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Monday, November 30, 2015

How we celebrated thanksgiving with the Kiel sisters

Love Grace

Hi all, 

On Tuesday night I knelt in prayer at the close of the day and as I prayed for our investigators and ward members, the thought entered into my head that now was the time for us to find someone who was really really prepared. I asked my Father in Heaven to help us be in the right place at the right time to meet someone that He had prepared. I also asked Him to help me feel His love the next day. I asked Him to help me feel like He was hugging me. 

The next day, Sister Davis and I were on exchange and decided to get a quick lunch at the tiny baked potato place I had found a few days ago. We sat down next to a bespectacled, beautiful Jordanian woman with unruly hair and began to chat as she finished her couscous-piled potato. 30 minutes later, we hugged our newfound friend Fida goodbye and quickly scribbled down our appointment to help her with her English that coming Saturday. There was something different about Fida; something that was just so genuine. Saturday at 15:00 by the potato kiosk couldn't come quickly enough.

On the way to visit an earlier investigator, I was totally buried in my typical thoughts of plans for appointments the coming week, exchanges, and worrying about our investigators. I was snapped out of it by the yell of a Turkish fruit stand guy yelling about the price of tomatoes. In that moment, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sticker on the light post a couple feet away. "No way. Absolutely no way." I walked closer and surely enough, it said what I thought it did. The bright yellow (slightly disintegrated) sticker said: "KEEP CALM GRACE I LOVE YOU". I gingerly peeled it off and could hardly believe my eyes. I quickly fastened it to my emergency sticky notes on the back of my planner. I was kind of in awe considering my prayer the night before, but I caught myself thinking "well, it's probably just coincidence." 

We made a left hand turn onto a teeny tiny little alleyway in the fancy part of Altona and lo and behold, there on a distant light pole was another sticker: "KEEP CALM AND LOVE GRACE." 
God can answer our prayers through other people, through dreams, through the scriptures, through a song, and apparently through street stickers. I now have in my possession two street stickers: one assuring me of God's love for me, and another one inviting me to love myself. Grace is not a name you will find in Germany, but even if these stickers were meant for someone else, Heavenly Father put me in the right position to find them and to know that He wanted me to see them. He loves me. 

I felt that love of God again as we sat in a hipster little cafe with Fida on Saturday afternoon. Over a totally overpriced and extremely delicious hot chocolate, we got to know her a lot better. Fida is a gynecologist from Amman, Jordan, loves art and religion, is getting ready to take an English proficiency test that would help her start up her own practice in London, and loves big big mugs of herbal tea with extra sugar. She's smiley and authentic and just plain awesome. Sister Wasden and I told her how we felt God's help in learning German and that we knew that He would help her refine her English skills. She got kind of quiet and said "I could listen to you two talk for hours. I think I need to tell you something." She then told us how the day before I met her at that potato place, she had a lot of stress and felt like she didn't know where to find peace. For the first time in a long time, she prayed to God that he would send her someone to help her and bring her what she needed. She started to tear up when she expressed how grateful she was that the next day, everything fell into place so that we could meet each other and how she knows that we met for a reason. Sister Wasden and I were beaming. I told her that the same day she asked God to send her someone, I had prayed and asked God to help us find someone that needed us. She squeezed our hands and ran her fingers over the gold title of the Arabic and English copies of the Book of Mormon we gave her. "He really does listen, doesn't He?" I thought of the stickers in the back of my planner. "He sure does, Fida." 

Other highlights of the week included finding two beautiful families to teach, a spaghetti thanksgiving dinner at Bishop's house for all of us Americans, the calling of an AMAZING new ward mission leader, awesome Filipino food at the Hansens for Deutsch class, seeing my favorite member of my first ward in Germany, and being the first missionaries to get in the door of an inactive family and getting a return appointment. 
The love of God is real, personal, powerful, and perfect. It is unconditional. It is individual. I am so incredibly thankful that I have felt it in my own life and can see it in the lives of everyone in this sacred slice of Germany.

Alma 26
36 Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.
37 Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen.

He loves you too. 

Liebe Grüße, 
Sister Grace Hendricks

Monday, November 23, 2015

Freezing But Happy!

Dear loved ones,

So sorry that I won't have time to email those of you who have written me this week - we have ZERO time. Which is happy for a missionary :)

Here's a little postcard from this week: Christmas lights and telephone wires strung with hundreds of shoes swung in the NordSea wind as Sister Demke and I walked the magical streets of Flensburg's Innenstadt on exchange - passing cathedral after cathedral, quirky coffee shops, old stores from the 1400s, and a harbor full of dinky little tug boats strung up with more Christmas lights. A group of about 10 older men and women were standing in a half circle playing trumpets, trombones, and horns for the whole city to hear as workers started to set up the Christmas market. I could see the light from the lighthouse, safely guiding the ships into the harbor. I could almost hear my dad singing...

1. Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

In a way, Sister Demke was my lower light on this exchange. The hour and a half train ride from Kiel to Flensburg melted away as we talked about everything and anything, both pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to be so open. On that train ride and throughout the whole exchange, she taught me about the capacity of the human heart to handle tragedy and then, through the Savior, to bounce back stronger, more sure, and full of love. She taught me how important it is to value this time on my mission as a sacred time of growth. She taught me that we do not need to be defined by our experiences or circumstances, but rather by our reactions. I'm grateful for this new friend.

Jeralie, a 16 year-old Hamburg native, was my companion for a youth missionary weekend - a chance for 16-18 year olds in the Hamburg stake to go on splits with the missionaries and see what it's like. She was a trooper as we spent the whole day going door to door, street contacting, and visiting less-active members in the lovely German winter rain. We were cold, but we were happy. That evening, as we said goodbye, she told me that now she knew that she wanted to go on a mission. I told her that it would be the best decision she could make.

On Sunday we missed our normal bus to church and had to find an alternate route. We found ourselves walking down the 'beach' of the Elbe river, freezing cold. Everything we passed seemed to be glowing as the lilac morning light slowly began to thaw the frost that had coated every surface. I thought of a talk given by Elder Neal A Maxwell that I had read just the day before. He said "Brothers and Sisters, this mortal experience through which we are passing is one in which beauties abound; subtleties and delicacies are all about us waiting to be noticed. Wonders are everywhere to be seen. It is, however, the observing meek who will ponder the galaxies and see God moving in His majesty and power. It is also the meek who will notice, and then lift up, those whose hands hang down."  I want to be better about that. It's a beautiful way to go through life.

I loved watching Aiden, a 5 year old from Australia, who was in shock as - for the first time in his life - he saw flakes of white magic blanket beautiful Altona during church ... pure glee as he caught snowflakes on his tongue and blinked through the ones getting caught in his eyelashes. He then helped a little 3 year old make a snowball and dusted off another child who had fallen down. Heart melt, right?

It's funny. Regardless of how many drunk men hit on us, how many crazy people we ended up talking to on the bahn, how many people were never at home, how many buses fell out, and how cold it got, this week I really had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the opportunity I have to be on a mission. This is an experience unlike any other.

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Grace

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Apostles of the Lord

Well, gang, Friday morning companionship study was interrupted by a surprise mission-wide conference call. After a very long roll-call, several technical difficulties, and a decent amount of suspense, we were informed that all missionaries would report to the Berlin stake center on Sunday evening no later than 5pm so that we could have a mission conference with Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Surprise!!!

One and a half hours with Elder Ballard, Elder Christiansen of the Presidency of the 70, and President Kearon (the Area President for Europe) was precious, fast, humorous, and Spirit filled. Elder Ballard took the time to shake each one of our hands, look into our eyes, and ask us how we were doing. In his apostolic authority and grandfatherly manner, Elder Ballard shared some pearls of pure wisdom with us:

- "You have to be great teachers." We have to be great teachers in order to cut through the spiritually numbing noise and distraction surrounding those that we are trying to teach. And becoming a great teacher goes back to two basic, vital things: 1. Understanding the doctrine and 2. Being worthy and ready to teach with the Spirit.

- We know things that the rest of the world does not know. And they aren't going to know it unless we get good at telling them. That means that we need to talk to more people and be ready to tell them what's
important when we do.

- "Missionary work is talking to people wherever you find them."

- "When we are anxiously engaged, we will see miracles. Then, Heaven will get a little closer."

- (And my personal favorite) "Get out there and get crackin'!"

And with a "adios, amigos" and a wave, he was gone.

President Kearon told us to go home that night and to write in our journals not "tonight I shook the hand of a living apostle" but to write "Tonight I shook hands with a living apostle, and from this day forward, I will __________."

Gotta love those spiritual face smacks. Last night was a long journal entry.

I am grateful for the Apostles of the Lord and for the Prophet. They serve so selflessly, so lovingly, and so fully. I hope to learn from their example.

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Grace Hendricks

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Service Project ft. The District

with Ana

When Elder Müller rocks my rings during Leadership Training Council

Grace and Sister Wasden

Working on the Visitors Center Tour Video; Chicken Encounters

Hi Everyone! 

We had too many appointments yesterday so our PDay was delayed.  We were in my our area only one day this week, but we got a lot done and it was a week filled with a lot of beautiful moments. 
One of those moments was on our way back to the Kiel sisters' apartment on exchange as Sister Davis suddenly spun around and said in all seriousness "Guys. I'm just warning you now. But we are being haunted by a giant stuffed chicken." Sister Wasden and I immediately burst into laughter and Sister Cady went on to explain how there had been a stuffed chicken sitting on a car a couple days ago and how it kept showing up in random places and now they were totally freaked. Again, laughter ensued and in the middle of the whole ridiculous thing, I realized that there I was, walking the streets of a coastal college town in northern Germany with three awesome friends, serving as a full time sister missionary and having the time of my life.

Sister Means and I completely emptied, sanitized, cleaned, and reorganized everything in Ana's tiny, rundown kitchen as she packed her bags and prepared to leave the abusive relationship that had trapped her for years. In classic Gypsy fashion, Ana wanted the house to be perfect and dinner ready to go when she left. She butchered chicken thighs and opened a massive can of soup with only a small pairing knife with incredible speed as we sang Primary songs per her request. She asked us "God will always love me, right? He will forgive me, right?" I took out my study journal and translated a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland : "...however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you don't have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have travelled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ's Atonement shines." She smiled, gave me a hug, and continued to happily hack away at the chicken thighs. 

In a whirlwind of two high speed ICE train rides, not enough meals, negotiating the Berlin Bahn and bus system, computer crashes, a number of technical difficulties, and 18 hours spent in front of the mission office computer, I spent the entirety of Friday and Saturday working to fulfill President's request for the updated Temple tour video for the Freiberg visitors center. Finding the correct places to separate the words in Serbian - not easy (darn Cyrillic alphabet. Thomas and Nathan, I don't know how you do it). I had two absolutely killer fun sleepovers with two of my mission bests, Sister Walker and Sister Seare, involving laughter, rockin' dance moves, weird hairdos, burned stovetop-made popcorn, and a feeling of total peace, security, sisterhood and love. Talking late into the night about anything and everything, I was grateful that God has put so many quality, wonderful people around me. 

Yesterday we sipped rose hip tea from our gorgeous mix-matched tea cups at our investigator Ulrike's brick home as a fire crackled and Fleet Foxes was playing from the open bathroom door upstairs. We met Ulrike on the bus a few days earlier and this woman is so ready to accept the gospel. Her husband left her 3 months ago and, in her words, she is on a journey to find herself again and to find something to believe in. Her blue eyes were fixed intently on the makeshift doodle that Sister Wasden drew to explain the Plan of Salvation and she accepted the Book of Mormon that we gave her and kept asking us if we were sure that she could have one. I'm excited to see where things go with her :) 

I am so grateful to serve here in Hamburg, to have my hilarious and hardworking companion, to share what makes me happy every single day, and just to be alive. 

Liebe Grüße, 
Sister Grace Hendricks

Monday, November 2, 2015

 We found a box of Christmas lights in a drawer. Christmas came early

waiting for our investigator in the park

Loving Hamburg

Well, guys, I am in love with H   A   M   B   U   R   G!

I loved the retro textured glass that made the whole Wilhelmsburg chapel glow in diffused, golden autumn light during district meeting on Tuesday as the 1960s organ accompanied "I Need Thee Every Hour" - magical. It was like Hamburg was giving me a hug saying: 'Hi Grace. I know you've got a lil funky in this soul of yours. Welcome to the city where we want you to be just the way you are - your love of decades past, your need to take a minute to appreciate beautiful cars parked in the posh parts of town, your flowered Doc Martins, and all....'

I loved the slightly weird way that Schwester Moon motioned her hands as she was talking about Silver Gelatin - a chemical you can use with photography. Sister Wasden and I munched on the bizarre spinach twists offered to us in a woven reed basket with a "100% organic" sticker on it, and soaked in all of her advice.

I loved the familiar foam on my first Root Beer Float in over a year as we laughed at Schwester Pohl's Christmas light-illuminated dinner table. Homemade vegetable soup had preceded that magical first soft spoonful of root beer-y vanilla goodness and a fashion show from her extensive dress collection followed right after. We walked back to the S-Bahn station with full stomachs, cheeks aching from laughing, and a new dress for each of us. 

I loved the African peanut butter and pancakes that we ate with Janinna, a sweet and soft spoken recent convert. We each rocked a bun on top of our heads and talked about preparing to go to the Temple as her neighbor blasted Jimi Hendrix. 

I love the way Sister Wasden bounces down the stairs at every S-Bahn station. She's from Louisiana and she's hilarious and loves to speak German. She also loves photography, quoting Nacho Libre, and antique stores. Yes!  
God knew exactly what I needed. He always does, right? He is the Great Physician - always there to heal our broken hearts, to give us a loving pat on the back when we get discouraged, and to make us whole and full again. 

Your Hamburg Hunny, 
Sister Grace Hendricks