Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year!

Christmas lights by the Gare

Christmas Marche

Bonjour tout le monde!  I hope everyone had a great Christmas that was full of family, friends and maybe something French, you never know!  This week has been great.  Full of many things that I will always remember and a Christmas that I'll never forget!

The week was full of mangez-vous with members for Noel and Christmas contacting and porting.  We were able to go out and porte a lot at night and the new contacting method worked great

In our weekly letter to President Poznanski I explained an experience we had on Saturday night.  A woman answered the door and quickly said, "I don't believe anymore!"  As we started to testify and ask her questions, her heart was softened by the spirit and she became interested.  As we kept talking, the children came out and started to listen too.  We asked if we could pray and the children said, "Yes!"  It was amazing to see how the spirit could touch their hearts and then help them have the desire to learn more.  Also, we had the opportunity to sing last night for some families.  They even let us in.  The power of Christmas songs invites the spirit so fast!

We have been treated like kings during the holidays.  The members have fed us well.  Christmas Eve started out with lunch at a members named Aurelie.  I ate my first raclette, aka french cheeses melted on a burner with an array of meats, potatoes and other things that are good with cheese on it.   We had dinner with the Betrand family.  Brother Betrand is our Branch President and has an awesome family.  We had a spiritual thought, delicious food that started with an onion tarte appetizer, bacon wrapped green beans, lamb, cheese rounds and of course cakes and Buche de Noel.  Christmas day was no exception.  We ate another raclette, leg of lamb, sausage and more food than I can write about.  We were with the Bitanga's, Frere Augey and the Barnjack families.  They were all so nice and loaded us up with enough Ferrero Rocher's for the next month.  It definitely was different than any other Christmas I've had.  It gave us time to see what Christmas is really all about.  We all skyped and talked to our families and than, as missionaries, decided  that Christmas is all about family and how we are so thankful for the knowledge that families are together forever, even after this life.  I'm so grateful for all of you and want you to know how much I love and miss you.  You have helped me so much!  Thanks for your presents, letters, emails, and cards.  I was definitely spoiled this year. I'm so happy to be here in France and to be able to share the gospel and testify of the Birth of Christ.  That event has changed all of our lives so much!  I hope you all have a great week and a Happy New Year.

Bonne Annee...
The Betrand Family
Elder Player
Dinner on Christmas Eve at Aurelie's

The Bitanga Family
Can you pat your head and rub your stomach?
The Bitanga Family
Strombeek Crew
Christmas with Ezechias

The Barnjack Family

Christmas Morning

Monday, December 23, 2013

Joyeux Noel-Christmas Baptism

L to R...Me, Ezechias, Elder Cramer
and Souer Decaudin
After the baptism!

I hope the Spirit of Christmas has made its way into each of your homes.  I still can't believe that Christmas Eve is tomorrow.  It's definitely been a week of Christmas spirit and miracles here in Rouen!

We started the week off with a short hour and ten minute train ride to Paris.  We spent the day in Versailles at a Zone Conference.  We got to hear messages from President and Soeur Poznanski, have a Christmas feast and have a gift exchange.  President and Soeur Poznanski surprised us with letters from our families, an awesome object lesson about becoming the missionary the Lord wants us to be and a finally a little gift wrapped under our chairs.  As we opened it we saw a picture of the future temple in Paris with "France Paris Mission, written on it.  We quickly learned it was a temple recommend holder that has a quote by President Monson on it.  "Through your dedicated devotion at home or abroad, those souls whom you help to save may well be those whom you love the most."  President and Soeur Poznanski added, "We pray that you can find a day in the Paris Temple with these precious souls - we love you!"  That was an awesome present and I know that there is not one missionary that would not love to go to the temple with their amis! And for Elder Cramer and me that means with Ezechias, who was baptized this past Saturday and confirmed on Sunday!

Last week we were able to finish teaching all the commandments, have an interview and then the joyous day, Saturday, Ezechias baptism!  It was amazing.  We had over 20 members there and I've never seen someone so happy after he was baptized and confirmed.  Ezechias is awesome and I've decided our amis are like our children in a way.  We teach them everything we can and then it's up to them to make the best decisions with their free agency.  We are so grateful for how prepared, by the Lord, Ezechias was and for his decision to be baptized.  We know that one day we will go to the France Paris Temple together.  Ezechias was the answer to a prayer for us and for the Branch.  As Elder Ballard said in of his conference talk, "We are simply asking all members to pray, knowing that if every member, young and old, will reach out to just "one" between now and Christmas, millions will feel the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And what a wonderful gift to the Savior."

We received training at Zone Conference on a new way to contact during the Christmas season.  When contacting on the street we always bring up the birth of Christ and what it means to them.  If we are porting we ask if we can sing a song for them and then pray to invite the spirit of Christmas into their homes.  The French have always seen the movies of Americans who go around singing, but when two young men or women show up to do it they find it quite bizarre...but they like it!  It's amazing to see the miracles we've seen in just a few days using this new way for Christmas and it shows how Christmas does change people and opens them up.  Also, it's great for us because we both love to sing!

Yesterday, Sunday, after our meetings we had the Branch Christmas Party.  We had lots of delicious quiche, meats, cheeses, baguettes and of course Buche de Noel!  After, we all went caroling and were able to meet some awesome people.  We finished the night with the primary program and the little French kids are so awesome.  I must say I'm jealous of the 3 year olds and their capability to speak French.  We quickly became their best friends when they realized we had a bucket of candy a member had given us!  The members here are awesome and we will be well feed by the end of this week from all the food we eat over the next few days!
This picture was taken on the 20th of December!
Friends from the MTC

Elder Wood and me
It really has been one of the best weeks of my mission thus far.  Full of Christmas miracles and things that I well never forget.  I've heard about how cool it is to be a missionary during Christmas and now I can see why.  Between the members, our amis, and our leaders we could not have a better family, while we are thousands of miles away from our own.  I'm so grateful for the opportunity I have to be a missionary and to be a servant of the Lord who has given us so much.  I want to end with a scripture found in Matthew chapter 7 verses 9 through 11.

9.  Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone?
10. Or is he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
11. If ye then know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

I hope we can all reflect on the "good gifts" our Father in Heaven has given us.  Especially at this time of Christmas may we realize the most precious gift he has given to us all, his only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who through him we can be saved and live for eternity with our families.  I pray that we can all see the importance in our lives of the birth of Jesus Christ and how it has changed each one of us and for the blessings He's given to us.  I'm so grateful for everyone of you and for all you do for me.  Thank you for your love and support and may you all have a Merry Christmas/Joyeux Noel!

Elder Player

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mangez-Vous et Rendez-Vous a Rouen!

Bonjour!  I hope you all are having a great day and enjoying the winter weather that it seems a lot of you are having.  In Rouen it's still just cold with the occasional rain, but no snow yet.  We're hoping to get some for Christmas!  Our week here has been awesome and I just want to share a few of the amazing miracles we've seen!

First category this week:  Mangez-vous!
This week we have been spoiled with mangez-vous!  On Monday we had a mangez-vous with a member in our branch.  I'd heard stories from my brother, Randy, about raw French meat and I got to experience that this week!  We had frites, and then steak hache, or a ground beef patty that was cooked for 30 seconds on each side, and I have to say it was good!  Oh dear!  We finished with a salad which he said was fruit, but we thought that was odd since it had carrots in it, but I took a big helping and then later found out it was fruits de la mer (fruits of the sea) but it was still delicious and so nice of him!
Our second mangez-vous was with a new amis.   He is a referral from the soeurs.  We had to take a train to a little ville called Pavilly.   The first train was canceled so we had to wait about an hour.  We went to his house and after the lesson he told us he had some great fish soup to start with.  After making it through the fish soup we had the next course of some sort of meat in a gelatin.  "Eat it with bread," he said.  So, we tried it and found out it was like a spam.  Finally, dessert...a buche de noel.  This is a three chocolate ice cream cake that was delicious and quickly left our plates!
Our third and final mangez-vous was with a family from our branch.  We arrived and sat down to appetizers. Sausages, nuts and bread.  Shortly after we had a salad, which was a pain de poisson, or fish with cucumbers and tomatoes.  It was delicious and the presentations was amazing.  We had the main course next which consisted of steamed squash and veggies and then a big roast stuffed with French cheeses and ham. Oh was amazing.  The next course was a first for me and made me feel like I was really in France. It was the cheese course, a large platter with 5 or 6 different types of French cheese and of course fresh bread. By this point we were both stuffed but then came the dessert.  An almond pear tart that was delicious and they let us take the rest home!  To say the least we have been taken good care of this week and I can hardly wait for Christmas with all the good food!!!

Second category:  Ezechias
Ezechias is amazing and the most prepared person I have ever met.  We taught him last Tuesday.  We had given him a Plan of Salvation brochure that he had read and answered all the extra study questions in the back.  He wanted to ask a couple more questions...Wow...OK!  Thursday we decided to teach the Evangile of Jesus Christ.  At the beginning of the lesson we asked if he had any questions and he asked, "How do you do your baptism in this church?"  As we started to explain he pulled out a sheet with references of baptism he had printed off  He wanted to read them together.  We did and than we moved to repentance, and then the sacrament.  He asked why we don't use wine.  We introduced the Word of Wisdom.  He told us that he and his brother had a father who was a drunk and so they promised they would never drink, smoke, or do drugs and they never have.  Oh man!!!  As we finished the lesson we opened up the baptismal font to show him.  He looked so happy and then walking back to our chairs, he said, "I have one more question.  How long does a person have to meet with you to be baptized?"  We told him that you are ready after a couple more lessons and we usually have baptisms on Saturdays.  He asked, "Will the 21st of December work?"  So this coming Saturday Ezechias will be baptized and on Sunday be confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints!  He described the experience to the members yesterday and to us again this morning.  He told us he has seen the truth come into his life with so much light and happiness.  His testimony is amazing to hear and I'm so thankful for him and how prepared by the Lord he is!

Third category:  Henri
It was the 31st of July, 2013 when I was on an exchange with Elder Wilson.  While on the tram we saw a new development and felt like we should go port there.  At the first door we met the Sonan Family.  Henri, Caroline, Yanik and Julie.  Henri had just gotten home from Chicago and was jet lagged.  Elder Daivs and I came back a week later.  We learned that he had just become a US Citizen, was a professor for BioChem research at the University in Chicago and was flying back and forth to work and be with his family.  As we taught them they were interested and had seen something about the MTC on the TV and wanted to learn more.  After three lessons with them Henri told us he had to go back to Chicago for the semester and would return in December.  We asked if missionaries could come and see him in Chicago and he said, "Yes."  We took all his information and sent it the the missionaries there.
I called Elder Eldredge to see if my Belge license had come yet.  He said, "No, but I have to tell you this. Last Sunday we had just come out of DMP meeting and we saw a man standing there.  He came up and asked for Elder Davis and Elder Player.  Elder Eldredge explained that we had left but they were the missionaries there now.  He said, "I'm Henri!"  Elder Eldredge thought for a minute and then remembered passing by to see Caroline and the kids and see if they wanted to come to church.  Henri was now back in Belgium and explained, "I just wanted to show these pictures to Elder Davis and Elder Player of my baptism and thank them for introducing me to the gospel."  Holy Cow!!!  Coolest thing I've ever heard.  He is now baptized and an active member.  His family is probably moving to Chicago with him soon.  His wife is being taught up in Belgium right now!  I was in shock and so excited to email him today and see the pictures of his baptism.

Fourth and Final Category:  Miracles and Misc.
We got to teach some amazing people the gospel this week including:
Fatumada, who said she can feel peace and let her problems go when she is able to talk about the gospel and read the Book of Mormon with us.
Christonvie who we made the 1 hour journey by bus to Neuf Chatel to teach him.  We had an awesome lesson and he wants to be baptized but needs to talk to his parents first...understandable.
Thereza and Augusto.  When we taught Thereza we left a Book of Mormon.  When Augusto saw his mom's Book of Mormon he asked if  he could have one and then stayed and participated in the lesson and offered a prayer when we were finished...awesome!
Last door last night we got in to teach Quentin.  He is 25 and a graphic designer.  He was never taught about God growing up and has been searching for a knowledge lately.  He loved talking with us and we are going back this week.  (To get to his apartment you enter a gate, climb up all these stairs, go through several reminded us of waiting to get on a ride in Disneyland!)
Also, we got to run to catch trains and then find out they were canceled, sing Christmas songs with the Soeurs (We have a new soeur, Soeur Castillo from Canada...she's great) and of course got to serve and see more of Rouen!

It has been a great week with miracles happening in Rouen.  Tomorrow we are off to Paris for the day for Zone Conference.  It's with 80 missionaries from 4 zones!  It will be awesome to get to see people from the MTC and Strombeek..  I hope you all have a great week, especially my dad!  Happy Birthday tomorrow, Dad! Thanks for all of your love and support and I hope you are all ready for Christmas next week!!!

Love you all-Bisous!
Elder Player
Elder Cramer and me at the place we email each week!

Monday, December 9, 2013

I'll be in Rouen for Christmas & the miracle of Ezecias

Another transfer has come and gone and I'll be staying here in Rouen with Elder Cramer!  I'm so glad I'll be spending Christmas here...It will be great!  This last week in Rouen has been awesome and we have seen some amazing miracles with some amazing people.

It's Tuesday morning and we've changed our district meeting in Mantes from 11 to 1 so we can teach a lesson to our two amis, Richmond and Harietta, at the church.  On Monday night we called a member to be there to help give a tour of the church and teach with us.  Everything was perfect.  While on the metro to the church we realized that the Soeurs had the key to the church so we called them and asked if they could meet us there but, sadly, they were already in Le Havre.  Next we called the member who was coming to bring his key.  As he answered we were disconnected before we could ask him to bring his key.  We got to the church about 10 minutes early and waited while watching our breath in the cold.  A man walked by and kinda stopped, then continued but then stopped again and looked at the church.  We went up and asked if he needed help finding anything.  He said no.  We went on to explain that we were the missionaries for the church here and would he like to come in for a tour, even though we had no keys.  He quickly replied yes! We started to walk to the door with him in tow and right behind him walked up our member, Tarolin, who was early and had a key.  We gave him the tour and during it received a call from Harietta saying they would have to change the rendezvous for another day.  That meant we had time to teach him.  As we talked to Ezechias we learned that somebody from America had told him about the church and he was wanting to check it out and we were there!  He had already read all of Moses and Abraham online and loved it.  He had notes about our church and we gave him a Book of Mormon in French and English because he's from Sweden and speaks English.  We set up a rendez vous for Thursday.  Tarolin told us after he got the call from us he felt he needed to hurry to the church and bring his key.  This was a miracle...two missionaries were standing outside the chapel when Ezechias walked by, a key came at the exact moment we invited him to have a tour, his friend had told him about the church the day before and our other rendez vous fell through. It was the strongest example I've seen of how the Lord is always involved in the work and he places people in our path at times when they are ready.

As Thursday arrived we planned to teach the Plan of Salvation helping him with the three questions of Where did I come from, Why am I here and Where am I going after this life?  As we started the lesson we asked if he had read any of the Book of Mormon since Tuesday.  He had read quite a bit in fact.  As we continued he explained he was trying to find the origin of where our church was from and he started showing us the index in the Book of Mormon that shows lineage, etc.  We decided to switch to the Restoration and we are sure glad we did.  The lesson went great and as we described Joseph Smith and his questions of what church he should join he said he had that same question and had tried different churches but none were right for him. We continued to explain what happened with the first vision and then Tarolin started bearing his testimony and told his conversion story.  It was so powerful.  At the end the spirit was super strong and we asked if he found out that these things were true would he be baptized.  He responded with a yes!  We talked about the family and how they can be together forever.  He was so happy to hear that and said it offered him so much peace.  We invited him to church on Sunday and fixed a rendez vous for tomorrow and this Thursday too!

On Sunday, December 8th, we had an event that we've been planning for a long time.  The members were to invite a friend to come learn more about our church.  All the lessons and talks were especially prepared about the Living Christ, the Family Proclamation and conversion stories.  It was amazing!  Promptly at 9:30 Ezechias showed up in a suit and tie and boy was he ready.  During the lessons he took notes, participated and when they used a Book of Mormon scripture he'd pull out his and look it up.  After the meetings We asked how it was and what he felt.  He said that it was glorious and loved it.  He then asked if he could come back next week...Sweet!  He continued to talk to members for the next hour and when we checked on him he was talking to a member about the construction of the church.  It used to be part of the cathedral but was renovated and the font was put up by the pulpit under the floor.  (You have to pull up the floor in a few spots and then it's in the ground.  Ezechias said, "So that's where I'll be baptized!"  Music to our ears!  I can't wait to teach him again tomorrow!

This for me has been one of the biggest miracles I've seen on my mission.  He's so prepared and it's obvious to me the Lord is helping to make this all possible.  I know the Lord prepares people to receive his gospel at certain times and I'm so thankful that I get to be a missionary and see how the Lord does it and how much he loves us all!  This was just one of the many experiences this week but I wanted to share this one!

That's about a wrap here!  I hope you all have a great week and enjoy the winter weather wherever you may be!  Thanks for all your prayers and support!  They are felt!
Love you all
Elder Player

Other things that happened during the week:
-We sang outside the church with the Soeurs and members, -a man was listening and we asked if he needed anything.  He responded, "No, I just want to listen to the music cause there's not much left in the world that's spiritual but I can feel the spirit from the music"  Music can touch the hearts of people and bring the spirit always!
-Had an amis bring a friend to a lesson who told us her brother in law is a mormon and she was interested to learn more!
-Did service for a lady named Thereza by cleaning her balcony.  She showed us pictures from the bombing here in 1944 when she was 20 in which her parents died.  Crazy to see the devastation!
-Had an American couple from Tremonton, Utah attend church yesterday!
-Taught Beatrice, an 85 year old widow and sang Silent night with her.  Made our night!
-Last Monday for P-Day we saw the huge cathedral here and toured the place where Joan of Arc was held captive during her trial!
District Meeting with number of transfers

The huge cathedral here in Rouen.  Monet did some
of the art work!
The Christmas Market

Another view of the Cathedral

Beatrice who is 85!

Thereza who we did service for!

The room where Joan of Arc was
held captive during her trial

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving in France and It's Already December!

This is our Thanksgiving Food Table!
Thanksgiving in Rouen!
Bonjour!  I hope you have all had a great week and been able to eat lots of turkey, good food, do lots of Black Friday shopping and get ready for the best time of the year....Christmas!  We've had a great week here in Rouen and with an exchange and Thanksgiving it flew by.  It's crazy that it's December already. There are still tons of leaves on the trees and they are just starting to fall off.

This week started with some contacting.  On Tuesday we met two awesome woman, Richmond and Hairietta.  They were super interested and loved the Book of Mormon when we showed them it.  We are teaching them and their families tomorrow morning at the church and I can't wait.  We took off for our exchange after that.  It was in Mantes again and was on Tuesday and Wednesday so our whole district was in one apartment.  (Six of us)  I was with Elder Guymon this time and he's awesome.  He's been out about 18 months.  We ended up missing our train so that gave us a little more time to get to know each other better.  We did some porting and then turned around and took a train back to Rouen.

We were given a food assignment for Thanksgiving, which was meat and potatoes, so we were looking for ta whole turkey.  We went to quite a few boucherie's (meat markets) and a grocery store.  When we asked for whole turkeys they looked at us like we were crazy.  Finally, we found a place that would order them for Christmas but they cost 75 euros, so we decided that turkey wasn't going to happen.  We started looking for a ham, but the same problem, honey hams don't exist and whole hams were about 70 euros.  So, no ham either.  Finally, we found some "bone in" pieces of pork for about 20 euros and decided we would make a glaze.  So on Thursday morning we started cooking.  We got the meat going, made the glaze, peeled a ton of potatoes and even had an apartment inspection by 10:30 a.m.  We left the apartment with large pots of potatoes, gravy, meat and hot pads and took off for the metro.  To say the least we got some weird looks but one person did say, "Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!"  We made it to the church, had our district meeting and then had a wonderful feast.  There were 14 of us there.  We had 2 tables of food and it was so delicious and fun to all be together.  We played games and ate until 6:00 p.m.  After we had the church cleaned up, we walked out and all the Christmas lights had been turned on and the Christkindle Markt was open in front of the Cathedral.  Every street in Rouen has tons of Christmas lights, crepes, and chestnut stands are all over.  It will be a great place to be for Christmas!  We finished the night by visiting a member and giving a spiritual thought and contacting on the way back.  It was a great day!

Friday we had a great lesson with Orion and a member went with us.  Tarolin shared his conversion story and his testimony.  The spirit was really strong as we talked about Faith, Repentance and Baptism.  We asked if she'd be baptized on the 21st of December.  She said she wasn't ready but she'd pray about it to see if it was right.  Tarolin asked if we could stop by a friend who lived close by.  We did and gave her a Book of Mormon and will try to see her again this week.  We would love to teach her and her family.  We had our weekly planning and turned our door and windows, that lead out to the balcony, into a giant white board.  We listed all of our amis and marked when we taught them and the progress they are making.  It was awesome to the the progress we have made in the 5 weeks we have been together.  We had PEC with the branch and then called it a day.

Saturday and Sunday were great!  We had set seven rendez vous (untypical) but only 2 happened. (typical) We taught a young man that we met a month ago, Christonvie, and he really loved the restoration.  He accepted a soft baptismal invite.  That means after he prays and knows it's true he will be baptized...sweet! Later that night we taught Michael and his husband, Franck, yes you read that right.  It was different but turned out pretty good and we'll be going back this week.  Some of the highlights of this lesson were, a Dalmation, who was jumping all over us, a tortoise cage in the living room and a a bird that started flying laps around us and than landed on my freaked me out to say the least!  Church on Sunday was great and I'm loving the branch here.  There are 50 members that come every week and I've finally got most of their names down.  Luckily, you can always say, "Frere or Souer" if you need to.  Last night we had DMB and our branch mission leader talked about one of amis that the sisters are teaching.  She is about 85 and not really progressing but he said something that I really loved.  It's not just success if an ami makes it to baptism but you need to remember the work you're doing will have an eternal impact.  By bearing testimony to these people you are preparing them to receive the gospel.
Our White Board
Some of the meat & potatoes we fixed!
Our Senior Couple - Bro. & Sis. Piepgrass
Our Thanksgiving Pies!

The Souers and me!
 If not now then in the spirit world.  All this from bearing your testimony.  It was awesome and we are so lucky to have him work with us!

Overall, it was an awesome week.  The work is progressing and our amis are amazing and being prepared to accept the gospel.  Acceptance might come now or later but the testimony and spirit they feel will always stay with them.  Thanks for all of your love and prayers.  I love and miss you all and still can't believe it's December.  Have a great week!

Elder Player