Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Homecoming Talk

They told me I could pick my topic. I don’t think that was a good idea. I hope this talk isn’t too much of a jumbled mess and that my jet lag doesn’t affect it too much.

My name is Sister Stewart, I mean JeanMarie. I grew up here in Virginia and then went to BYU for two years where I am studying math. I just returned from my mission to the Alpine German Speaking Mission. I served in southern Germany and Austria. I served in the big cities of Munich, Vienna and Stuttgart and the not so big city of Goeppingen.  I’m having a little bit of culture shock with how wide the roads are and how big the yards are, but other than that I am so happy to be home!

There are lots of things I learned on my mission. Fortunately for you, I only have 15 minutes. One of the things my mission President always talked about was miracles. He would always encourage us to write about the miracles we experienced in our e-mails to him and he put them together in a book. The awesome thing about miracles is they happen. In the MTC they taught us that miracles are the natural result of the correct application of true, eternal principles. God has always been a God of miracles, it’s the way He works. He has never worked any other way. We read in Moroni 7: 27-29-

“27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?

28 For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.

29 And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.”

I know that miracles haven’t ceased. I know that God loves us and that He works miracles to show us His hand in our lives and in His work. Christ worked miracles while on the earth, and I know that miracles continue to happen today. The power of His Atonement is a miracle that can work in all of our lives. I know that there are angels on both sides of the veil working hard to help God’s children.

When I think of my mission I feel like Ammon after he completed his mission to the Lamanites. He says in Alma 26:12-

“12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.”

I know that on my own I could not have accomplished everything I did on my mission. God was there every step of the way. I experienced miracles in missionary work and miraculous changes in myself. To see miracles it required humility, patience, repentance, and lots of faith. I had to learn to rely on the power of the Atonement to see miracles.

God works in interesting ways to bring to pass miracles. I know that sometimes we may think we are in the completely wrong place, but in reality, God has put us in the exact right place.  One time my companion and I were in a town trying to find a less active member who we had never visited before. We arrived in the town on the train armed with a map and an address. We set off to try and find their house. It was late February. The sidewalks were covered in wet spring snow and more snow was falling from the sky. We walked up a HUGE hill, our boots getting more and more soaked with every step. We reached the neighborhood only to discover by some trick of German street design that the streets did not in fact connect in the way I thought they did. So, we turned around to head back down the massive hill and come at it from the other direction. But then I had this feeling that we should really ring some of the doorbells in the neighborhood we were in. So we started ringing them. The first few people weren’t even home. Then about three houses in we ring this doorbell and a forty something year old man comes to the door. He starts speaking to us in German with a very heavy American accent. So we ask him where he’s from and turns out he is from Ohio and has lived in Germany for about 20 years. His family is pretty religious back in the States but ever since he came to Germany he hadn’t really found a church he was happy with. He felt that he was drifting away from God. We told him we could help with that J We gave him a Book of Mormon and made out an appointment and were able to return and teach him a few times. I know that God put us in exactly the place we needed to be, even though we thought we were in the wrong place.

Sometimes, we may be just trying our hardest to do what God asks of us and he takes the little bit that we put in and makes a wonderful miracle out of it. When I was serving in Munich, one of the Relief Society presidents in one of the wards there asked us to visit a less active family. We planned it all out. In order to get to their house from our appointment earlier in the day, we would have to take the bus to the subway and then walk for about ten minutes. Not too bad. So we make our way there only to discover that we could have taken the tram for three stops and been there much sooner. The way we came took about 30 minutes when it could have taken 10. We could have chosen to be frustrated by this situation, but we just went forward and rang their doorbell. And you know what? They were home! The whole family had just returned home from the park. If we had come early, we might have missed them. We had a really good lesson with them and answered a lot of their questions and helped them with their concerns. I know that sometimes we try our best and even though we make mistakes, God takes care of us when we are on His errand.

God also works miracles as we pour our hearts out to Him in prayer and then go to work to accomplish our goals. I had the opportunity to experience this sort of miracle just a few weeks ago. We planned what’s called a “Finding Day” with our District in Stuttgart. Because I had two companions at the time, we invited a member to come with us to help us out so that way we could split up two by two and get even more work done! The member we invited, K, just got baptized in November and is thinking about going on a mission. I prayed really really hard that she would be able to see success that day because I know how discouraging it can be when all you hear is “No interest” all day long. So we went to work. The first couple hours I worked with K. And you know what? We had more success in the first 30 minutes than we had had the whole previous week. We gave a Book of Mormon to an awesome family and another one to a man who has had a pretty tough life. Even though K’s feet hurt because of her shoes (comfortable shoes are key to missionary work) she was smiling from ear to ear at the end of the day. Success! I know that when we pray sincerely to Heavenly Father and then get to work, He will help us accomplish our goals.

Hopefully you’re not bored of my stories, because I have at least one more to tell you, possibly one of the biggest miracles I experienced on my mission. God worked a miraculous change in me, a change for which I will be forever grateful. I don’t quite know how to describe it except to say I feel stretched and remodeled, Heavenly Father took the person I was and showed me how I could even better. As President Uchtdorf said in this last General Conference  “Serving God and our fellowman will challenge us and transform us into something greater than we ever thought possible.” I know that’s true because I have seen how my mission has changed me. And I know for sure that I didn’t and couldn’t have made those changes on my own. At the beginning of my mission my mission president told me “The Sister Stewart you have in mind and the Sister Stewart the Lord has in mind are two different people.” At first I was confused by that statement, but now I know that at the beginning of my mission I couldn’t even imagine the person that I would become by the end, the person God helped me to become.

One of the ways God helped me to become that person was by putting me in a situation that forced me to grow. For six months I worked in an area where the work was pretty slow. We rang a lot of doorbells.    At some point, I just got stuck and was going out to not invite people to come to Christ, but to fill time.  It was rough.  Then, slowly, God started to work a miracle in me.  I had an amazing companion, and we talked a lot about what we could do differently.  We received lots of counsel from other missionaries and our mission president.  Slowly God helped me come to the conclusion: to be happy is a decision.  I can look at the situation with doom and gloom or I can choose to be happy.  Once I realized this, my life got a whole lot easier.  I am so grateful  to my Heavenly Father for working this miracle in me.  I know that through the power of the atonement, we can all experience the miracle of repentance and change.

I had to really humble myself and be teachable before I could experience a change of attitude.  Just like Ammon says, we have to acknowledge that we are nothing.  We need help and as we accept that help in our lives, miracles happen.

Faith is the key to miracles.  We do all that is in our power, but at some point, we just have to have faith.  I love the way Moroni puts it in Ether 12:8-12-

“8  But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.

 9 Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.

10  Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God.

 11 Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.

 12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.”

I know that when we have faith, God works miracles. There are miracles around us every day, we just have to look for them. I am so very grateful for the opportunity I had to serve a mission. I am grateful for my parents and the leaders who helped shape me into the person I am today. I know that God lives and that He loves us. Each and every single one of us. He has a plan for us. It is amazing to see what God can make out of us, if we let Him.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The last melon

Well, this is it, the very last e-mail home. In some ways I am so ready to come home. It's strange because I feel like I have been a missionary forever, but also it has gone by so fast. It's hard to believe all the things that have happened on my mission. God really is so good, He has blessed me so much over the past 18 months, and I know He will continue to do so.

This past week was HOT and sticky, but it was also a great week. I went on my very last Austausch. Sister Jencks and I went to Freiburg to work with Sister Peterson. I have wanted to see Freiburg my whole mission, and I got to go right at the end!  We had an action packed day. When we came back to Stuttgart we were pretty exhausted, but sleep helped with that.

We visited a less active family on Friday and baked brownies with them. The mom of the family is awesome, but her kids and husband are less interested at the moment. We did get to have dinner with most of the family all together, though, so that was awesome.

Saturday by some trick of fate we ended up with two eating appointments. That doesn't happen very often. We had lunch with a less active member of the German ward and then went to the home of one of the American families for dinner.

Oh, and today was an awesome P-Day. We went on the Army Post.  We ate Taco Bell at the food court (and I got twizzlers for the plane ride home, very important) and then we went to the Ritter Sport factory! That was pretty awesome, a very good last P-Day.

I hope you all have enjoyed my ramblings over the last 18 months, I hope that I have been able to help you in some way to feel God's love and to see how awesome missions are (even though some days it is tough). I feel that my mission is more of a blessing than a sacrifice. I have gotten to know and love so many people and have grown a lot closer to my Heavenly Father.

Ich weiß, dass Gott uns liebt. Er ist da und er liebt uns. Manchmal hier auf der Erde sehen wir nicht so genau, was Gott vorhat. Aber er hat immer einen Plan, wir müssen ihn einfach vertrauen.
(I know that God loves us. He is there and He loves us. Sometimes here on Earth, we do not see exactly what God has in store. But he always has a plan, we must simply trust him.)

Bis bald!!!! (See you soon!!!!)

--Sister Stewart

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I'm not dead yet!

Hi everybody! This is my second to last weekly e-mail home on my mission, can you believe how fast the time goes by? I certainly can't!

This past week was a little on the ridiculous side, but I feel like my whole life right now is a little on the ridiculous side, so I guess it was nothing out of the ordinary. 

We did two, count them two exchanges this week! I got to work with Sister Clark and then with Sister Reid, both of whom I trained! That was a tender mercy to my soul but not very good for my body because I stayed up very late talking and catching up with former companions, oops.

This past Monday we taught S about Faith in Jesus Christ. We read with her in Ether 12, one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon. She has given up coffee and has started reading the Book of Mormon from the beginning! Hooray!

Then on Tuesday we had Zone Training Meeting and afterwards I headed out to Göppingen! I worked with Sister Clark for a day and it was epic! Since things have been so hectic in Stuttgart and I feel like I don't really know much, it was nice to be back to the basics of missionary work in Göppingen and realize that I actually do know things! I know the area and the members so well in Göppingen, it was a pleasure to be there. We definitely had some adventures, including giving a Book of Mormon to a shirtless man out walking his dog (for some reason I was just full of all sorts of courage on Tuesday).

Wednesday we returned to Stuttgart, and then Thursday morning we did exchange with the sisters in Ludwigsburg, Sister Reid came to work with Sister Green and me! We had two pretty great appointments with less active members of our ward.

This past week I have been thinking back over past areas on my mission. I learned so much in each area. The only regrets I have are when I didn't take advantage of all the opportunities I had. Every time I stretched myself and did something outside of my comfort zone, I grew so much and I ended up with some pretty great stories.

We are continuing to work here in Stuttgart! Even though every day isn't full of rainbows and sunshine, life is pretty good.

I am enjoying missionary life, there are just a few things I am really looking forward to when I get home- my family, sleep, and the temple. I am also looking forward to using my mission experience as a spring board for the rest of my life.

Ich bin so dankbar, auf Mission zu sein. Ich bin dankbar für die Liebe meines Himmlischen Vaters. Ich bin dankbar für Jesus Christus. Ich bin dankbar, dass er uns hilft, die Person zu werden, die wir werden sollen.
(I am so grateful to be on a mission. I am thankful for the love of my Heavenly Father. I am thankful for Jesus Christ. I am grateful that He helps us to become the person we want to be.)

Ich habe euch lieb! Bis bald! (I love you! Later!)

--Sister Stewart

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sometimes you stop writing in your journal

Hello everybody!

I hope your last week was amazing and full of miracles! I know there are miracles around us everyday, if we just look for them.

This last week was go, go, go. I haven't had time to write in my journal for about two weeks. On Tuesday after District Meeting we did an Austausch with the sisters serving in Pforzheim. Sister Green and I went to Pforzheim to work with Sister Holman. It was a pretty amazing experience, let's just say God puts you in the place you need to be, at the exact right time that you need to be there.

We came back on Wednesday and the Pforzhaim sisters slept over at our apartment so Sister Holmstead could go to the dentist. (That was fun.) Then on Thursday Sister Jencks and I headed to Munich for Mission Leadership Council and Sister Green stayed with the Sisters in Ludwigsburg. We spent a couple days in Munich with President and Sister Miles and the other Zone Leaders and Sister Training Leaders in our mission. There was a barbeque for the 4th of July!  And I got to see Sister Ackerman, who I served with in Göppingen! Hooray! We learned a lot and hopefully we now will be better able to help the missionaries in our Zone learn as well.

Then when we came back and on Saturday we did a Finding Day with our District. On a Finding Day we go out all together as a District and talk to people. We invited a recent convert from the International Ward, K, to come with us, so that way we could go two by two. Divide and conquer, I had been praying really hard because I wanted K to have a good experience, because she is thinking about going on a mission. We started off the day with Sister Green and Sister Jencks working together and I went with K. During about a half hour period we were able to talk to this awesome family and give them and Book of Mormon, and then we talked to another man and gave him a book, and he gave us his contact info. Sister Green and Jencks saw the family later in the day, and they were already reading the Book of Mormon! Hooray! Then later Sister Green worked with K and together they gave away 4 Books of Mormon in about an hour! I was so glad that the day turned out successful. The weather was perfect and we were led to the people we needed to talk to.

Sunday we did double church again. Afterwards we ate tacos with an American family.

This coming week we are doing two Austausches, in order to fit them in before the transfer is over. It will be exciting because I get to go back to Göppingen and work with Sister Clark for a day!

Something I learned this week from our meeting in Munich: Make sure your mind is where your feet are. Your thoughts should be here, in the present, where your feet are. I was also thinking about how my feet are in Germany right now, so my thoughts need to be here as well. I haven't had much of a problem day dreaming about home, because we have so much to do I barely have time to breathe, let alone day dream. It's good to remember to focus on where I am right now, not on problems I may have had in the past or things that might happen in the future. Of course I need to repent from past sins and make plans to be better in the future, but I live in the present, not the past or the future! God will take care of me if I just trust him.

Ich habe euch lieb!
--Sister Stewart

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Don't tell me how many Sundays I have left

Hello everybody! Oh man, I know it probably sounds like a broken record by now, but I seriously cannot believe how fast the time has gone by. I calculated how many Sundays I have left, and it's not pretty. Let's just say I can count it on one hand and still have fingers left over. I am so excited to see my family, but I feel like I just barely started to figure out how everything works here!

This past week we had the lovely opportunity to get to know more of the members in the International Ward. We are just so blessed to be able to serve here with them. Guess what Americans like to feed missionaries? Tacos! We are enjoying it!

We also were able to meet with one of the less active members from the German ward and get her excited about family history! We are going to see if we can do family home evening with her and her kids (who are also members). In our lesson Sister Green bore a really powerful testimony about family history work, and I was just so proud of her.

This week we had interviews with President Miles, my last one (well except for the day I go home). As always it was lovely to see President and Sister Miles.

One of my favorite days was Sunday; we got to see the new broadcast from the church about missionary work. I think it is spiffy. It is so well done, it really gave me great motivation to continue on with the work I have started on my mission when I get home. 

It has been rainy and cold, cold, cold. No fun.

This coming week will also be a blur, Sister Green and I are going to Pforzheim for Austausch and then Sister Jencks and I are going to Munich for Mission Leadership Council. So much to do!

Ich habe gelernt diese Woche, wie wichtig es ist, dass wir einander lieben und verzeihen. Wir sind alle Kinder Gottes, wir haben mehr gemeinsam als wir Unterschiede haben. Gott möchte, dass wir einander helfen und unterstützen.
(I have learned this week how important it is that we love and forgive each other. We are all children of God, we have more in common than we have differences. God wants us to help and support each other.)

I love you lots!
--Sister Stewart

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This week it was hotter in Germany than in Africa

Hi everybody!

This last week was pretty great! We were definitely kept hopping here in Stuttgart. The weather was toasty; the Germans were telling us that apparently it was hotter in Germany than in Tunisia this past week. I can testify of that. Luckily it has cooled off a bit now.

Our apartment is really coming together, I actually have a closet now! We also have worked out all the kinks with our washing machine and have figured out how to run the dishwasher. Now we just need a vacuum.
This last week we got to meet with some of the awesome members in both the German and English speaking wards. We had dinner with an American family and they had cheddar cheese! It was amazing! We also met with a sister who is less active who lives right around the corner from the church. She is so sweet, she has two grown up kids and her daughter has a son who is almost a year old who she is helping to raise, I really hope we can help them out.

We also met with S! We watched the Joseph Smith movie with her. She has started to read the Book of Mormon all on her own! Her main concern is coffee. Literally she could talk about it for hours.  But she is willing to listen and I really think as she starts to read the Book of Mormon more, it will help bring the Spirit into her life so she can find answers to the questions that she has. She is getting so close.
This week, well really the last couple weeks, I have been praying a lot to have charity. Charity and love is one of my most favorite topics in the gospel. Really, without love, where would we be? Without God's love for us, without Christ's love for us, without our love for each other, all of it would be useless, it wouldn't make any sense. I am so grateful for my testimony of God's love for me and for the opportunity I have to develop that love for others.

Ich habe euch lieb!
--Sister Stewart

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

6 hours of church

Hi everybody! I hope you have had a lovely week! Do me a favor- take a minute and think of something that made you happy this week.

Got it? Feeling warm and fuzzy inside? Good.

So, I have moved 40 minutes away from little Göppingen to the bustling city of Stuttgart! We live in a brand new apartment, so new that I don't really even have a closet yet, so I'm living out of suitcases at the moment. I may not even really unpack since I'm going home in 6 weeks, GASP. The apartment is in a really cute part of town called Weilimdorf. We live a 10 minute walk from the church, so it is basically perfect.

I am serving with Sister Jencks and Sister Green. Sister Jencks came to the field about 3 months ago and Sister Green got here last week! They are both 20. Needless to say, I am feeling old, since I have been on my mission for almost 17 months and I am a whopping 22 years old. Well, I may be a dinosaur, but they can't quite get rid of me yet! So far things have been going great, serving with two other missionaries instead of just one always adds in an extra dynamic, but I think we will get along just fine.

Also, we are serving in both the German and the English speaking congregations! This means, among other things, that we go to two 3 hour blocks of church each Sunday. I am adjusting since in Göppingen we only had 2 hours of church (no Sunday school) but it should be fun. The German ward is adorable, our ward mission leader is Italian and it feels just like a cozy family. The English speaking ward is basically a military ward. Even though it technically is an international ward, 99.9% of the members are American and either in the military or work for the military. That was a little strange, it was like we were back in America for 3 hours yesterday.

We will be going on 4 exchanges this transfer, as well as going to Munich for our Leadership meeting. In case you were wondering how we are going to get everything done, don't worry, I'm asking myself that exact same question. But you know what? We just have to take it one step at a time.

This last week I have been realizing how fast time does go by and how we need to take advantage of the time that we have been given. I don't want to be super stressed about using absolutely every single second of every day (because that would be exhausting) but I am just trying to be more aware of how I spend my time. Especially because we are so busy, time really counts. I have been learning to take those little times throughout the day that I need for just me, to do something that makes me happy, for example writing in my journal or just enjoying every bit of my cereal in the morning (I really like cereal). I have also been trying to use my time efficiently so that I don't have to be stressed with last minute stuff. We will see how well that goes!

We have a couple of really cool investigators, one of whom came to church yesterday! She is American, a single mom with two kids. She became good friends with a member family in the international ward and has been coming to church on and off since December. She is awesome! She just has a couple concerns (related to the Word of Wisdom) but I think as she gains her own testimony of the gospel, those concerns won't be so bad to help her overcome.

Summer has officially arrived, took it long enough. The day we moved was very, very hot (doesn't that always seem to happen on moving days?). Today is also warm and sunny.

I Also LOVE this quote from Neal A. Maxwell-

"Though of themselves life's defining moments may seem minor, our wise responses can gradually increase our traction on the demanding path of discipleship. For instance, we can decide daily or in an instant, in seemingly little things, whether we respond with a smile instead of a scowl, or whether we give warm praise instead of exhibiting icy indifference. Each response matters in its small moment. Afterall, moments are the molecules that make up eternity, affecting not only ourselves but others, because our conduct even in seemingly small things can be contagious."

Ich bin dankbar, auf mission zu sein. Ich habe vieles gelernt und ich weiß, das ist noch mehr lernen soll, bevor ich nach hause gehe. Ich weiß, dass unser Himmlischer Vater uns liebt und uns kennt. Er lässt uns nicht allein. Niemals.

(I am grateful to be on mission. I have learned a lot and I know I am supposed to learn more before I go home. I know that our Heavenly Father loves us and knows us. He never has left us alone. Never.)
Ich hab euch lieb! Bis bald! (Love you, see you soon!)

--Sister Stewart