Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Souelyman, my favorite amie!

Bonjour à toutes!
Quickly, I tell you that we've had an awesome week, despite the fact that my morale has been kind of low, and I haven't been very good at working up the courage to talk to people.  Nonetheless, we have been greatly blessed.  Last week, we had a SF with the famille Mengolli, and also Khadia's family.  It was interesting.  It was the first time where we actually got the chance to talk to her husband, Arouna, who is non-practicing muslim.  He is really great.  After our spiritual thought, he started talking, and it seemed he was a little defensive, so we were worried, but later Khadia told us he wasn't, and that he just often talks like that, but that in fact, he really liked it!  We also used this occasion to ask Khadia and Arouna for permission to teach their 15 year old son, Souleyman.  That kid doesn't have a bad bone in his body.  They said we could, so later that week, we had a first lesson with him (Sr Mengolli and one of her sons were there).  We managed to teach the entire first lesson, very simply.  At the end, we asked him if he believed God could answer his prayers.  He replied, "Oui".  We then asked if he would pray and ask Heavenly Father if the things we taught were true.  He replied, "Non".  He then added, "I don't need to, I believe you already."  Haha, bless his heart!  This kid is so innocent, and so believing, and already loves the church, seeing as he often goes to a lot of the youth activities.  We told him it was wonderful that he already believed us, but that it was also important to pray and ask Heavenly Father, so that he would know his answer came from Him.  He said he would.  We also had a great RDV with Khadia this week.  She's having a hard time making it too church, seeing as she works Saturday night/Sunday morning, she's also having a hard time finding time to read the Book of Mormon, she also is having a hard time understanding why she's not receiving an answer to her questions...  Nonetheless, we had a wonderful lesson, and really felt the spirit.  And!  We have another SF with the two families tonight.  So stoked!  We also had another miracle yesterday.  One of our amies, Wilna, has wanted to get baptized for quite some time, but can't because her husband won't allow her. He had come to church a few times with her back in September, but because of some miscommunication with the missionaries, had kind of developped some hard feelings against the church.  Nonetheless, Wilna kept coming most of the weeks, and we have continued to see her.  And yesterday, her husband came to church with her again!  We finally got to meet Jean, and he is wonderful!  We think he enjoyed church, and he even invited us to come over tonight (he later had to postpone it, due to work problems, but we're still ecstatic!).  We had fasted last week for a miracle with Wilna, and this was totally it.  This time, when we talk about baptism, we'll be sure to do it very sensitively and according to the spirit.  We also had a lot of success this week finding old amies that had been dropped in the past, and talking to them again.  We'll be praying and working in order to figure out what exactly we can do to overcome whatever it was that had halted their progression in the past.  That seems to be a lot of the good news that we've had this week, which is nice because there are also a lot of lows.  I was talking to my District Leader, Elder Hill, last night, and was explaining to him some of my concerns, such as not seeing the fruits of our efforts, not having baptized anyone yet, and just plain feeling like I have so many problems and weaknesses that it's not even funny.  After assuring me of my good attributes and the how I have a work to accomplish, he told me that if we work hard, the Lord shows His hands and creates miracles that we never could have imagined.  He told me that after 5 transfers of trying so hard, of tracting, contacting, and trying to teach, he still didn't have anything to show for it, despite all his efforts to work hard and be a good missionary.  And then, one day, in his 6th transfer, some guy walked into the church.  He had seen, of all the things, 'The Book of Mormon Musical', which had intrigued him.  He came in, and asked to know more.  Of course, Elder Hill and his collegue, sat down and tried to gauge how much he knew.  Turns out, he already knew all about Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, and already believed that it was true.  In just a short little while, this man was taught and baptized, and is a member of the church.  Haha, pretty funny story, right?  It made me laugh, and gave me a little hope.  And that is the message I'd like to leave with you.  Sometimes it seems like all we do is work and work, and nothing seems to come of it.  But if we do it for the right reason, we can rest assured that the Lord is aware of our efforts, and that he is preparing miracles for us, if we are ready to receive them.  It may come in the most bizarre of ways, but the Lord's blessings DO come. 
     I and so sad to hear of what is happening in the USA.  I only get a small earful of the news from home every now and then.  Soeur Gombert told me about the bombs in the marathon.  She said, "There were two bombs that went off in the US, in Boston."  I was like, "Really?  When?  How?" She said, "It was during this giant running race", and I was like, "The MARATHON?!"  I can't understand why people would choose to do these things, but I guess some things we just can't understand.  My heart goes out to all their families. 
     Well, that seems to be it for us for this week.  Feel free to continue to pray for us, and the work all over the world, and remember, the sun never sets on missionary work.  The time Courtney goes to sleep after a long day of missionary work in Canada, is the exact same time I'm turning on the lights to start a new day here in France.
      I love you all, and I hope that the Lord's blessings are filling your lives.  Have a great week!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Older Pictures

Here are a couple pictures from Lexi's March  25th email. 

The first is Soeur Thibault and I in our African dress-up. 
The other one is of me and a goat we found last week.

 Here is a picture we took at Conference last weekend.  From left to right - Elder Beckstrand holding his son, Elder Stoker (Paris Lilas area- they came to our building because it's easier to get to), My daughter, Soeur Wynn and me (Nogent, whoo!), and Elder Garcia and his son, Elder Perez (Also in Nogent!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Need to Help

Bonjour tout le monde!
Cette semaine, j'ai pensé a quelque choses que j'ai voulu partager avec vous toutes (This week, I thought of something I wanted to share with you all), and that is, the need to help the less active people around us.  We love the church.  One thing I've' noticed about the members over here, is how the church really starts to become the center of their lives, and they love it.  But often times, we get so caught up on fulfilling checklists and making it to meetings and such, that we seem to overlook exactly what this church asks us to do- Be a disciple of Christ.  On Thursday, Soeur Wynn and  I went and visited one of my favorite less-actives, Monique, and her mom also.  I've never seen Monique at church, and in fact, the only reason why we found her was by looking at the ward list and seeing her name, and deciding to pass by.  She is so cute, and her mom totally welcomes us in.  We can't seem to figure out why, but Monique doesn't come to church, and it doesn't help that very few people in the ward know who she is.  And unfortunately they act as if not knowing her is a sufficient reason to not GET to know her.  This past week, while visiting, Monique's mom opened up to us and explained that in all the years that they've been less active, only the past bishop, and the missionaries have stopped to visit.  And even the bishop I think stopped visiting a while ago.  Now, every so often, throughout the years, the missionaries will stop by from time to time.  I'm not saying it's the ward's fault, it was the decision of Monique and her mom to not go to church after all, but I just think it's so sad that this family seems to have been completely forgotten.  Monique's mom even told us that she joined another church, where she, sad to say, feels more of a connection with the members.  She asked me if it was Christlike to just leave people to the side, and not visit them after a couple of weeks of not seeing them at church.  Of course, I didn't know what to say, because  we all knew the answer was "NO".   Maybe Monique's mom is a little extreme in what she expects from the Ward, but the principle is still true.  If the missionaries who baptized Monique and her mom knew what situation they were in now, how do you think they would feel?  The members- you, me, all of us, play such a vital role in helping people become integrated into the ward.  Of course, at the end of the day, it's Monique and her mom that will have to make to choice whether to go to church or not, but I just hope that we can all think of the people in our own wards who maybe need a helping hand.  Feeling the love from other members can be exactly what somebody needs to cheer up their day, or week.  
        Ok, now I'll get off my soapbox.  That was just something that had been on my mind recently.  Yesterday at church was an amazing day.  The Elders, Elder Garcia and Elder Perez, had a baptism.  Marsiline, the wife of a less active, was baptized, and the spirit was SO strong.  Really, it made me so excited, and it made it seem like finding people who are ready for the gospel really is possible.  Soeur Wynn and I have been having some hard luck with some of the people with whom we've been trying to fix RDV's, but we've also had some miracles.  She and I are really starting to work well together, and opening up to each other.  Because she is being trained, we have a slightly different schedule.  We have comp study from 9h - 11h, and then later have language study when we have dinner from 4h30- 6h.  She seems to be doing well, although her feet were killing her yesterday, and I, trying to be a loving mom, but also wanting to take advantage of passing by a lot of people who lived in the same area, still made us keep going.  Someday we'll look back and laugh... We have a SF with the Mengolli's and Khadia's family tonight, we're SO STOKED.  And the awesome part is, Sulliman, Khadia's 15 year old son, wants to go to EFY this summer.  That boy really is just so pure and sweet.  I love him to pieces. We also fasted for Wilna, another amie, yesterday, so that her husband will give her the ok to let her get baptized.  Slowly but surely.  
    Next week, I will try to send a picture of my new district.  They are FANTASTIC.  There are 10 of us in our District, which is the biggest I've ever had (and probably will have).  We are actually in the same District as the Soeurs at Torcy (that live with us), so that is awesome, then we have Elders Garcia and Perez (of course) from Nogent, the Zone Leaders, Elders Bequette and Glover (who also serve in Torcy), and also Elders Burningham and Hill, who serve in Meaux (it's pronounced 'Moe').  Last week Elder Hill asked if there was anything he could do for me (he being the District Leader and all), and I simply said, "Will you just tell me I'm not a failure?" (It was kind of a joke, but at the same time, something I really wanted to hear)  He laughed and did so.  Last night, when we were talking, he told me that he didn't like saying that to me, because there were too many negatives in the sentence, so intead he said, "Soeur Bracken, you are a success".  Haha, it was so cheesy, but at the same time,  it touched me so much.  So I just wanted to let you all know that you are also SUCCESSES!  The Lord is perfect, and he didn't make any failures.  
       I love you all, and I'm officially halfway through this crazy experience called a mission.  Can you believe it?  I still feel like I'm the same person, but I guess you'll be the ones to decide how much I've changed when I get back (thank goodness it's not for another 9 months!).
             I love you all, 
                       Gardez la foi,
                               Soeur Bracken
P.S.  Here is a picture we took at Conference last weekend.  From left to right - Elder Beckstrand holding his son, Elder Stoker (Paris Lilas area- they came to our building because it's easier to get to), My daughter, Soeur Wynn and me (Nogent, whoo!), and Elder Garcia and his son, Elder Perez (Also in Nogent!)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Conference Crepes Tradition Continues

Hello all!  
So, what an interesting week this has been, don't you think?  I know it has been for me.  First, a recap from last week.  Swan Lake was SICK,  it really was so awesome, although ballets, I learned, are kind of hard to follow, seeing as there aren't any words.  But seriously, it would have been ridiculous to pay 10£ for a playbill, so we just tried to guess what was happening.  Up through Tuesday, Soeur Thibault said goodbye to all of our amies.  They were pretty bummed to see her go, I was also, but we were both pretty stoked for our daughters to arrive!  Wednesday found all four of us at the apartment (Soeurs Thibault, Barrero, McGhie, and myself) hauling the luggage of Soeurs Thibault and Barrero to St. Meri, the main chapel for the church in Paris.  We got there, had just a few moments to catch up with people ( I got to see Elder Hatch, one of my favorites, who is also training this transfer), and then we headed into our little room.  It felt super weird to be sitting on the 'other' side of the room this time.  Has it really already been 6 1/2 months since I was told that Seour Creager would be my mom?  That I was told that I would be going to Quimper?  Oh, the memories and Nostalgia were incredible.  And then, the moment arrived.  President had my name and city (Nogent) come up on the powerpoint, and said, "Who will be going to Nogent with Soeur Bracken?"  Answer?  Enter the scene:  Soeur Wynn!  Soeur Wynn, a fiesty 21 year old (it's odd we have to specify that now-a-days) from southern California (I knew she would be from Cali.  I feel like so many of the awesome missionaries I meet are from there).  Important things to know.  Her birthday?  March 7th (shoutout to McKell!  Whoot!).  Her strong points?  Desire to utilise EVERY moment and be 100% obedient.  Seriously, that 'bleu fire' that new missionaries have is alive and well in her.  She's really been whipping me into shape!  I have a feeling that I am going to be a much better person at the end of our 12 weeks together.  She went to BYU, actuarial science being the field in which she has decided to major.  Get this, she hails from Rancho cucamonga.  The very first thing I said to her after she told me that was, "If I lived there, I would never, ever want to leave that place".  Her dad's a convert, who grew up Catholic, so she loves talking to the Catholic people here (if only they all liked talking to us...).  Unfortunately, a lot of the RDVs that Soeur Thibault and I had were earlier in the week, so by the time Soeur Wynn came around, our work looked kind of dead.  I promised her that we really do have amies, and she was like, "Yeah... sure."  We've done a lot of contacting this week, which has been awesome.  I honestly have been amazed with how many numbers we've been able to get from people.  Now we just need to turn these numbers in to RDVs, and these ladies into amies, and then members!  I've also realized just how far I've come with the french language.  Of course it's FAR from perfect, but here I am, really speaking french to people!  I've been so blessed to live with native french speakers for the past 4 months.  On Thursday, we and Soeur Kusseling, our RS president, went and saw Marceline, the wife of a member, who is supposed to be getting baptized next week.  We shared a short message about diligence, and how if the devil puts obstabcles in her way, to just remember how wonderful this decision is.  Mostly we just let Marseline and Soeur Kusseling get to know each other.  The next day, we had DMP (our meeting with the Ward Mission Leader, I don't know what it's called in English).  While there, we told the elders about RDV with Marseline (who is technically their amie).  They were super happy that we had a visit with her, and told us that she had been having some concerns, we told them that everything seemed to be alright to us.  On Saturday, at the General Conference Session at the church (the Saturday am session was shown live at 6:00 in the evening), Marseline was there with her husband.  When we were out in the Hallway, Elder Garcia could hardly contain himself, he told us that Marseline is doing wonderfully, and that all systems are go for the baptism!  We are so excited for her!!!  Another awesome experience happened the next day.  We had tried to call Khadia the day before, but to no avail, so I said, "Ok, I'll try her on Saturday".  On Saturday afternoon, heading the church for the Saturday pm session, I got a call from Seour Mengolli, Khadia's friend.  She called to tell me they were just leaving the church after watching the YW session, and the best part?  Khadia had come with her!!! I wish we would have known, and we would have gone and joined them, but still, we're so excited!  AND, her sons went and watched the priesthood session at the same time!  Can you believe that?  We were SO happy.  Seour Mengolli, later told me that she feels like Khadia really is so close, to making the decision to be baptized.  The Paris Lilas Elders also came and watched Conference with us, since they live closer to our chapel than to their own, and brought one of their amies, a chinese girl named Wishu with them.  She's getting baptized on Saturday!!!  I'm so happy for Elders Stoker and Beckstrand.  I went and sat by her and talked with her (she was the only other girl in the room aside from us), and we hit it off instantly.  She told me about how she had decided to move to France, and met the church through a friend she made, and about her baptism on Saturday.  She was so excited to listen to the prophet!  Afterwards, Elder Beckstrand asked her what she noticed about the prophet, and she said, "His ears".  Haha, but really, she loved that he was so relatable, and sweet.  I about died from laughing at the storie he told about lighting the field on fire (I instantly imagined President Monson and his friend Danny being a young Pat McManus and crazy Eddie Muldune).  I'm not sure if I ever find the Prophet more relatable than when he's telling stories about doing stupid stuff like that.  Wishu invited us to her baptism on Saturday, which was super sweet.  I told her I wasn't sure if we'd be able to go, but that I'd ask.  Elder Andersen's talk really really hit me.  I really felt like he was talking to me, and giving me encouragement when I really need it.  I'm also pretty sure I could feel Elder Perry's intensity from all the way across the world.  On Saturday, as Conference was starting, our Bishop told us that they couldn't get the english to work, and I had a flashback to 6 months previously, when I was watching my first Conference, in French, wondering what the world was going on.  My heart sank for Soeur Wynn when she learned she probably wouldn't get to watch it in English.  Luckily, a few minutes later, our Bishop pulled through, and found a way for us to watch it in English.  Hoorah!  My testimony was really strengthened by the words of these Prophets, Seers, and Revelators.  They truly are men of God!  I love the leaders of the church so much!  One of the lines that really stood out to me was a quote from Elder Scott, "Stay on the Lord's side, and you will win EVERY time."  It's true I may have been taught that since I was 2 days old, but sometimes, it just hits harder than others.  I love you all, and thank you so much for you love and support!  Seriously, I got 3 letters this week, and Quimper had a baptism, so my life is great!
           I love you all, keep up the good work, I hit my halfway mark this week!
Avec tout mon coeur,
        Soeur Bracken
PS.  I invented the tradition of 'Conférence Crêpes' last Conference, when I was a bleu, with Soeur Creager.  And now I have a bleu of my own, and the tradition is alive and well, I had crepes 3 times this weekend!

Friday, April 5, 2013

For Seour Bracken's (almost) nine month mark she gets......a daughter!

Hey everyone! 
So really, we don't have any time today, so unfortunately, this will be very quick.  First, lesser news, Soeur Thibault and I went and saw Swan Lake!  It was so cool!  The Ballerinas were beautiful.  There's a small chance we both started drifting off during the second act, though... :)  But really, it was awesome!  Now more importantly, we totally had an Easter Miracle yesterday!  How many amies did we have at church? 1...2...3...4....5!  Wilna came to church, and is progressing well.  Every other week, Dany and Vivec come to church (they are 10 and 6.  We are teaching their Mom and them), and finally... KHADIA came to church!  And she brought her sons, Sulliman and Wassi, ages 14 and 8.  It was so cool!  Khadia really felt the spirit, and loved it, and her sons liked it as well.  Cacharelle, a 24 year old amie, also came to a YSA activity last night.  We felt so blessed. 

And now for the other big news, yes, transfers are coming up, and both Soeur Thibault and I are training!!!  We are both so bummed to be splitting up, and of course she is so sad to be leaving Nogent (it takes me back to my Quimper days... I STILL miss that place), but I know she's going to do a great job whitewashing in Strombeek (in Belgium), and I will be training here in Nogent, which means I'll probably be here for another 3 months.  There are SO many sisters coming in, it's crazy.  There are 13 sisters training this transfer, and we assume the rest will train next.  When the assistants called, they told us they'd fasted and prayed, and thought we both should train, and in our heads, we said, "More like, you feel like we should train now, as opposed to in 6 weeks."  But really, we are both excited!  Sorry I don't have time to explain anything else, but I hope everyone had a wonderful easter, and have a wonderful Conference!
          Much love,
      Soeur Bracken