Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Okay, my family has heard this already, but next time will be brand new!

We finished our tour of the mission Wednesday, returning in time for Zone Conference in Slovenia on Thursday, then driving back to Zagreb, Croatia for Zone Conference on Friday. What a marathon! It has been quite exhausing, but so worthwhile and wonderful. We have travelled over two thousand miles and visited nearly one hundred missionaries since we arrived. We have seen some stunning landscape, from the lush green hills of Slovenia to the sundrenched Mediterranean coastal towns of Pula and Zadar in Croatia, and mile after undulating mile of corn and sunflower fields on the way to Osijek We have met the most wonderful young men and women! They are full of energy and delightful in every way -- every one of them. I wish I could tell you about each one, but I couldn't do them justice here. We love our couples here. They are such a assets to the mission. Some are in some far reaches of the mission and don't get a lot of kudos for their work, but they really hold things together and help us out a lot. Our assistants who have driven us all these miles have been nothing but delightful, pleasant and cheerful all the way. It's unreal! They are so amazing and so dedicated. They have not left out a single detail. There is no way to express how much we admire them and appreciate all they have done for us. On top of being very capable, they are really kind, thoughtful and sincere young men.

Within just a day or so of our arrival, Dave and I received our marching orders to write our first articles for the "Harvest", which is the mission news letter. Without even enough time to fully unpack we hit the road for a week and a half and had to speak at both zone conferences, knowing very little about the mission, and knowing hardly anything about what has gone on before us. I prayed really hard for some help on this. I have to say that I have truly been blessed with the Lord's help, because there has been no opportunity to prepare any talks. I usually spend quite a bit of time pondering and researching before I give a talk, but I have none of my typical resources here and being on the road so much, I haven't had access to the internet, so I really feel the hand of the Lord in my assignments already. Brett has also spoken at the zone conferences and has done a wonderful job. He has already had a couple of missionary opportunities. We sent him home from Pula on his birthday last Monday (Yes -- Brett is now 17!!) He took a bus to Zagreb and took a train from there to Ljubljana. Pretty adventurous without any language skills, I think, but what's new in the Hill family....

I got initiated by Dr. Gardener last Thursday on our way to Croatia to all the health issues I need to be aware of. We don't have that many and few serious ones, but I need to keep in touch with those who are experiencing some difficulties or need to locate medications, which are sometimes a challenge to find here.

Friday morning before zone conference, as we were leaving our hotel in Zagreb ,Croatia -- actually we were on our way to breakfast, and Dave and Brett had taken the elevator down just before me to put our suitcases in the car-- I stepped on the elevator and a man said, "Are you LDS?" Taken a little off guard but remembering that I was wearing a badge, I said, "Yes... Are you?" He replied affirmatively then said that he had just seen a couple who looked like a mission president and wife get off the elevator, and he tried to follow them but lost them. He was so surprised to get back on the elevator and see me with my tag. I said, "Well, I'm not sure who you saw, but I AM the mission president's wife." He was really surprised and so excited. I invited him to talk with us over breakfast. It turns out that he is a businessman from Sweden recently released as Stake President after ten years. He now doing business all over the world including there in Zagreb and is anxious to help out the missionary effort. He explained that he has many connections and would love to use his influence in any way that will help. Dave and I realize that this was not just a chance meeting. We know the Lord has a hand in all things that happen on this mission. There is a larger picture that we can't even see, but I know that many great things are promised for this area.

On a lighter note, I really have to tell you about the weather here. It is so EXCITING!! While I stayed home from Rijeka last Sunday to write to the family, Brett and I experienced our first storm early in the evening. it had been quite warm and humid, but suddenly, out of nowhere, the thunder began to crash and fiery lightening rocketed through the sky. The wind began to blow and the rain came down in sheets. Brett and I were so excited. We just don't quite get these kinds of storms in Sacramento. He tried to capture it on video, but it doesn't really capture the drama. It lasted nearly a half hour then died out as suddenly as it came.

The next storm I experienced was with Dave in Karlovac (KAR-lo-vatz) after our longest day of touring the mission. We were exhausted and had just turned in for the night in a temporarily vacated missionary apartment on the 8th floor(which the elders had very thoughtfully made up beautifully for us, saving some hotel expenses). Just as we lay our heads down ready to fall into blissful oblivion, a clap of thunder hit, arresting any thoughts of slumber. I have never heard anything like it -- it was DEAFENING! I wasn't so excited this time -- I just wanted to SLEEP, but the storm went on and on -- one deafening explosion after another. The walls seemed paper thin, and I felt that I was in the very center of the thunder cloud. Sleep was impossible for a few hours. We awoke to a bright, clear morning...and a headache!

It has been overcast most of today, although church was unbearably hot -- the air conditioning was out and the humidity made for a very uncomfortable meeting. Wouldn't you know, I wore nylons and a polyester blouse -- a very bad choice! I felt like I was encased in a space suit. I tried to sit perfectly still in order to create as little energy as possible, but it still felt the steam rising and a layer of moisture collecting on my face. Later this afternoon Dave was out visiting the Celje (SELyay) branch, so Brett and I were just minding our own business when the sky darkened and a roll of thunder announced the arrival of yet another storm -- the third in a week! Never wanting to miss the action, we ran to front door, stepped out on the porch and looked into the distance. Smartno Gora (the mountain) was shrouded in veils of torrential rain which blew across the field in front of us in vertical layers like armies of gaunt marching ghosts . Brett threw on his shorts and leaped outside into the rain with this silly blue BYU umbrella. It was hilarious! I tried to capture him at the right moment doing a Lucky Charms leap, and I finally got it! Suddenly I remembered that the mission office in the basement had flooded in the last storm. We dashed downstairs to find that the carpet was floating on a layer of water. We rushed to get the pile of towels barely dry from the last episode and started mopping up the water. By now the carpet was saturated. We wrung out towels and Brett spent nearly an hour with the shop vac. The washer and drier can't be run at the same time, and the washer takes two hours per load
As I write this Brett is working on his laptop with bare feet on the wet carpet with two fans blowing around him. He just mentioned how cold he is and lamented the fact that he is "tethered to the spot" --the internet works only in Dave's office and here in the basement.

Well, tomorrow starts our third week. Darling Elder Cluff gave me his extra Slovene grammar book so I can start learning Slovene.

Slovenian names are so hard to remember! Many don't sound like names to me yet -- like Dragitsa, and Voljka, and Ram to name a few.

First week in Slovenia

Yes, some of you have already read this post via email, but for the record.....

We arrived here in Ljubljana on Monday, spent a few hours with the mission president, his wife, the assistants and a few other Slovene members. We had dinner at an Argentine restaurant, and then the mission work hit like a flood. The mission office couple and the assistants have been initiating us as gently as possible, but it has still been quite overwhelming. We are totally dependent upon elders who speak the language and who can navigate the twisted, narrow (but charming!) streets and the freeway (the "Rrring"), read the street signs, interpret the traffic symbols and park the car. Our garage is so narrow that we have only two inches clearance on either side of the car as we back out. Well wouldn't you know...Our first time backing out solo on our way to church this morning, Dave scraped the side and popped off the sideview mirror! And so much for all our Croatian study in the last few months -- everyone here speaks Slovene, and we don't know a single word! I am dismayed! We have a lot of catching up to do.

We have been on the road for two days already in the quest to visit all the missionaries before zone conference and have four more days of travel ahead of us. Dave caught a horrible cold in Frankfurt, and was very ill when we arrived. Nothing like a little adversity to add to the excitement. We have visited all the missionaries in Slovenia, and today Dave and the assistants made the first foray into Croatia. We generally leave at nine in the morning and are not home until eleven at night. It is really exhausting. It is warm and humid and jet lag has not totally relaxed its grip on us. I think Brett hit the wall yesterday. After hours in the car and sitting through interview after interview and a baptism he is starting to worry that he will have no life here! I was thinking of staying home today after church and missing the introductions with the elders and couples in Rijeka, until I began looking over all the pictures of the missionaries I have met so far. It has been such a joy to meet them and know them for more than a face on a card, that I am really had second thoughts. However, we have also been counseled that our family needs to be our first priority, and I need time to help Brett get set up here.

I did stay home. I certainly am beginning to understand the time constraints on missionaries. Our good friend Luann has sent me several notes wondering if we have dropped off the earth. No, we haven't, but there hasn't been much opportunity to write.

Slovenia is everything they said it would be. It is beautiful and picturesque. We live at the outskirts of the city of Ljubljana at the base of Smartno Gora, a small mountain with an ancient stone church at the top. The Julian Alps are visible in the distance. The road to our house is a very narrow drive with a shrine to the mother Mary at the entrance. At the end of the road about fifty meters from our house is a footpath through the grass that leads to the trail up Smarto Gora, a mountain with a small stone church at the top. In front of our house is a large grassy meadow which is cut for hay. Our back windows look out onto a sheep pasture. The homes here are painted in beautiful washes of taupe, off white, gold, warm yellows, siennas, deep mauves and burnt oranges and are set off by picturesque red tiled roofs. It is kind of a mix of Prague and Italy. (Well, I just found out at church today that the reason it looks like Prague and Italy is because the famous architect who designed the old city was also the architect for Prague and parts of Italy! Was I right on???)

Brett was the first to climb the mountain. He came back and told me all about it. Well, we have been sitting for four weeks, so early Wednesday morning I rousted Dave from bed and challenged him to climb it with me. It's a short but steep hike and takes about 30 minutes to reach the top. The path is through a canopied forest reminiscent of upstate New York. Near the top we came out onto a lovely meadow and heard what sounded like a clanking dinner bell. A little further, we discovered the source when we saw a little stone keep where a bunch of sheep with bells around their necks were bleating their impatience to be let out to graze. We reached the top (breathing heavily!) and enjoyed a lovely misty view of Ljubljana below for a few minutes, then ran all the way back. Yesterday my legs were so sore, and we had many flights of stairs to climb! I winced at every step!

We have met the most impressive elders and sisters! Every one that we have met has been outstanding. They are energetic motivated, positive and dedicated. They are required to assume a lot of responsibility and are given a lot of trust on account of their ability with the language and our lack of it. They find their own apartments, serve as translators when there are legal or health problems, and are called upon for leadership counsel and training. They have proved to be trustworthy and capable. Our couple and senior missionaries are also wonderfully capable and invaluable. Our assistants, Elder Beazer and Elder Priest are amazing and extremely patient. They have driven us all over Slovenia so far, and today will begin our foray into Croatia. As I said, we were scheduled to go to Rijeka right after church today, then come home late tonight. Tomorrow they will take us on a three day travelthon of driving and interviews. We will return late Wednesday night and get up the next morning to begin two days of Zone Conferences -- One in Slovenia, and one in Croatia.
We attended two baptisms this week -- a new record for this area, I hear. One was the first held in the beautiful new chapel in Ljubljana. Everyone is thrilled with the new building. It is only the second building in the entire mission. It is a great boost for the members here. The other was held in a building that the church leases. The font was a portable, set up in a quiet alley way. The young woman baptized is highly educated and speaks several languages. She is a lovely person with a strong testimony and will be a great asset to a small but vibrant little branch. Her non-member husband and mother attended her baptism.

I am still trying to figure out where everything is in the house, and it is really a challenge when you go to the store and you can't read any labels! Sister Hensley accompanied me so I could make lunch for mission council, but other than that, there has been no opportunity to go shopping for our own food, nor will there be for another week if I go on all these trips. My cupboards are pretty bare. It's pretty crazy! Thank heavens for a "break the fast" meal that Sister Peterson prepared for the missionaries after church or we would still be fasting -- no -- probably eating peanut M&Ms of which there is a large stash in the cupboard. Well, that's it for now.

Monday, July 14, 2008

We've arrived in Ljubljana

The Ljubljana Zone in front of our mission's only chapel

We have hit the ground running and haven't had a chance to breathe. But we love the work, we love our missionaries and we love the people in the countries we serve. More to come....

Friday, July 11, 2008

We're tired...