Joyeux Noel! I hope that the Christmas season finds everyone filled with Christmas cheer and happy, snuggled up in a blanket drinking cocoa. Or whichever holiday traditions you love doing the most. I'm suuuuuper excited to Skype y'all on Friday!!!!! Yaaaaaaaay!
This week was the best.
Tuesday we went to the bureau to redo my Carte des Sejours (didn't go through last time), and I got to go to immigrations with the missionaries that came in the transfer after me. They're all super young, happy, zealous, friendly, and lovable. They are honestly some of my favorite people in the mission. Seriously, I hope one day I can get the chance to work with some of them, or even just be in the same apartment, because they are a blast.
Wednesday, we had a Zone Meeting, which was excellent as usual. Our zone is getting smaller and smaller (now, we only have 12 elders in the zone. Crazy.), but we all like being with each other. We practiced the Christmas sketch that we will be performing for the Mission Christmas party tomorrow, about Christ coming to the Nephites. I'm not really sure how to describe it. Pray for us? Yeah, that's a good description.
Friday evening and Saturday, we had exchanges. Elder Dakouri went over to Finagnon with Elder Mutombo, and I got to work with Elder Barnes in Akpakpa. Elder Barnes is American, and he's a cool dude. It was a nice breath of fresh air to have another American in the apartment, to talk about American things (home, girls, college, the mission, etc). He loved being in Akpakpa, and after every rendez-vous he said some variation of "That person is awesome". I told him that I could honestly spend my whole mission here, and at first he doubted me, but then he got to meet some of the people here, and he fell in love with the place. But not as much as I am. :)
Right now the biggest thing in our heads is Bertrand and Delphine. Their marriage is scheduled for the 24th, their baptismal interview for the 25th, and their baptism on the 26th. The way marriage works here, they've got basically one shot to get it right, and if someone messes up, they have to go back to square one. Needless to say, we are all praying hard. Pray that it'll all go well!
I'm trying to finish the French Book of Mormon before the end of the year. Right now, I'm in Alma 33, and I really want to read 3 Nephi 11 on Christmas day. Wish me luck! I testify that Le Livre de Mormon is the word of God. It is my favorite book! Share it! It can quite honestly change your life and bring you closer to God. If I've learned one thing from this most recent reading of the Book of Mormon, it's how much the Nephites anticipated the coming of Christ, and how excited they were for His coming! Wouldn't we all benefit from receiving Christ's Atonement as joyously as the Nephites anticipated Christ and His coming? Family, on top of the Luke 2 reading Christmas Eve (which I'll be doing too before I go to bed), I challenge y'all to also read passages from 3 Nephi 11 together sometime Christmas day.
So, this week, thanks to L'Amaten, Elder Dakouri got sick, and then as he was starting to get better, I got what he had. As a missionary, I hate getting sick. You don't have the strength to go out to the sector, but you're conscious enough to feel like you're wasting time lying in bed. We didn't get very many lessons in this week. Plus, I started to feel overwhelmed by how imperfect I was as a missionary; I make a lot of mistakes.
With that in mind, let's flash forward to Sunday. I played the piano for the branch, and I had a lot of fun playing the Christmas hymns and hearing the beautiful African Saints singing. Important insert: Huuuuuge thank yous to Sister Robins and her many years of patience teaching me how to play piano. She's the best. Kids, keep practicing the piano, keep at it, you've got no idea how important it is. To a more general audience, I would say, if you don't know how to play the piano, learn how. If you're learning the piano, keep practicing with joy in your fingers. If you've given up, pick it up and try again and keep going. Learn the hymns. You could literally spend your entire piano career learning hymns, and it would all be worth it for one Sunday to play for an African branch meeting. Practice, practice, practice, for this is a thing of importance. Sorry not sorry, anywho, I made several mistakes playing the hymns, and I felt kind of bad about distracting from the sacrament meeting. But afterwards, I had at least three people come up and ask me to teach them the piano, right then and there.
And, even though we didn't go out as much this week, we had a staggering 16 investigators at church. 16. That's the most I've ever had attend, and it's the most that Elder Dakouri has had here in Akpakpa.
All of these different miracles lead me to my Christmas message this week: We are not perfect. We make a lot of mistakes. If we sit down and count our imperfections, soon enough we'll cry ourselves into a puddle. There's just so much we have to do to become better, right? Maybe it would help to discover the perspective I found this week. This work is not our work, it's the work of the Savior. It is He who does the work, and it is He who brings about our resurrection and our redemption. And, most importantly, it is He who brings about our progression. We are simply the tools in His hands, and it is His grace that changes us into masterpieces. If we yield ourselves unto Him in entirety, He transforms us and we become miracles. Our conscious, joyous efforts in Christ may not necessarily change our circumstances. But they do change us. As we actively build our faith, repent, make and keep our covenants, strive to have the Spirit with us, and persevere, we are changed. So, if you find yourself burdened down by the lonesome burden of your life, or if you feel overwhelmed with your imperfections, or if you simply just don't feel the joy this holiday season, I invite you as an individual to keep practicing, practicing practicing. Practice, practice, practice.
One of my favorite stories: There once was a king who loved roosters. Why? No one knows. He loved roosters so much that he wished to have a grand painting of a majestic rooster hung above his throne. He gathered all the painters of the land and gave them a task: paint a portrait of a rooster. A week later, they all returned with their paintings. The king viewed them all, and, in astonishment, was disappointed. "None of these paintings are what I wanted," he said. He then called the three greatest painters in the world to his palace, and gave them the same task. A week later, each of the painters had their painting under a cloth, ready to present. The first painter unveiled his painting, and it was glorious, but the king said "No, not what I wanted." The second painter unveiled an even more glorious portrait, but the king shook his head and said "No." The third painter, perhaps a bit more wise, promised to unveil his painting only on the condition that the king would say nothing for ten minutes, and would simply look at the painting. The king agreed, and the painter pulled away the sheet. There was only a blank canvas. The king, confused and insulted, stayed silent nonetheless. The painter grabbed his brushes and his colored pallete, and began to furiously work. Stroke by stroke, he added a little bit more to the painting. Within ten minutes, there stood a portrait of a majestic rooster. The king stood, with tears in his eyes, and smiled. "This," he said, "is exactly what I wanted". Joy is found not in the results, but in the journey. :)
I can promise each of you that Christ lives. He is our Savior and Redeemer. Because of Him, we each shall be resurrected, return to His presence, and have the opportunity to live together forever as a family. Thanks to Him, we all can keep trying. We can keep practicing. That is the true reason we rejoice at Christmastime: we have the glorious promise of longstanding second chances and new days. I testify that He was sent by our loving Heavenly Father, who cares so very much for us. Come unto Christ.
From the bottom of my heart, I wish you all a very merry Christmas. I love you.