It’s likely that most would look at the length of this letter and skip over it, so I’ll put what’s important at the beginning.
These last two years have taught me infinite things and while I am grateful for the people I have met, the relationships I have made, the lessons I have learned, the struggles I have had, and the miracles I have experienced, I am most grateful for the opportunity to simply serve my Savior as He asked. Being a missionary has helped me to better understand that we can all be instruments in our Heavenly Father’s hands but it is all to glorify him. We are all unprofitable servants and our role is to give all of ourselves because we have already been given so much to begin with. I love my Savior. I know He lives. And I will live every future day of my life for Him.
I’m just going to jump right into it because this is going to be long.
Last Sunday after church we hit the road towards Bari and after 4 1/2 hours we were there and President began his interviews with the Zone. Anziano Draghi and I still had some things to plan out and practice for our training so we took that opportunity to put our heads together and figure out exactly what we were doing, seeing as the first zone conference would be the very next day! The first zone conference is always interesting. We get a picture for what works and what doesn’t. It’s helpful. Afterwards I unfortunately had to say goodbye to everyone and it was especially hard with Anziano Wiggins and Velardi, and don’t even get me started on my daughter, Sorella Gochnour. I’ll miss them all so much.
Immediately we headed out to Taranto which is only an hour drive away. That evening I took the opportunity to pass by a couple I had worked with almost my entire time in Taranto. The wife was always super active and strong in the church, but the husband was completely inactive. I struggled for months trying to work with him to rekindle that flame that was once in him as a returned missionary and all of the other great things he has done in the past but none of my efforts seemed to get through. When I called the wife to ask if they were home I didn’t even have to say who I was, she remembered me after only three words. I miss Taranto.
Anyway, we go over and right as I walk in I noticed there was something different. This man’s scraggly beard was now nicely trimmed, but more importantly there was something in his eyes now, something new. We got to talking and eventually touched on the recent temple trip a few weeks prior and as nonchalantly as I can describe I learn that he went too! I learn that this man in the last several months decided to close his shop on Sundays, come to church, participate in the meetings, and prepare himself to enter the temple with his wife for the first time in 6 years. There is no way to properly convey the joy I felt when I saw how much this man had changed in just a few shorts months. Repentance is real and it is possible through our Savior Jesus Christ and it is available to everyone.
Tuesday after zone conference in Taranto I had to say goodbye to everyone all over again and it was tough with Anziano Fryer and Anziano Melling. Then we immediately headed out to Napoli and after another 4 hours or so we made it.
Wednesday I had the opportunity to go out to Battipaglia and do an exchange with Anziano Rogler. I had such a good time. We were out walking in the hot sun, talking to people, sharing the gospel, and I just could not have been happier. In the process we also picked up some Mozzarella di Bufala which I unfortunately forgot when we left but regardless of that I had such a good time working with him.
Thursday was Napoli zone conference and I ate my very last Napoli pizza. Even if it wasn’t Pellone or Sorbillo, a Napoli pizza is always something that satisfies. Following conference the goodbyes commenced and it was tough with Anziano Bellucci, Anziano Haws, and my granddaughter Sorella Wood. Then we headed back to Rome and actually arrived in amazing time which gave Anziano Draghi and I time to complete all the mission reports and other things we needed to do.
Friday morning we jetted off to Sardegna and, yes, this time I brought my passport. We had Mario Andretti (aka Anziano Pesci) driving us with Anziano Raimondi from the airport to the church. Shortly after arriving Sorella Tacchi and her new missionary Sorella Greer show up with homemade chili for us!! I love Sorella Tacchi. Especially me being from Texas, I know my chili and she did a solid job. And Sorella Lalonde made us homemade Rice Krispy treats! I felt so spoiled.
Then all the missionaries began arriving for their interviews and I went out on an exchange with Anziano Sellers which turned out to be kind of a let down because there was almost no one outside! I enjoyed the heat and the sun but it much more enjoyable when you have people to talk to while you’re sweating through your shirt! Oh well. We still had fun. We had to pass by the church again for his interview and then we headed out again to catch up with other missionaries who were doing a gesso in centro. We arrived late and I knew I would have such little time before we would need to go so I just jumped right into talking to this man standing off to the side with his son. We had a great conversation and I learned he was close with missionaries in the past but feels like his life is just fine without religion. I testified to him that the blessings that await his family are infinite and are waiting at the door of baptism if he would be willing to step out in faith and open it. We then immediately needed to head out after I finished talking to him because we needed to head home and to my disappointment most of the missionaries had already left to go get post gesso gelato (a tradition to quickly grab a gelato on the way home after doing a gesso to celebrate or consolate whatever efforts came of the finding activity). I was so bummed!
Saturday was Sardegna Zone Conference and unfortunately we had some technical difficulties getting the projector to recognize the video input of president’s laptop so we improvised and it worked out just fine. The goodbyes in this zone were so tough because it was some my favorite Sorelle in the mission, Sorella Tacchi, Sorella DeMann, Sorella Palmer.The latter two are part of my mission family. And also there was Anziano Morrill, Anziano Allen, and Anziano Dunn.
Anyway, goodbyes are tough.
Sunday at church I was under the impression that I would be able to remain under the radar and no one would know it was my last Sunday. Well President Pickerd threw a dart right through that plan because he told the second counselor who then announced that I would be giving my testimony to close the meeting. Oh President Pickerd, always finding ways to have fun with me. Actually I was extremely grateful because at all of these zone conferences I bare my testimony in English but this time it would be in Italian. There is just something special about bearing testimony in Italian to Italians.
After church I had to say goodbye to Daniel, our new convert. I am going to miss him so much! That evening we went to see Benjamin one last time. We have grown really close, him and I, over these last 10 weeks. He is basically the head of the Jewish community in Rome and actually is keeper of the Torah at his home; before we left he let me hold the Torah and it was such a special moment. I was grateful to have had that honor. He calls me his American Jewish Mormon son.
Today was Rome East Zone Conference. This is the biggest Zone in the mission so it was a bit of a different experience than we had with Taranto or Sardegna but still great nonetheless. I had to say goodbye to Anziano Ridd, Anziano Farinotti, and others but luckily some of them, like Anziano Olsen and Sorella Dustin, I will be seeing soon because they finish in just two weeks. Also to my surprise Sorella Rhoades and Sorella Warner who are in Rome West zone came because of conflict with Sorella Warner’s permesso pickup date. I was so happy to see them but also so sad to have to say goodbye again!
Following zone conference I had my departing interview with President Pickerd. I love that man. He has changed my life. Tomorrow I head home and open a new chapter of life. What it holds I have no idea, but I am zealous to find out!
I love you all.
For the very last time,