Pristina to watch the Missionary Broadcast entitled "Teach Repentance and Baptize Converts". Something really clicked in my head that hasn't previously about the difference between being baptized and converted. When it comes down to it, we're just inviting people to repent, and those that do accept that invitation to change their lives should be baptized. They said in the beginning of it that it was the first broadcast like that in 10 years, so that message must have been needed. Elder Anderson, Bednar, Oaks, and a few others I don't remember. Something I got a kick out of is that I saw Elder Pereira in the audience, a missionary from Brazil who I went on a few exchanges with while I was in Provo. News: Metija had a baby

The Vodici celebration was this week where Orthodox Christians celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ. This meant they held the traditional ceremony of throwing the blessed Holy Cross in the local river where people then jump in the icy water to try to retrieve it. One of our new investigators, Igor, actually participated in it. He told us that he believes it rigged, and they already know who will get it beforehand. He says he refuses to participate in arranging the result, and he said that he actually has seen people get their feet pulled from under the water when it's a person close to the cross when they're not the chosen person. He then went off in a lesson about how Pagan the Orthodox and Catholic Church are, so we think he's going to like our message. 

Sunday, we walked out of our apartment after getting some lunch at home. Usually, there's not a soul outside on Sundays. But when we walked out, there were lines of buses totaling over 100. Floods of people were passing us. We were extremely confused what all the commotion was about since Aerodrom is usually a very peaceful and calm place. Somebody finally told us there was a Woman's Convention for VMRO, the political party in power right now. Then we noticed that all the people were only women. There were buses from pretty much every city in Macedonia. I still have no idea what the purpose of the meeting was, but it for sure left a mark on the week.

President Kearon of the European Area is here for a mission conference tomorrow, so right after this we're going to drive all the way to Tirana, and then stay there until Wednesday night because we have Mission Leadership Conference after since we're ZLs. I gotta say, we haven't been able to work in our area too much lately with everything going on. Luckily Elder Chingas loves driving so that's keeping my stress levels lower.
Elder Rigby

January 18, 2016

Aerodrom has been treating us pretty well! We already knew the general area pretty well because we used to come over here every day when we were having language classes with Zoki. There's a little park called Jane Sandanski that we contact at a lot, frankly only because we've managed to find a lot of good success there and there's always empty benches! We're calling it the Park of Milk and Honey though. The only bad thing is that there are 3 Orthodox churches in 3 directions from it, but you can't win them all!

With all the first lessons, it's still been a struggle to get people to want to meet up again. We've only had 2 return appointments with people. We were contacting out there one time, and there was a guy walking right next to the street about 30 feet from us. Most people just ignore us straight up, especially when they're farther away. You get really bored contacting so much, so I decided to be a bit obnoxious and yell out to him. Much to my surprise, he actually stopped, and started walking towards us, so we scurried on over to meet him. Then we managed to have a lesson with him! It was a pretty funny experience. It's also gotten SO COLD this week. It's supposed to get down to 8 degrees tonight.

I forgot to talk about a fantastic lesson Elder Chinas and I had with Bojan and Prosina a few weeks ago. Prosina has been struggling giving up coffee, so we decided we were going to have a lesson cracking down on it hard. We started it watching Finding Faith in Christ (super good video), and then just discussed the principle of faith. We transitioned it to the coffee drinking, and it was so peaceful and warm because of how much the spirit was testifying. Every time in the past, she's always avoiding committing stopping completely, and I asked her to give all her coffee to us so it won't tempt her. Well on that night, she did both of those! She also talked about how she gets bad headaches if she doesn't have a coffee in the morning, so we offered a priesthood blessing to her. I had the opportunity to give it, and it was one of the few I've given in Macedonian, but it was also the easiest blessing I've ever given. God wanted her to know that message. She was promised that she would have the strength to succeed to never drink coffee again and she would not get a headache. And sure enough the next day (we called her every 2 hours to make sure she was doing good), she said she didn't get any headache! Although when we had a lesson that next night, she looked extremely tired. That was one of the most powerful lessons I've ever gotten to be a part of, and I learned so much about how much God loves all of us and cares for each one of us.

We got a referral named Aleksander who we've been teaching at his house. Usually referrals have fake phone numbers, which I don't understand at all why they would fill the referral request out and then put a fake address and phone number, but that's a discussion for another day. Aleksander was a 7th Day Adventist, but he doesn't agree with the teachings, but agrees with everything that we've taught him so far! He's one of the most golden I've seen! He lives with his super communist-thinking parents though, and in the last lesson, the father interrupted 3 times talking about how God doesn't exist, and then at the end of the lesson his mom kicked us out and said she never wants us to come back. So we'll have to figure out a different place to have the lessons now! Also when we were contacting, I talked to a couple, and they said they didn't want to talk, explaining that they were communists. That was the first time I heard that excuse.

Macedonian celebrated Стара Нова Година (Old New Year) since they go off a calendar that's 2 weeks behind our, so the holidays continue. This week is Водици (Vodici) which is celebrating the baptism of Jesus where the archbishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church throws a cross into river and a ton of people go swimming for it. Whoever gets it gets money and becomes a priest. I don't want to say that's pagan, but that's super pagan.

Here's a little patriotism and liberty for MLK day.

I testify that America is a choice land. (See 2 Nephi 1:5.) God raised up the founding fathers of the United States of America and established the inspired Constitution. (See D&C 101:77–80.) This was the required prologue for the restoration of the gospel. (See 3 Nephi 21:4.) America will be a blessed land unto the righteous forever, and is the base from which God will continue to direct the worldwide latter-day operations of His kingdom. (See 2 Nephi 1:7.)
-President Ezra Taft Benson
Elder Rigby
Hear him sing a song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OYKvXkwJqA   

January 11, 2016

The all mighty zone leader life. We've had so much stuff going on this week! Our new apartment was pretty empty of a lot of living essentials, so we had to go buy all that last Monday, plus we had to learn how to do these numbers report sheets being the zone leaders, so we didn't get much of a PDay. We're both new to being Zone Leader, and we didn't get any training that usually happens. So there's been a whole lot of stress, but what is life without that? Now it's calmed down a lot more.

This week was Orthodox Christmas! In Macedonia, Christmas is a couple weeks later because the Macedonian Orthodox Church follows the old Julian calendar (not our Gregorian calendar). In Macedonia there is a total of five days of Christmas related traditions that everyone tries to honor. A popular Christmas saying in Macedonian: “No matter where you are through the year, be home for Christmas.”

Christmas celebrations begin on the evening before Christmas Eve, Kolede, January 5th. Orthodox Christian children go from door to door singing Christmas carols and receiving fruits, nuts, and sweets from the people. Later in the evening, neighborhoods get together to build and light a bonfire outside, listen to traditional music and share food and drink. The Kolede bonfire is an ancient tradition celebrating the ancient Slavic sun god as he begins to grow in strength (as the days get longer).

At our place we saw people making big tepee-looking piles of wood, and then lighting them on fire. They had one right outside our new apartment, which we kept going out to look at. Suddenly, we got a call from our landlord, Zoran. "Hey, we see your light is on! Come down and get some food with us and meet the neighborhood." We can't refuse that offer, so we go down, Zoran greets us and introduces us to all of his friends. The whole neighborhood was there! It was very warm welcome. We talked to his son, Darko, for a while, who explained to use everything that was going on. They ushered us over to the food table, where they dished us up some Sarma (Rice and meat wrapped in pickled cabbage), rolls, fish, and a potato dish. I wasn't particularly hungry before the meal, and I definitely was not after eating. They also insisted on us taking glasses of Rakia (basically Macedonian vodka) and red wine, which we had to politely decline about 5 times before they realized we were being serious.
The next night was Christmas Eve (Badnik, 6th January). People look forward to the special Christmas family meal called 'posna' that traditionally contains no dairy, meat or animal products. Dishes might include nuts, fresh and dried fruits, baked cod or trout, bread, kidney bean soup, potato salad, Ajvar (red-pepper dip), Sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and spices) and pickled vegetables. The meal includes a coin bread or Christmas Cake that is baked with a metal coin in it. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of bread, will have a good fortune for the whole year. Christmas Eve is also when the traditional oak yule log, called a 'badnik', is brought into the house and is lit, representing the hope to have a long and healthy life, "with health strong as oak and with a life log as that of the oak."

January 7th is…Christmas Day and when people celebrate the holiday in a more religious manner, and usually go to a church service. Christmas is known as a time of forgiveness and tolerance. After going home, a Christmas candle is lit and everyone sings a Christmas hymn. Then there is a big dinner.

It was so awesome to see the hospitality of all the people here, and now we recognize a lot more people walking through our neighborhood. All in all, the people out in Aerodrom seem much kinder than those in the center of the city. Pretty much every person we try to talk to will have a pleasant conversation with us, at least until they read our name tag and see we're not from the Orthodox Church. A lot of people all over Macedonia think we're Jehovah Witnesses, which are not a very favored people here. I'm not sure what they did here, but they have an absolutely terrible image amongst the people here.
Right before Christmas we set off at 4am in the morning to get to Tirana by 10 for the mission leadership conference. The more I know President Weidmann, the more he impresses me. He talked about what we accomplished in the past year, and then started talking about goals for the future. He slammed us with a challenge to read the Book of Mormon in one month, from Jan 7 to Feb 7. The fastest I've read the entire book was 4 months, so this will for sure stretch me a bit! I'm already in 2 Nephi, and it's been so interesting reading it. There's so much action in it since I'm speeding through it, and there's a lot more themes that stick out. It's giving me such a boost in the wealth of information to think about each day.

President Weidmann also discussed the importance of people coming to church, and he gave us the goal of 2016 of getting 800 people in sacrament meeting as a mission. Right now we're at 650, so we've got to get about a 25% increase. I really like the goal, because in the past 2-3 years, about 200 people have been baptized a year in the mission, but sacrament attendance hasn't increased at all, which means about 200 people are either dropping off when they get baptized, or active members going less active, which is absolutely terrible. On our Skopje part, our new American family of 5 already hits that goal for us, but we're gonna get that number up even more! They have 3 young children, 6, 4 and 5 months. Both of the parents are returned missionaries. We now have 12 missionaries in Macedonia including the Nelsons.

After that 4 hour spiritual feast, we headed back with the Sister Training Leaders. It rained that entire day, and we drove about 9 hours, which was pretty perfect. But it melted all the snow, so I'm happy! We decided on the way back to stay the night in Prishtina, because that would eliminate about 4 hours of driving for us between that night and the next day, so we stayed the night at some of the elders' apartment there without having anything but our scriptures and our notes from the meeting, so I felt like a pretty biblical missionary right there. The zone training went really will the next day, which made Elder Chingas and I pretty happy. Everybody is really excited about the Book of Mormon challenge! Afterwards, we got to go to Camp Bonsteel, the American Base in Kosovo, to reward us a job well done :)
Some fun events this week is we tried to get some parking for the new apartment. We went to the parking office, and they kept not putting our request through because the lady that does it was taking a long holiday break. We were getting frustrated with that. When, 2 days ago, we were exploring a little bit, and we saw that across the street from our parking lot, there was a parking lot without any parking signs. We asked a few of the people passing through, and they said that it was free parking, and so was all the parking lots after our apartments. We were very happy to find that out! The free parking lot is also almost empty, while the paid one on our side of the street is absolutely packed. So thank you parking lady for not working! That saved us a lot of money.

Also, we get little temporary residence cards living in Macedonia, and every time we get moved apartments, we have to change the card to match our new address. So Elder Chingas and I are in the process of getting new cards. It's such a time consuming process for such a minor law, sometimes we don't tell the lawyers when we move. They started finding out, so they always tell us now if someone were to stop us and ask us for our ID card, it would say the wrong address, and we could get in big legal trouble. Which would be terrible, except that would never happen. Or so we thought.

We walked out of our apartment one day, and a police officer was staring very intently at our building. We bid him ado as we walked away, and he yelled at us to stop. Like any good person, we stopped, and he just said "Give me your ID cards." Both of our ID cards didn't match up with our apartment, I couldn't believe it was actually happening. We kept asking him why, and he just kept demanding it. He got real mad when he saw the addresses didn't match up, so then I said that if he has a problem, he can talk to our lawyers about it. By the way, we also found out that week that our law firm, Cakmakova Advocates, is the #1 firm in Macedonia. We're their 3rd biggest client, with the biggest client being the electrical company for Macedonia. After that, the cop just told us to get new cards, and let us go on our merry little way. It is nice to know some good lawyers.

On Sunday, I was blessed to give the talk. I think I've given at least 2 more talks here than any other missionary. My family at home knows how much I enjoy giving talks. I talked about the importance of church, similar to what was discussed at our MLC. I shared something I read from the New Testament institute textbook about the Pharisees. The Pharisees were very obedient people. They paid tithing. They read scriptures, and prayed every day, multiple times a day. They went to church to worship at every opportunity. Yet they were seen as a very perverse people in the eyes of Jesus. Why was that? They were so obedient to every law. The problem with the Pharisees was not what they did, but the reason for doing what they did. They did all those things to bring glory to themselves, not to God. They wanted to look good in front of their peers. They wanted to be esteemed as a knowledgeable people in their community. And that was all the difference. Reading that really opened my eyes, thinking about what my motivations are. If it's for anything other than for love of God or Jesus, then it's contempt in the sight of God. When we go to church, it has to be for that reason. And when we do go for that reason, that's when it'll have the biggest effect on us. The Sabbath Day was my worst commandment when I was back home, so I hope that I can really continue to work on that for when I get home, and making sure my motives are good. 

Love you all. Happy Orthodox Christmas!!
Elder Rigby

January 4, 2016

So much to write about. But considering only 2 days and a PDay have passed since the last time I've emailed, this is going be a short one. My PDays should be on Monday from now on, so you won't be getting anymore spontaneous emails.

The highlights of church was that the new American family, the Watermans, finally have come with their 3 adorable kids! Brother Waterman will be working at the embassy, and he served his mission in Bulgaria, and he's been learning Macedonian, so he bore an amazing testimony in a mix of the two languages on Sunday! We also got some snow in the middle of Sunday School, which primary was very excited about.

We're all moved into our new apartment. I'm pretty happy with it. It's time to make it happen in Aerodrom!!
Love all y'all.  Elder Rigby