Germany can't decide what season it wants to be.
This whole week it was UNBEARABLY hot - and this morning we awoke to terrifying loud thunder, and it has been pouring ever since. Every European says that that is normal, though.
So, for the past while something abnormal has been happening to us mishanrys.
It all started a few weeks ago, when sitting on the Bahn. One or two people asked me or Sister Bishop or both, "Sind Sie zum Kirchentag hier?" Or whether we were there for "Kirchentag." Neither of us really knew what that meant, so we brushed it off for a while. But then it happened more and more - on the Bahns, when we talked to people on the street, etc., and then we noticed advertisements for the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag...hmm.
So after a while, through talking to some people, we figured it out. Every two years, the Evangelisch (Protestant) church of Germany hosts this giant conference in some city in Germany, where literally thousands and thousands of people (last time it was apparently around 100,000) come together to worship God, attend classes and workshops about Christ and the Bible, listen to music, and meet other people. And this year, it was in Stuttgart.
Thousands and thousands of Christians together to learn about Christ and meet new people.
IT'S LIKE MISSIONARY CHRISTMAS.
But seriously, we hadn't realized how big of a deal it was until we were on Schlossplatz, which was right in the middle of town, and we saw them setting up. Holy. Cow. We then changed some plans so we could spend as much time there as possible. In my whole Stuttgart career, I've never seen so many people. Also, a lot of people who were in Stuttgart for Kirchentag were wearing these red scarves, and so it was super fun and easy and non-threatening to walk up to those people and be like "Hey, are you here for Kirchentag?" and then we would strike up a conversation about their faith in Christ and how it has strengthened them, and we would get to share our testimonies with them as well. It was super cool. A lot of people would even stop us and ask us who we were and why we were there. We gave out SO many pamphlets, and it was just super fun. Also, just incredible. The fact that there were SO many people gathered together to talk about Christ just blew me away and warmed my heart. There were also a lot of people who would be like, "I don't know much about the Mormons!" And then we would explain stuff and everyone would just leave the conversation a little happier. Definitely a building-bridges event, I think. Sister Bishop and I decided it was kind of like a really huge German Women's Conference. We also planned tausch for that week, so I got to go on Sister Price's first tausch with her, who is from Utah. Way fun.
|The crowd at Kirchentag|
|Making a Bible page on a printing press at Kirchentag|
|Sister Price and Sister Bushman|
The last day of Kirchentag, we thought ahead and just prepped TONS of cards we could just hand out. We have these kind of larger pass-along cards that are great because they have pictures and words on them (Like "faith brings hope" with a picture of Christ or "Separated forever, or will we meet again?" with a woman at the grave) - since pass-along cards don't really say much. There were SO many Christian groups of various sorts who were just handing out stuff to everyone, so Sister Bishop and I took some time to join the fun. :) We gave out SO MUCH, and most people I saw reading the card as they walked away. Many even stopped and were like, "Well, who are you?"
|With the "fancy cards" we passed out|
Sunday was really crazy. And fun. And self reflecting-y yesterday. It all started in Relief Society (the order of meetings is backward here, so that is the first one,) when I was just sitting in the meeting minding my own business. And then, the door opening...and Grace and Suzanna Stephenson walked in (I grew up with Sue, and Grace is her older sister) and I just freaked out and ran to the back of the room and hugged them, even though the lesson had started. (Oops.) They are traveling through Germany and Austria right now, and planned a stop in Stuttgart on Sunday. So crazy! It was so surreal to have my real world and my real-er world somehow collide together. That, and a couple of other things that day, kind of helped me refocus perspective on who I am and why I am here, though. I got to translate for Suzanna and although it wasn't perfect, somehow blending my current world with my old one just made me regroup in my appreciation about where I am right now. Does that make sense? I got to honestly tell her how much I loved being there and how wonderful the work and the ward was - and that just felt good.
It was also testimony meeting, and a couple really wonderful things were shared. There was a sister who had served in this ward who visited with her whole family. She bore her testimony so beautifully of the gospel and her appreciation of her mission and the ward, and a family member of hers shared something that really stuck with me. He said that when you're a missionary, you start off by thinking that you are going to leave your stamp or mark or whatever on every area where you are. But as you spend longer in the field, you realize that you don't stamp the place, the place stamps you. It sounds super corny, but I feel like I'm never going to have my whole heart together again. Some of it is in the States, and some of it is in Austria, and now some is in Stuttgart, and I'm already in love with my next city full of the wonderful people I haven't even met yet, and I feel like wherever I am - back in the States or here (if I get the opportunity to come back,) my heart will always be splintered. It's sad, but at the same time, I feel really grateful to have been able to have my heart splintered.
There was another member of the ward who shared his testimony, and something he said really stuck with me and I hope I can re-articulate it decently enough. He talked about how when one tries to learn a new language, they have to practice a word like, 20 times to get it into their vocabulary. He then talked about how every year in Sunday school we study The Book of Mormon, New Testament, Old Testament, or D&C. We may feel like we've studied them so much that we should have it down and not keep studying it, but if someone starts going to normal Sunday School at age 20 and lives to be 80, then they have studied each book 20 times - enough times to get it down - just like learning a language. And then he added, "I think the language we're learning is love."
Just food for thought.