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.