November 14, 2012
I started writing this as a report to Bishop Mott and then I added President Taylor and then decided I would expand the report and send it to all of you. We got word that Tyler and Ayden Hernandez were baptized in the MP 8th Ward. I don’t know if you remember that Mom and I took them to visit their father around conference time in April and they opened their Christmas presents from their dad and his family. A baptism had been planned earlier but our Stake President, Brian Taylor, called it off because of the disharmony it was creating in the family. I wrote to Bishop Mott in response to his email to us:
“We are thrilled that their dad was there and that their mother gave a talk. I can remember so well the great feeling of love and gratitude we all felt when Kailey was baptized the week-end of our big wind storm almost one year ago. I am sure that same feeling was present for Tyler and Ayden. I have used the experience with these three young people as a pattern when teaching about the blessings of trying to bring families together through baptism and not divide them. Family and religious traditions are strong here and sometimes it is hard for some investigators, especially some of our great young adults, to tell their families they are preparing for baptism. Many are not able to get their family involved in the teaching and the conversion process.
There have been seven baptisms in our branch since we got here in May. One was the grandmother of a 16 year old girl who was baptized in June of 2011 and five are young adults between the ages of 17 and 21.
The young missionaries are great. They work hard and are a great help to us with the language—which we find very difficult, if not impossible. We are grateful for our priesthood leaders. We love our Mission President, Ed Rowe, and his wife, Brooke. They have five kids here with them in Croatia. We are so grateful for our inspired call to serve in the Adriatic North Mission. It has been such a blessing for us to see many baptized, but our greatest reward has been helping eight of our members take a 20 hour bus ride (each way) to the Frankfurt Temple. We have really felt their love and gratitude for the blessings of the temple.
We are grateful for our inspired call to the Adriatic North Mission at this time. We have had the opportunity to visit all four countries which comprise our Mission: Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina which is one country and is abbreviated “BiH”. Osijek, where we serve is in the East of Croatia near the Hungarian and Serbian borders close to where the Drava and the Danube meet and is primarily flat, flat farmland about 300 feet above sea level. We have been to the coast (Adriatic Sea) on the West and to Belgrade in Serbia on the East. We have been in the Alps in the North, where Slovenia touches both Austria and Italy and through the mountains in the South near Sarajevo, BiH, where the 1984 Winter Olympics were held. We love all these lands and the people here."
I now expand on a few things I only mentioned to our Bishop. We went out to Baranska Petrovo Selo a little town about 25 miles North of Osijek near the Hungarian border to visit Brother and Sister Bilič. They are the older couple, who were sealed in the Temple in August. They told the Elders that they would invite their adult daughter, Evica (pronounced Ehveetsa) to come to their home and meet with the Elders and us.
On the way we talked about what lesson we should give. I suggested the Plan of Salvation and Eternal Families because it is “my” lesson when I speak English but I don’t do it in Croatian. Elder Mulder thought we should teach the Restoration. We got there and sang a song and had a prayer and then we got way side-tracked. They thought I would fall asleep, but it was actually Elder Mulder who started falling asleep. When we finally tried to get on track and start a lesson, Elder M. asked me to start the lesson in English and he and Elder Bates would translate. The Biličes speak no English, but, fortunately their daughter understands English (pretty well). I think Elder M wanted to see what I thought we should teach. I was sitting next to Evica and she was sitting next to her mother. I wasn’t sure where the lesson would go, but I asked Evica “How did your mom and dad like their trip to the Temple?” It turned out to be a heaven inspired question. Both her mother and her dad just lit up when she translated the question into Croatian for them. They made her very happy too. She started talking to her mother and her mother replied to us in Croatian and Evica translating in mixed English how much her parents loved the Temple. Sister Bilič was at that moment a living testimony to Evica of the joy of the Gospel. Evica was able to help us understand also that their Temple trip was a life changing event and what was being said and experienced at that time was really true. It was a living testimony from mother to daughter and daughter to mother and then back to us. It was such a thrill for us to be a part of this exchange between the mother and father and their daughter and to have them express how much joy and happiness they have felt as a result of going to the Temple and being sealed. The Biličs didn’t need to say many words in order for Evica and us to understand how they feel about the Temple, even today, three months later. It was fun to have Evica help translate for her mother, expressing her Mother’s feelings and telling her mother how this made her feel. She added her own observations and tried to help us understand what her mother was saying by summarizing her mother’s thoughts and feelings, explaining that her parents had not stopped talking about the Temple since they returned from the Temple in August.
Mom pulled out her little quote book and read some quotes from Brother Bilič when we were visiting with them helping them to prepare to attend the Temple in the summer: “The Temple is the place where we prepare for our meeting with God.” And “No one knows what is waiting for us there.” We really enjoyed the moment as we basked in a wonderful atmosphere of love and gratitude and their desire to return to the temple. We asked Evica to read 2 Ne 2:25 and we asked what the great word toward the end meant. She said the word “radost” a couple of times and couldn’t find an English word to use. We told her that the English word is “joy”. She liked the English word. We then asked her if she could think of anything that would add to the joy that her parents were feeling about the Temple. At first she said that would be impossible because they were already full of joy. We asked her to read in D&C 18:16 which says that if your joy is great with one soul, how great will be your joy if many souls come unto me. She read and tried to help her mother understand in Croatian. As she thought about it and talked to her mother, both of their faces lit up and both she and her mother said together: “If we could go to the temple together.” It was a very tender moment for them and for us to watch and listen to them talk and laugh and we were all close to tears. It was so great to watch Evica make the discovery that she could give her mother more joy by getting ready to go to the Temple with her parents. Mom quoted from 3 John: “I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in truth.” I got the inspiration that for us, walking in truth may mean having a temple recommend and attending the temple together. Evica promised to come to Church this Sunday and she said she would also invite her 17 year old daughter, who is apparently living independently, to come to church with her.
Unfortunately, this whole family is very poor. Evica is divorced and recently lost her job working in a distribution center for United Colors of Beneton. Her parents have a garden, a few chickens and pigs and are barely getting by. We had a closing prayer and then took care of business. They needed money to get their car registered and so the missionaries and we bought and/or placed some orders for some of Sister Bilič’s hand-made crocheted goods. They ended up with enough kuna to get their old beat up car that runs (most of the time) on faith registered.
Brother Bilić was recently called as a counsellor in our Branch Presidency and he told us he has been waking up very early in the mornings thinking about who should be called to which position. Sadly for us we don't understand his Croatian very well and he hardly speaks a word of English. But we are often surprised at how well we are able to communicate with the help of the missionaries and the spirit.
I had a few comments to the Bishop about the young adults who have decided or are trying to decide how to involve their family in the teaching and conversion process. The Missionaries try to get families involved in the teaching process because it is so much easier for new members to have the support of their family when it comes to coming to church and living the word of wisdom, etc. Unfortunately, the approach has not been too fruitful. Most have had to make the decision to be baptized in spite of family resistance and not with their blessing and support. Most eventually see the Gospel and the Church as a positive influence in the lives of their loved ones who join the church and work toward becoming fully converted. President McKay is quoted as having said, “The church helps bad men become good and good men become better.” Good people can see the change for good in those they love. We have been in this area long enough that after our next transfer--next week--most of the missionaries that were here when we came in May have moved on or gone home. The converts do not like to see them leave and neither do we. Elder Bates is a man after my own heart. He says he doesn’t do well with change—and neither do I. He has been told (unofficially by the President) that he will be going to Beograd, Serbia to be a Zone Leader. Our District is in that Zone so he may still come here on exchanges and for interviews.
Now, with regard to our ability to speak Croatian. Mom has been working hard to study and learn and talk one on one with some of the members and neighbors. I haven’t studied and learned the written words as well as she has. But even when I know the written words from the scriptures etc. it is really tough to make the connection to what is being said and what we see or have seen written down. It is a lot easier for me when we sing the songs from the book and pronounce the words syllable by syllable. But mom is usually playing the piano and it is harder for her to multi-task. But the real problem is when they speak fast, or even a normal speed, we can barely follow even when we know what is being said. One example is listening to the Sacrament prayers while we are reading them. It is so hard to hear the words as they are being said because of the way they pronounce them. The Croatians think it should be easy for us because they pronounce every letter and say it just like it sounds--the same letter(s) has/have the same sound(s) every time in every word. But the hard part is where they put the accent. I can barely hear my own name because they are always putting some letter at the end--so we are hearing Jamesa Ivinsa or Josephu Smithu. I had a hard time figuring out if they had made a typo on the baptismal program of Robert and Mirko which were written, “The Baptism of Roberta and Mirka”. I didn't want this letter to sound like I am complaining. I just want to express our appreciation for the incredible job the young missionaries do, some of whom haven't been here much longer than we have. I woke up this morning with one scripture on my mind: “Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.” I know this is for me. But, I hope I can also extend this charge to Bozo and to Andrej who have not been able to make the big leap of faith and get baptized so they can really help move the work of the church ahead in Osijek. We need their help to build this branch and be ready when the time comes to become a Ward in a Stake of Zion. The missionaries want to have an Osijek Stake. We read about Tonga which has fewer people than Osijek and has 17 stakes. Oh that we had a king here who loved the Church.
Sorry for being so long-winded. This has been a combination of what I wrote to Bishop Mott and President Taylor and some things I had written in my journal and a few new thoughts that I decided to write here as well. This may end up being something for our use only because nobody else will take the time to read it all.
We love the Lord. We love our mission. We love the people. We miss all of you and we love you.
Mom and Dad; Mutti and Bumpa
Elder and Sister Ivins
Matije Gupca 7a
31000 Osijek, Croatia
385 (0) 91 444-8114 (Elder Ivins)
385 (0) 91 444-8115 (Sister Ivins)