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Monday, July 27, 2015

More Happiness

This was the most wonderful week - truly the highlight of my time as a full-time missionary. At 10:00 on Saturday morning, the entire Spasov family was baptized - the culmination of months of lessons, Family Home Evenings, family scripture study, fasting for their grandfather, battling the crowds on the U Bahn to get the whole family to church, and hours spent on our knees.
Plamen came home from a month in Bulgaria and he was distracted, sad, and feeling guilty about leaving his father behind. On Tuesday, we brought Bruder and Christopher Reiner with us so that they could give Plamen, Albena, and Ivana Priesthood blessings of comfort. The Spirit in that room was unbelievably strong as each of these blessings contained counsel and revelation that clearly came from the Lord, not from the mouths of two men who had only met this family once or twice. We had planned to invite them to be baptized on the 22nd of August, but after the blessings, Sister Rückauer and I both knew that it needed to be sooner. We invited them to be baptized on August 8th, but immediately they said "Gott weiß das wir schon bereit sind. Diese Samstag." --- "God knows that we are already ready. This Saturday." Even if it seemed like there was no way that we could organize everything and have them be ready by Saturday, we knew that it was right. And thus began the happiest blur of chaos. 

The next few days were full of lessons, prayers, scripture study, and preparation for the baptismal interviews. Never before have I found myself so often on my knees begging for strength, guidance, direction, and energy. My favorite answer to prayer came through 13 year-old Ivana. We were so nervous that Albena wouldn't be able to totally give up coffee in time and as we sat in our lesson, and I prayed that Albena would be blessed with understanding that all of this hung on her willingness to give up coffee. As soon as I finished, Ivana burst out "MAMA. Kaffee gibt dir keine kraft - GOTT gibt dir kraft!" Albena looked at her daughter with gratitude and pride and she hasn't had a coffee since.
On Saturday morning, President Fingerle, our Mission President, stood with us and Familie Spasov in the changing room behind the baptismal font. They were all in white and couldn't stop smiling. His voice choking with emotion, he grabbed Plamen's shoulder and Ivan's hand and said "This is only the first time that we will be with each other in white. The next time will be a year from now in the Temple." President Fingerle baptized Plamen first, then Albena, then Ivana, Ivan, and Zlatomir. I can't even describe the feeling. My heart was ready to burst, I was crying, and I felt like I couldn't hug this soaking wet Bulgarian family tightly enough. I really did feel the promise of the First Presidency in Preach My Gospel fulfilled: "More happiness awaits you than you have ever experienced as you labor among His children."
They were confirmed the next day in Sacrament meeting by our wonderful Bishop and I'm pretty sure there wasn't a dry eye in the chapel. That night, we talked with Albena and Plamen for a long time and they couldn't say enough how grateful they were, how peaceful they felt, and how they felt like they really were new people. Albena showed us Ivana's first Personal Progress journal entry:
"My testimony of Jesus Christ: I know that our loving God and Jesus Christ live and that God sacrificed His son to die for our mistakes. That is why I believe in Him - that is really the least that we can do for Him. That is why I say that we should all pray to God as often as we can. I know that God sent me and my family Sister Hendricks and Sister Rückauer and we are so thankful for them. The Sisters opened our eyes - we had alway believed in God, but not as strongly as now. And I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
My time is up, but let me leave you with my testimony. I know that God lives. I know that He knows us perfectly, that He loves us, and that He wants us to be happy. He has given us a way to become all that He wants us to be through His Son, Jesus Christ. I know that through His Atonement, we can be made clean of every mistake, we can be made whole of any wound, and we can be given strength beyond our own. I know that families can be together forever as we follow the plan the God has given us. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord to help people know what that plan is. I love the Spasov family, I love my family, I love my Savior, and I love my God.
Liebe Grüße, 
Sister Grace Hendricks

Monday, July 20, 2015

I found a truck to match my Dad's!

"Fear Not"

Yet another great week here in Berlin.

We had the opportunity to serve two young mothers in our ward. Maya, Schwester Fischer's 3 year old daughter, declared that she wants to be Sister Hendricks when she grows up. That's exactly how my missionary plans began - looking up to the Sister missionaries in our ward in Zurich. One day, Maya!
Except Sterling and Ellie Colton, there is no cuter elderly couple than Berlin Patriarch Bruder Gensch and his wife. Bruder Gensch has an extra shiny bald head with disorderly tufts of hair on the sides. Schwester Gensch always dresses like Maria from "The Sound of Music" and bustles around showing us her latest knitting projects for her future grandchildren. We had a meeting at their apartment with a less-active schwester and Peter, one of Bruder Gensch's work friends. Our lesson focused on the first principle that we teach people: God lives, He loves us, and we are His children. The thought had never crossed Peter's mind that the special connection that we feel to this supreme and omniscient Being comes from a Father-Child relationship. This less-active sister said that she thought she had forgotten that relationship and she thinks that her prayers would be a lot better if she kept that in mind. She agreed, for the first time in years, to allow the missionaries to come into her home and reteach her. We hope to start teaching Peter regularly soon. 

Shaq is the most social guy at church. After Sunday school, there was a whole circle of people trying to talk to him. I'm so proud of him and of the ward. 

What I really wanted to share with you this week is not so much what happened as what I learned. I was reminded yet again of our Father in Heaven's perfect awareness of our character, perfect understanding of our prayers and hopes, perfect ability to answer those prayers, and perfect timing. I got back from exchange with the Dresden 2 sisters, and while I knew that the sister I was exchanging with learned something and that we had a good experience together, I felt  like somehow I was falling short of expectations. When I finally got home, I found a letter from my mother in the mail box. Included was an article from the Church News about President Uchtdorf's address at the New Mission Presidents Seminar. It was entitled "Become Like Peter and 'fear not, for God is with you'" and it was an answer to so many of my pleas for guidance, comfort, and direction. President Uchtdorf directed the Mission Presidents' attention to Luke's account of Matthew being called to the apostleship. Luke tells of the Savior calling out to these struggling fishermen to let down their nets one more time. Peter says that he has been trying all night to catch fish, but that at His word, he would try again. Their nets broke with the multitude of fish that they caught. 
 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
 10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
 11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.

I am learning that despite my flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes, the Lord doesn't want me to 'fear' or stop functioning. I don't think that my weaknesses and shortcomings have ever been so clear to me in my whole life and sometimes it is hard to figure out how to get over them and give my best and be the kind of servant that He wants me to be. But to me, and indeed each of us, He extends the same hand of love and gentle command: Fear not.
Thank you for your love, support, and prayers.
Liebe Grüße, 
Sister Grace Hendricks

Monday, July 13, 2015

Zone Conference

Dresden/Eyebrow Piercings/Shaq

Great week!

On Tuesday, we made the trek to Dresden. I thought I was so smart and brought all of the letters I needed to work on in 2 hour train ride. We found a car to sit in by ourselves and thought we had scored big time when the train started pulling away and we had the whole car to ourselves. Then 3 Italian backpackers sat down with their huge, smelly backpacks, tank tops, and pierced eyebrows. We may have exchanged an eye roll. I tried to work on my letters and was interrupted by questions of whether or not we went clubbing, if we had boyfriends, etc etc. But then I decided that I wasn't going to sit on a train with these guys for two hours and not do what I was called to do. They sipped beer, Sister Rückauer shared her mostly melted knusperfleks Rittersport, and one of them put on U2's free album as we talked about the purpose of life, our relationship with God, the eternal natures of families, and just about every other gospel principle. It became one of the most spiritual conversations I've ever had. As I got to know these scruffy high school dropouts from Rome, I felt how much God loves and knows them. They said they would go to the Rome Temple open house and would be happy to meet with the missionaries there.

Sister Cady and I then went to an appointment with a Less Active who is working through the repentance process. As we sat in the back lot of his rundown DDR apartment building and talked to him about how his divine nature and the Atonement of Jesus Christ gave him the power to really change his life, once again I was filled with Heavenly Father's love for this enormous, toothless man who had lost his way. This back lot with its gravel mingled with beer bottle glass and cigarette butts, rusty chairs, and plastic pineapple tablecloth weights became hallowed ground as this beloved brother finally understood that the power and choice to change was in his own hands. What an incredible realization. It was so special for Sister Cady and I to really feel and watch the Spirit take over the lesson. We happily submitted. After, we went to see a 17 year-old girl from the old elders' program area book. By miracle, she was home and the lesson went really well. It turns out that she was ready to be baptized, but her parents wanted her to wait until she was 18. With transfers and programs closing, she kind of got lost in the chaos and the missionaries hadn't reached out to her in a few months. She was thrilled to see us and to start working towards the goal of baptism. This wonderful day ended with a perfect summer thunderstorm breaking through the Dresden heat.

That evening, after Sister Rückauer and I exchanged back, we went over to the Bishop's home to help his wife with their beautiful garden. We sang primary songs, practiced our new vocabulary for the day in funny sentences,  and got our bare feet dirty in the fresh earth as we snipped away the old blooms and made way for the new. After, we had dinner with her and had an amazing conversation about the process of our personal conversions and our decision to come on a mission. We talked about the Lord's constant support and outstretched hand through times of uncertainty and doubt. She opened up to us a lot and shared some of her experiences and struggles over the past few years and we wept together as we studied Paul's description of the comforting and strengthening power of the Atonement in his letter to the Romans:

3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that
tribulation worketh patience;

4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad
in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for
the ungodly.

She hugged us longer than usual and we rode the bus home feeling edified and grateful. I was reminded of our missionary purpose that we recite each morning as a companionship: to "invite others to come unto Christ...". "Others" includes our investigators, the less actives that we work with, the people we talk to on the street, our district
members, our companions, and even our bishop's wife on a windy July night. What a privilege.

There is no way I will be able to get through the rest of what happened this week so a couple short peeks:
- P-Day at the East Side Gallery
- Zone Konferenz with President and Sister Fingerle. I came to the meeting with a very specific question and received a very specific answer. Funny because none of what was talked about had any direct relation to my question. The Spirit really is the actual teacher. President and Sister Fingerle have an ambitious, inspired, and beautiful vision for Germany and I will dedicate these 9 months to making my contribution to this vision.
- New investigator named Shaq. Yes, you read it correctly, his name is Shaq. And he is about 5'5" and from Tajikistan. We met him on the U-Bahn and on Saturday, we had a great joint teach with Christopher - a gem and stud of an 18 year-old who is about to report to his mission in Birmingham, England (any tips, Megan?). He is really excited to learn about the gospel and blushed profusely with excitement and nerves as he humbly offered his first prayer at the close of our lesson. He said that as soon as he knows that the our message really is the truth, he will be baptized. He also is instant best buddies with Bruder Speck, our incredible Ward Mission Leader. I'm not surprised - Bruder Speck is best buddies with everyone. 

I feel so grateful for the miracles that the Lord has allowed me to witness. It is confirmed to me day after day that this really is the work of the Lord and that He is preparing people to hear the message of the restored gospel. I feel blessed beyond description to be a part of His work. I add my voice to Alma's as he declared "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."

Liebe Grüße,

Sister Grace Hendricks