Thursday, January 22, 2015

Another Year in Review - 1/21/15 (Last entry!!!)

My two year mission in Northern Italy has come to an end. La vita è così, as they say. My mission has been a wonderful experience that has shaped me into who I am now and has laid the foundation for the rest of my life. I could not even begin to make an accurate report of what I've learned in these two years or what experiences I've had. Even a novel couldn't truly contain everything that I've experienced. Some of these experiences are very personal to me and have great significance to me. Others are experiences that I believe can be beneficial in the lives of other people as I share them. However it may be, these experiences have become part of who I am.

Last year around this time I wrote a "Year in Review." I decided to hold on to this "tradition" and write a sequel to this Year in Review, which I have cleverly entitled "Another Year in Review."

I'll start with Bergamo. At the beginning of 2014, I was transferred to a wonderful city named Bergamo. I have loved every city in which I've served, but Bergamo was my "favorite," for lack of a better word. It will always hold a special place in my heart. Aside from all spiritual experiences, the city is a beautiful city set against a beautiful panoramic hillside. The old city, Città Alta, is built into the hillside and watches over the rest of the valley. (I should write tourist guides). The bus system, more or less, was effective, which can be hard to come by. Our branch was not as small as most branches, with an active congregation of around 40-50. They will soon be large enough to be a ward. That's the plan at least. Our boundaries covered just the city of Bergamo, which might be why I came to love the city so much. I got to know it like the back of my hand. My companions there, Elder Hansen and later on Elder Johnson, were fantastic missionaries and I was able to work well with both of them and accomplish many great things.

In Bergamo we were able to develop a sizeable teaching pool (we had many different people to teach). I'd say that I taught more people in Bergamo than anywhere else. I remember fondly a Bolivian family that lived in Città Alta. At first we were teaching just the husband and wife. They weren't making a whole lot of progress, but they enjoyed our visits. Then one day their eleven year-old daughter decided to join in on the lesson. Her little spirit and her willingness to learn pushed the whole family to commit themselves to the Gospel, instead of being just passive spectators. With the encouragement of their young daughters, this family starting making real progress in the Gospel. We involved one member in particular in the teaching of this family and they became rather attached. Eventually the family returned to Bolivia and we lost contact, but with the fire of their two daughters, I doubt that they are alienated from the church.

I remember a man from Bangladesh, who I believe I referred to in my emails as "Arthur." At the beginning he knew almost nothing about religion or about Jesus Christ. He had been raised in a Muslim family who were not very active in their faith so the amount of religious education in his life was little to none. Some other Elders found him on the street and passed his information to us. I never seen a man so thirsty for knowledge as he was. Every time he seemed to drink it all in, even though our language barrier made it difficult to communicate at times. Despite that barrier, he understood and applied the Gospel well in his life. He made enormous changes in his life to comply with the principles he was learning. When we taught the Word of Wisdom, he went home, finished his last tea and never touched it again. He had been drinking tea every day for over twenty years. He requested work of on Sunday mornings so that he could attend church. More than anything he understood the importance of the sacrament and of tithing. Several weeks after I left, he was baptized and is still a strong active member.

I could keep going for quite a while, but I'll stop there. After six months in Bergamo, I was called to serve in the city of Varese with Elder Atwood. I went from a full teaching pool to having almost no one to teach. We had a big task in front of us. We worked hard, but to be honest we found people in miraculous ways. I remember one woman who had not been to church for years. She came one Sunday and asked if we would come give her husband a blessing. After that we started following this family. Her husband had been diagnosed with cancer and was fighting diligently. We were able to bring a lot of hope and joy to this family. The husband and daughter started discovering, and the wife started remembering, the Gospel. It brought a great light into their lives. Shortly after I left they moved away, but are in contact with the church and the missionaries there. Aside from this wonderful family, we were also able to find several other wonderful people to teach and we also had the support of several "bravi" members.

After just four weeks, I was called away from Varese unexpectedly. I was called to work in the mission office as the mission clerk. It was very different than anything else I had ever done in my mission or my life. The amount of information I learned and the amount of things I was able to accomplish were only possible as a missionary. My responsiblities included handling the mail/customs issues, ordering and distributing proselyting supplies, passing referrals, and managing the utility contracts for the mission's 100+ apartments. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. It taught me many practical skills that will be useful for the rest of my life as well such as paying a bill, dealing with customer service, dealing with angry landlords, handling money, using Microsoft Office, and so much more. I learned a lot about the purpose of missionary work and I was able to be an active part of the inner workings of the mission in a way that most missionaries never see or imagine.

While I was in the office I was blessed to work in two different wards. For the first three months Elder Stewart and I were assigned to the Navigli ward in downtown Milano. Never have I seen a ward so involved with each other. I swear there was an activity in the church every night. I remember one boy walked in while we were preparing for a lesson. We asked him what he was doing in the church. He stopped, thought about it for a moment and then said "I don't know! I just came and figured there would be something." Sure enough, others arrived soon after that! The youth in that ward were amazing and really inspired me. It's hard to be a Mormon teenager, especially in Italy, but they way they supported one another was astounding.

My most treasured memory of my time in Navigli is teaching a beautiful couple, Ronaldo and Dolores. They were from the Philippines and had been in Italy for a few years. Dolores was a member, and her husband Ronaldo wasn't. He said to us once, "I always wanted to be baptized, but I was a bad boy." We met them shortly after Dolores had contracted cancer in her liver. We came the first time to give her a blessing and then started visiting them once or twice a week just to be with them through their trial. Knowledge and a testimony of the Plan of Salvation really sustained them as Dolores's health began to decrease. Once she entered the hospital, she always kept under her pillow a pamphlet that we had given her with a picture of the resurrected Savior. She called it her guardian. She passed away with her guardian propped proudly next to her bed. The Plan of Salvation then became especially important to Ronaldo as he had to adjust to life without his wife. He returned to the Philippines for a while. The missionaries regained contact with him last week and he warmly welcomed them, expressing his desire to become a member of the Church. Those two taught me more than anyone else about the practical application of the Gospel; It has the answer to every problem and every situation, and is meant to bring us not just happiness in the world to come, but peace in this life now.

While still in the office, Elder Strang and I were assigned to work in the Lodi ward. We "whitewashed," meaning both of us went into the ward at the same time, so there was quite a lot to learn and do. We were able to work with another part-member family who is still progressing nicely from what I hear. With what little time we had in the evenings to work in Lodi, I believe we were able to make a difference there and set a foundation for those to succeed us.

Finally, I was transferred away from the office and assigned to finish my last six weeks in the city of Merate. Elder Keller and I whitewashed and are also the only companionship of missionaries here, so we had much to learn. Because we entered right before the holidays, or teaching pool was rather slim. We didn't let it deter us, but worked as hard as we could with what we had. Our starting point was the members of the ward. Our number one goal was to establish a good relationship with each one, which I believe we have been able to accomplish in these six weeks. We were also privileged to have a car, which is something that the missionaries in Merate have never had. We were able to reach many areas and many people who were previously unreachable to the missionaries and that has also aided us in establishing good relationships with this ward.

If you've made it this far into my novel, "complimenti." Thanks for sticking with me. I can't accurately express how much my mission has meant to me, but hopefully this "novella" has at least given you a taste of my experiences. On Friday morning I will be boarding a plane that will take me back to Columbus, Ohio. I'm sure that there will be a big adjustment ot make and I'd be lying if I said I'm not nervous, even though I'm also excited. I will be leaving home in order to go home. Now, I will take these experiences I've had on my mission and apply them in my life.

Vi voglio bene. Grazie per avermi accompagnato durante questi due anni. Le vostre preghiere e i vostri pensieri mi hanno sostenuto. So che Dio ama ognuno di noi. So che siamo i suoi figli. So che la Chiesa è vera ed è guidata da profeti e apostoli viventi. Gesù Cristo è il nostro Salvatore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Simpatizzanti e Profeti - 1/14/15

Hello my dearly beloved. Another week has flown by and I have now reached the final week of my mission here in Italy. I'll reminisce next week.

This week we've started to see the work pick up a bit in Merate. The holidays are now officially over and people are over the "carefree holiday" attitude. We've been able to find several quality investigators who have some great potential. We've been working hard and we're starting to see some fruits from our efforts. That doesn't always happen as missionaries, so we're grateful that it's happening at the moment.

One great experience we had was on Monday. We did a "scambio," or a companion exchange. I took Anz. Harding from Muggiò and sent Anz. Keller down there for a day. I didn't feel like I was doing anything different that day, but for some reason, everything just worked out. We went out to talk to people and managed to have several "good gospel conversations" as my mission president calls them and we were even able to teach a couple impromptu lessons. We had a planned lesson that evening at a member's home with their friend (the ideal situation). Their friend is twelve years old, but he's very spiritually mature for his age. I might have mentioned him a couple weeks ago. Anyway he's been coming to church regularly and he's become really involved. His parents have been mostly disinterested, but allow him to research religion on his own and make a choice. On Monday however, his father came and stayed for the lesson. He really enjoyed it and will be meeting with us tomorrow! It's always better when families investigate together.

Other than that, we are working as hard as we can and just trying to be better disciples of Jesus Christ. In my personal study lately I've been studying about prophets. It's quite a bold claim that we make, to have a prophet on the earth today. It could almost be blasphemous if it weren't true. We know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and that he "can do nothing, save he revealeth it unto his servants, the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Prophets and Apostles, those living and those long deceased, point us to Jesus Christ. After all "This is life eternal, to know thee the one true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (St. John 17:3). I've also had a certain scripture from the Book of Mormon floating around my head lately. "And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led" (1 Nephi 17:13). Prophets and Apostles are the fulfillment of this promise.

Have a wonderful week. Look for my "final epistle" next week. Vi voglio bene! - Anziano Simcox.

I don't think I sent a picture of the first snow we had a few weeks ago. Since then we haven't seen any snow. Actually a few days ago we had the warmest January day ever recorded... 17 degrees celsius, whatever that converts to.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Buon Anno Nuovo! - 12/31/14

Happy New Year!!!

I am almost in shock that it is about to be 2015. I never thought it would come. I imagined that I would just live in Italy forever and that it would always be 2014. My life is moving so fast. Just three short weeks and I will be back on American soil. I don't plan on leaving it anytime soon, for anyone who may be concerned.

Christmas was wonderful. Christmas, in many ways, is quite different here than in the States. There is way less commercialism. In fact, on Christmas Eve, all the stores were closed by 7pm. It's definitely a family event. And the majority of Italians celebrate Christmas Eve more than the actual day. Christmas Eve is when the whole family gets together, no matter how far away they live, and they eat a big dinner together, they light up their Presepe (Nativity) and their Christmas tree, and they spend time together. Christmas Eve is definitely a holy night. Christmas Day instead is a day of rest. The city becomes a ghost town and you can hear a pin drop from several kilometers away.

We spent our Christmas day in the church. It was a lot of fun. One of the largest families (that makes up almost half of our ward) set up a "festa" in the chapel. We ate a bunch of food, played some games, and hung out together. One family brought a computer to Skype their sons who are on missions in Colorado and South Africa. They let us use it to Skype our families as well, for which we were very grateful. It was great to see my family, and especially to see how much my brothers have grown! I almost didn't recognize Owen's voice!

Tonight instead we need to be in early. New Year's Eve gets very dangerous after dark. An Italian tradition is to throw things off of balconies (everyone lives in an apartment, so it's pretty universal). The idea is "in with the new, out with the old." Some go so far as to throw microwaves and refrigerators off balconies, although I suspect alcohol may have some involvement in that stupid idea. To avoid any dangers, we are ordered to be in the house well before dark. Another Italian tradition for New Years is to make as much noise as humanly possible. Last year in downtown Milano I could hardly my own thoughts at midnight. I thought a war might've erupted with all the loud blasts and flashes of light! Here in Merate I imagine that it will be a little more tranquillo.

Here's an interesting story. It made flashback to a similar experience in Pesaro, my first city. We returned home one afternoon to several wailing alarms from inside our apartment building. As we approached our front door we realized they were coming from our house! Our carbon monoxide detectors were blaring. After consultation with the office, we called the Fire Department. The operator was slightly antagonistic and did not really make me feel very safe. He seems to doubt that there was anything in our apartment, but begrudgingly sent us a few men to check it out. After a sweep of the apartment they found that our hot water heater was indeed leaking some fumes. Nothing at all serious, but something to fix nonetheless. As we sat in the living room filling out some paperwork, one of them started asking about what we were doing in Italy. Two Americans in a decently plain apartment with pictures of Jesus and a few old men in ties, and a bunch of blue books in different languages... That would probably invite some questions! We talked for a while. The older man asking the questions wasn't too open, but he listened just the same. The younger man that was with him seemed genuinely interested and listened intently. We were able to teach about the Restoration and about the Book of Mormon. At the end, we gave each of them a copy of the Book of Mormon with the invitation to read it and pray about it. "Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you," right? Of course right. It was a wonderful, yet unexpected finding opportunity. We never know when prepared people will be put into our path.

There's my spiel for this week. Hopefully you enjoyed it. We didn't watch our allotted Disney movie on Christmas, so we're off to our apartment (so that no refrigerator crosses our path) to watch the Incredibles! I already quote the movie all the time, so it should be a blast.

Talk to you next year! Love, Anziano Simcox.

Natale è vicino! - 12/17/14

Hello everyone! Christmas is right around the corner! I'm excited! We found a Christmas tree and some decorations tucked away in a little box in a pile of missionary "leftovers." We dug them out and made ourselves a nice little set-up. It makes me happy. 

Life in Merate is going great. We've kept ourselves pretty busy, so I'm grateful for that. There are some great people here. Our bishop is very involved in the ward and is also eager to improve missionary work in his ward, so we couldn't be any happier! The ward is also excited that the missionaries have a car now. "I missionari sono mobili! The missionaries are mobile!" They even announced in sacrament meeting that we have a car and that missionary work in the ward is now on an unprecented climb. The bishop invited us to come early on Sunday to a meeting with the bishopric. They printed of a list of all the members and then went down the list and selected about fifteen families in the ward that they wanted us to visit. Some are less-active, some are part-member families, and some just need some extra love. That list is our number one priority this week and we've made some good plans to see as many on that list as we can this week. It's going well so far and we look forward to seeing some great fruits as well as sharing as much Christmas cheer as possible. We're grateful to have so much support from the ward.

My new companion is named Anz. Keller. He's a good guy. He's only been in the mission for five months, so he's still on the younger side. Sometimes I forget how young he is, both in the mission and age wise. He's still 18! He's a bravo kid though. He has a good heart, a good work ethic, and a good testimony. That's all you need!

In personal study the other day I came across this scripture. "But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish." 2 Nephi 26:31. It's simple enough, but it made me ponder about real intent in work we do, whether it be missionary work, or life, or being a Christian in general. Even if we do all the actions, they mean nothing without real intent! The scriptures are full of testimonies of that principle. If you are a laborer in Zion, work for Zion, not yourself! Otherwise, what point is there?

Have yourselves a very merry Christmas! Remember the reason we celebrate. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life."

Sending you my love this Christmas season, Anziano Simcox.

L'ultimo trasferimento - 12/6/14

I thought I was safe for my last transfer. It turns out that there's no such thing as "safe!" For my last transfer, I'll be leaving Lodi and the office and going off to a city named Merate. It's really close to Milano, like most of my cities! I'd say I know the Milano area better than anyone else by now. Merate is about 30km northeast, so I'm just taking a couple skips down the road. Also, we get a car! Woooo! In my mission, only a few zone leaders + the APs + the Office Elders have cars, so I get to break the tradition. I'm pretty excited. The Merate ward has been asking for a while for some missionaries with a car. Most of their members don't live in or near Merate, which makes it hard for the missionaries to get a lot of work done because it's hard to get around on bus/train around Merate. I'm looking forward to introducing this new element into the work at Merate. My new companion's name is Anz. Keller. I don't know him much. He got to the mission in September, so he's decently new still. I haven't been with a younger missionary in quite a while, so that will be fun too. Overall, my last transfer will be quite an adventure. I'm looking forward to it.

My only concern is training my replacement. When I first got here, I had a week and a half of training. With my replacement he'll have barely three day's worth; even less because we have a conference and then transfers. It'll be quite an adventure! I feel like I've been using this word a lot "adventure." I feel like a while ago all this would've really stressed me out, but working in the office has really taught me how to welcome change. Now I just think it's all a barrel of fun. The office was such a dynamic job and I never really knew what I could expect for that day. Of course, my whole mission is that way, so this is just another chapter to add to the novel that is my mission.

This week was a great week in Lodi. Last week, our Bishop asked us if we would organize a family home evening for the ward. We were excited to have an assignment from Bishop so we jumped on it immediately. We talked with the Sisters and we decided we would use it as an oppurtunity to put into practice some of the things that Elder Fingerle taught us in our conferences a few weeks ago about social media. We decided to watch the Church's Christmas video ( and discuss the meaning. The title of the video is "He is the Gift." The video talks about how the first gift wasn't wrapped or bought in a store, but given by a Father to His children. We talked about different ways that we can share the gift through social media and through other means. The activity went really well and we had about twenty people there, way more than we expected! The Bishop was excited to have the activity too and would like to start making it a monthly thing. Our Bishop in Lodi is great. He's really involved in all the different parts of the ward. It's got to be pretty hard to be a bishop.

We don't really get a P-Day because there's so much work to be done for the transfers. I'll end this email here.

I love you all so very much and I'm grateful for the love and support that you all have given me over the past almost two years. Even as I go into my last month as a missionary, you've all stuck with me and this would be a whole lot harder without you.

All the love, Anziano Simcox

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giorno di ringraziamento! - 11/29/14

THANKSGIVING! Even though we're in Italy, we managed to have ourselves a merry little Thanksgiving. The Harmers, the Dibbs, the Assistants, and us had a wonderful dinner at the mission home. Sister Harmer was cooking for two days straight. Bless her heart. They went to an American military base and got a bunch of American food, including a Butterball turkey, so we had a decently American Thanksgiving. It really hit the spot.

Don't worry, we eat Italian food too. Wednesday night we had an activity for just the men in church. Our investigator (really he's the ward's investigator, we just handle the paperwork) hosted it. He's a professional chef, so he knows his stuff. He taught us all how to make Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant parmesan). Che buona! Anz. Strang and I came ready with spatulas and mission aprons (see picture). It was a good bonding moment with members of the ward.

We've been working with a less-active/part-member family. Roy and his sister Lalita are from the Philippines and joined the Church many years ago. Lalita's husband Joephil, who is not a member, just recently moved here. Because they live so far away from the chapel and there are no busses/trains on Sunday, they have not been able to come to church. We asked around, but no one was able to give them a ride. This past Sunday in church, we noticed an Italian woman in church whom we'd never seen before, so we introduced ourselves. She was a member who had moved to Rome, but had just recently moved back to the same city where Roy and his family live. As we were talking she asked if we ever visited people in Crema. We mentioned Roy and Lalita. She wondered why she had never seen them in church and we said it's because the mezzi don't run on Sunday. She volunteered her car on Sunday and also time in the evening to accompany us to lessons with them! We took her to a lesson a few nights ago and she fell in love with them immediately and organized a ride for them tomorrow. Sweet!

Last Sunday we had a funny experience with that family. They had invited us over one afternoon because they said they would have a couple people over to lunch. We thought oh cool! We'll come, eat, and then have a lesson with them. Well, "a couple people" turned out to be a bunch of filippine and their Italian husbands. We rang the doorbell and Lalita's sister opened the door. She was really confused why we were there, but we thought she was Lalita because they look alike and so we were double confused. But she let us in anyway and everybody just got quiet and stared at us. Honestly, it looked we had just been out ringing doorbells and we just walked into a party. We looked around for Roy or Lalita or Joephil, but none of them were there! So it was super awkward for a little bit. Then we ate some food and started talking to people and it got less awkward. We actually had some good conversations and met some nice people and dispelled a couple rumors. There was this group of Italian men and they were kind of mumbling amongst themselves and saying some not too nice things. Then one of them came over to where I was sitting and said "so, tell me about this whole Mormon thing. I've never had a chance to talk to a Mormon." We had a really nice conversation about Christ and prophets and a bunch of other good things. We exchanged numbers and hope to see him and his wife again sometime!

Moral of the story: Missionaries should crash more parties. :P For the record, Roy and co. did show up eventually and confirmed that we were indeed invited.

I'm loving Lodi. Between what little time in the evening we have to do proselyting work and the time we spend in the office, life is so spontaneous and unpredictable (see Exhibit A above). I'm loving it. I'll find out pretty soon if I'll be finishing my mission here or going off somewhere else for my last six weeks. I'm hoping to stay. I love Lodi so much.

TTFN. Have a great week! Love, Anziano Simcox.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Social Networking (that's Italian for social networking) - 11/22/14

This week has been a decently busy one. At least, we've had a full schedule every day. That doesn't always happen, but it's nice (and tiring) when it does!

We went to Firenze this week, A.K.A. Florence. Cool huh? See attached pictures. I've always wanted to hang around Florence for a day. We didn't really have a day, more like a few hours of "free time." So we stopped by the Duomo (see picture). It was pretty neat. It has a very different architectural style than most things I've seen in Italy, at least on the outside. On the inside of the huge dome, there's a big fresco of Dante's Inferno, at least that's what they told me (see other picture). One of my goals is to read that book in Italian when I get back. Things are always better in their original language! I would've have really like to see the David statue as well, but Italy has this weird custom that says that all museums are closed on Monday... Excuse me?

Anyway, the real reason we went to Firenze was not to hang out, even though that was cool too. We had a conference down there. Elder Fingerle did a mission tour. He's an Area Seventy from Germany. He's also the Director of Religious Education for the Europe Area if I remember right. He did several conferences in which he talked about using social media in our proselyting efforts. Before starting, he pointed out the elephant in the room: We're not allowed to use social media! We don't have iPads yet like some missionaries. That'll be the day, but until then, we are without. He still said that we can further our proselyting efforts with social media without even touching an iPad/computer. He talked about ways to invite members to use social media to reach out to not just some people, but ALL people. He brought up examples such as, Mormon messages, FamilySearch (Facebook for the dead as he called it), sharing uplifting messages on social media sites, and so forth. It really opened my mind to the potentials that these sorts of tools can have. These instruments we have in our lives can be powerful tools for good if used correctly. That's the way God would like us to use them for sure. With social media, we can now reach out to many more people who before were beyond our sphere of influence. Now, our sphere of influence is the whole world!

We decided to try out this social media initiative. This week we visited several families in the ward. We talked about the practical applications we can make of the Gospel in our lives. Then we watched this video that the Church released on Easter: Take 2:45 to watch it. It's great. Then our invite to them was to share this video on Facebook with someone they thought might need it. One mother said "I'll also make an event page inviting OTHER people to share it too." Nice work. My invite to them is the same to you. Watch the video and think of someone that YOU know that could benefit from a greater faith in Jesus Christ. Obviously, the ultimate goal is not the video, but the opening of hearts and doors to the light of the Gospel. We try to open hearts and doors using all honorable means available to us. Today, these honorable means include social media.

I look forward to implementing this approach more in our proselyting efforts!

The mission's great. I love you all! Happy week. Love, Anziano Simcox