Wow, this has been an amazing week. Sometimes I still can't really believe that I am here.
I live in a small city (the second largest in Slovenia) named Maribor up near the boarder of Austria. It is a beautiful place with red tiled houses and onion-domed church towers and a large lazy river [Drava River] flowing through the center. Bridges span the river to keep the city together, and swans and coots swim placidly along its shoreline. We live on the fourth floor of a Communist-era apartment building right near the center of the old town. From the windows we can see one of the mountains and much of the city.
I can understand the language all right and can communicate what I need to say most of the time. When someone is talking to me, I understand the gist of his or her meaning and can generally respond correctly, though my grammar is atrocious. We teach English classes as a way of finding investigators and as a service to the people of Maribor. It has worked pretty well so far because we have about 9 investigators and four of them are progressing. This is about what is the norm in a place like Virginia where the work is generally much easier.
But it is easy to know why we are successful-- I have the world's most wonderful companion, Sister Oakley. She is a really kind, genuine, and caring person who is strong in her testimony, intelligent in the way she conducts the work, and good with the language. She loves the investigators and they can feel that, and she is able to keep the focus on the Gospel. She is a convert of just over three years now and will be going home in only about a month. I am really sad about that because I feel there is much I can and want to learn from her.
There are only 12 missionaries in Slovenia, 6 Sisters and 6 Elders. 5 of us are brand new, and in a couple of weeks, there will be 3 more new missionaries and 3 who are here will go home. So, in just a few weeks 8 out of the 12 Slovene missionaries will be almost entirely new. With the way the schedule with the Slovene Sister missionaries has evolved, there is a possibility that I will be training a new sister when Sister Oakley leaves (although that is unlikely) so I really want to make certain I understand it all now. So I feel some pressure to really learn the language though I know that God has been helping me out a ton because I understand far more than is expected of a new missionary of only five days. I've never really been that great at languages before so this is an incredible blessing. If I will be the senior or co-senior missionary in only 5 weeks, I had better be able to understand what is going on around me or we will be completely lost.
Our investigators are truly incredible. However, in Slovenia one of the biggest problems is retention as very few people who have been baptized still come to church. After 20 years of missionary work in Maribor, only 8 of the 55 members attend church regularly. But this is something that we are going to work on and I know that the Lord has a plan for this beautiful country. Elder Nelson just recently [Sept 6, 2010] [ http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59902/Elder-Nelson-pronounces-blessings-on-six-Balkan-nations.html ] rededicated Slovenia as a place for the work and in that prayer he said that it would begin to blossom. I truly believe that. The people we are working with are ready. We just recently found a new investigator who is completely accepting of literally everything we teach. She is incredible. And some of the investigators we have, two in particular, are just so ready to be baptized but for a couple of unusual reasons can't be baptized just yet.
I am so excited to be here. I feel like I am really consumed in the work and that I am facing a great challenge that it excites me to try and, with the Lord's help, overcome. It’s like a giant puzzle: why are things this way or that way? What is the root of this problem? How can it be solved? I have always loved being faced with a nearly impossible task and trying to surmount it. But this time is different because I cannot succeed if I do not rely wholly on God. It would simply be impossible. There are too many pieces, to many variables, and too many things I simply do not understand. I am in a different land with a different people of a different culture and the only way someone like me can know what to do is through inspiration from the Lord. So I must rely on Him. And, any prayers which you, my friends, can offer for the people of Maribor, would be wonderful.
Well, I love you all. I love speaking Slovene-- it is really quite fun. God is awesome. I already know I will be sad when I have to leave some day.
Thank you all for your love and support. God be with you!