Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Elder Pickett is OK! (but won't be emailing today)

Zone Training (Elder Pickett is way in the back!)

Nothing like checking my phone in the early hours of the morning to see if Brad’s email has come through and squinting at the tiny screen and seeing the words… “Elder Pickett is OK!”  Moment of panic. But we appreciate Elder Merrill (from his District) emailing us and letting us know why we wouldn’t hear from Brad!

Hello Pickett family,
I know you might be thinking "Hey....this isn't my son!" but don't be alarmed. Elder Pickett was vomiting and suffering last night, and in order to regain his health before our training tomorrow in Prague, he decided to stay in all day to rest and recover. I believe you would approve. He asked that I email to tell you that he is alive some extent. :) He'll recover soon, I'm sure. 
I sure like Elder Pickett. Thanks for sending him out here!

Our anticipated Christmas Day Skype was the perfect way to start our Christmas Day and here’s a few highlights from the visit:

  • On Christmas Eve, our district celebrated at our Bishop’s house and had Halusky  and Christmas Day we had crepes for lunch. The Czechs celebrate on Christmas Eve so that is when we opened our presents.  I laughed when I opened the inside joke “bear” from Caroline and I had to explain it to Elder Croney!  (Caroline and Brad would sneaky hide the larger stuffed bear shown in the picture in each other’s rooms.  Caroline really wanted to sneak it in Brad’s suitcase when he was leaving for the MTC but there was NO extra room!  So she made him a mini version.)

  • I really like going on exchanges with other missionaries in our Zone.  It was especially good to go back to C-Bud (his first area) and see how the work is going.  It was great to exchange with Elder Smith, from my MTC District.  His Czech skills are amazing and he’s read the dictionary and so he knows a lot of random, academic Czech words.  The Czechs are amazed when he uses them! 
  • It’s been really cold recently.  The temperature isn’t too bad but the humidity is really high and it just makes it so cold.  We like to talk and contact people on the buses where it is not so cold.  I am getting more confident in these contacts, I like to ask people how they are doing and then I tell them what I am doing as a volunteer for my religious beliefs.  Christmas time has been a great time to talk about Christ.
  • The Czech Republic is said to have one of the highest percentages of atheists in Europe, but a lot of those Czechs really are agnostic, in that they believe in something, they just don’t necessarily want to call that a belief in God.  And the baby Jesus brings presents on Christmas Eve, not Santa, which is interesting in a country with a high reported number of atheists.
  • The Bishop of the Plzen ward is great, we really like working with him and he trusts the missionaries a lot.  He gives us assignments and we work together really well.  I am playing the piano after church for choir practice, which is mostly just the missionaries.
  • Elder Croney is a great companion. He is working hard to the end of his mission and he loves serving and doesn’t want to talk about leaving.  (His release date is in 2 weeks.)  We work so well together because our strengths and weaknesses match up. 
  • We live in these packed apartment buildings leftover from the Communist era that exist in a lot of Czech cities.  We call them the panelák jungle.    (Here is some info:  Paneláks resulted from two main factors: the postwar  housing shortage and the ideology of Czechoslovak leaders to foster a "collectivistic nature."  Between 1959 and 1995, planners from the Communist era built paneláks containing 1.17 million flats in what is now the Czech Republic. They house about 3.5 million people, or about one-third of the country's population.)

  • (from Elder Terry/ Brad’s former companion who also serves in Plzen): "This week we are going to a hotel owned by a member in a small village outside of Prague and will be there as the entire mission from Wednesday to Friday morning. We will have training, a talent show and will even watch a Czech fairy tale. We are super excited." 

Elder Pickett getting his Christmas present package at a Zone Training Meeting

  • From Sister Gunnell: "Zone Training today featured a great explanation of Czech Christmas traditions. They have some really fun traditions! Christmas is actually celebrated on December 24. Ježíšek 'Little Jesus' (the Czech version of Christkindl) brings presents during the Christmas Eve dinner and leaves them under the Christmas Tree.  Dad goes to see if baby Jesus has come and then he has the family all come in and find their gifts. President Pohořelický played Santa (baby Jesus) and made everyone wait until he found all the packages. They were locked in the kitchen! So much anticipation and fun!" 

We asked Brad to pronounce President Pohořelický’s name for us.  Our Skype connection had a slight delay and between that and the difficult pronunciation (we asked him to say it 4 times), we have decided to just continue to call him Pres P.

Brad got to see and interact with his new niece Sadie for the 1st time!  We have sent pictures, of course, but it was fun for him to talk to her and get her to smile.  His comment was, "Wow, she has really big eyes!"  

Pictures from Swan Lake ballet from last week’s Culture Night

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Eve Is Coming Soon!

We also went to the Christmas markets again.

This is short because it’s been a busy week. The next couple weeks will be even busier with back to back trainings and the holiday week coming up. We will have a fun training with President P.  Spiritual on Thursday, fun next week.
  • ·         For Culture Night we went and saw Jules perform in Swan Lake, “Labutí Jezero.”  He did a great job.  He is our investigator from England. He is really cool and really sincere, and we will keep meeting with him after the Holidays. Hopefully things go well, because he is awesome.
  • ·         It's been cloudy the last few days and quite cold. On our morning run today we were slipping a bit on some partially frozen sidewalks. It has snowed a bit, but it hasn't really stuck at all. Which is good and bad. 
  • ·         For Christmas, we have a lot of member visits we are hoping to make happen, some Christmas caroling, and some service. Not super productive to walk around talking to people when no one will be out, and we have been asked to not tract, because Christmas time with family is almost sacred for Czechs.
  • ·         The members here are fabulous, and we are going to be working on referrals and working closely with them a lot more moving into next year. I am really excited about all of that. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is a great one, we sang it a billion times in the MTC last year
  • ·         Our Bishop is super awesome and has volunteered his house for skyping, so we will be going over there in the afternoon. Probably at 4:30 or 5 our time, so that you can make it to church too.  (a lot of today’s email had to do with plans for our Skype chat!)

  • ·         I love getting the pictures that you email! I don't have time to respond to them all, but I always look at them, and they are super fun. A nice little update on what's going on.

  • ·         Czech traditions- Czechs have the best carols. They cook and eat carp on Christmas. They all gather and have the main part of Christmas on the 24th. Baby Jesus comes to give them presents, the Czechs don't do Santa. They have a lot of other fun little things about how their fortunes will go next year (cutting and apple and looking at the pattern, putting candles in walnut shells and floating them on water, throwing shoes at the door to see if they will leave the house) They also bake a billion little delicious Christmas cookies. And finally they watch a bunch of Czech fairytales, which are apparently really funny.

We had a Christmas party on Friday! It was really fun, and a good number of people came, which was great. Elder Terry & Elder Merrill are Wise Men.
My spiritual thought is from my Dad.  He shared  Moroni 10:17 : "And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will. " My Dad reminded me that if we desire it, we can develop more spiritual gifts and be willing to share the gifts to bless others. But if we seek to bless others, Heavenly Father is going to allow us to be instruments in His hands, and that includes developing and using spiritual gifts for others. Going along with this thought, I had the opportunity to give a blessing last night and I am always grateful for opportunities to use the priesthood. Not because it makes me feel important, but because I always feel the Spirit strongly and I feel like it helps me to practice understanding revelation from Heavenly Father. It is a great blessing.

See you on Sunday!   -Elder Pickett

Anti-Communist Statue photo by Elder Croney

Elder Croney took a beautiful selfie and eats a giant hamburger.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Week in Pictures Again

Christmas decor from home...I put the pictures too close together at the top, but I think that it still looks just fine.

Elder Pickett & Elder Croney at Mission Leadership Council (MLC) in President's house with Elder Sabin, a member of the 70 (from November)
  • It is interesting to hear a little bit about the craziness of all that stuff going on the US. I am content to stay here and see all the stuff that I am seeing.
  • It is generally cold, with a little snow last week, but none this week. And warm today. Strangely warm. 
Pilsen in the snow.
  • The Christmas markets are on a roll and providing good opportunities for Christmas shopping. I will be sending Christmas, but it will arrive late. Here are some pictures of nativities, big ones in the back, but they don't have the full manger scene and I kind of like the wood cut-outs better. My favorite for myself is the one in the middle back. The little red and white one looks like a little Czech town.  Also, you can't see but there is a Czech woman crouching behind the counter because she didn't want to be in the picture. She didn't like that we were from a church, but we didn't try to proselyte to her, so it was okay in the end. The nativity is for you Mom and based on whatever is your favorite option.

  • And we had some really tasty food at a hotel over the weekend. We went to an overnight Missionary Leadership Conference at a hotel owned by a member. It is about an hour outside of Prague. We were there for Friday and Saturday morning. We also had some members come on Friday evening and we had a combined training/discussion about members and missionaries working together and how we can help them. It was pretty fabulous.

 The view looking away from the hotel

  •  Raul, a member in Prague. I was on an exchange with Elder Tingey and we taught with Raul. He is from Ecuador, but has lived in the Czech Republic for 14 years, so he speaks excellent Czech as well. He is really awesome, and reminds me a lot of Dad.

  • Not sure about how the visit is going to work on Christmas but we will be Skyping. We will hopefully hear more about it this coming week so that I can give you details next week.

 This view from last week was from our district breakfast. 
We went to a cafe on top of the tallest building in Plzen

My spiritual thought for this week and I can't say it any better than Elder Holland from April 2015 General Conference that this life has purpose and that God has a plan prepared for each one of us.
“What a plight! The entire human race in free fall—every man, woman, and child in it physically tumbling toward permanent death, spiritually plunging toward eternal anguish. Is that what life was meant to be? Is this the grand finale of the human experience?
The answer to those questions is an unequivocal and eternal no! With prophets ancient and modern, I testify that “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” [..] God the Father of us […] designed our eternal happiness. It was part of His divine plan, which provided for a Savior, the very Son of God Himself who would come in the meridian of time to atone for Adam’s transgression. That Atonement would achieve complete victory over physical death, unconditionally granting resurrection to every person who has been born or ever will be born into this world. Mercifully it would also provide forgiveness for the personal sins of all conditioned upon repentance and obedience to divine commandments.”
Thanks for the emails and for all your support and great spiritual counsel. I really appreciate it every week.  -Elder Pickett

From Elder Croney: Us after one of the most mindblowing conversations of my mission (not in a good way) This lady was crazy and scaring us...haha :))

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas

A picture with Věra in C-Bud

You can basically expect a Christmas themed email title for the next few weeks. It is by far the easiest time I have had coming up with one. Hope you all had an amazing week, because I certainly did! I will just get right into it, because I also have a lot of pictures today.
  • We had our district meeting on Tuesday this week, because Elder Croney and I were gone on Wednesday, and that was really good. We talked about how we can use Christmas in our finding and how we can help spread the Christmas Spirit and the Spirit of Christ with that. It was a good one. Elder Croney is good. He isn't trunky (missionary lingo for focusing on heading home since this is his last transfer of  his mission) at all, and we work well together. 
  • We had a chalk display near the city center. Elder Croney and I were called over by a semi-drunk man with his girlfriend (or maybe wife, not sure). He offered us alcohol, and when we refused he took us to a bakery and bought us delicious treats. That was a little unexpected. We got something pretty small and then he bought us something else "for the road." He told us he respected us for our dedication and wanted to pay us back a little bit. That was unexpected, but not unappreciated.
These are the pastries that we got from the man on Tuesday

  • Wednesday we woke up at 4:30 to work out and then drive to České Budějovice. We had to pull over at one point so that we could wake ourselves up a little bit in the frigid morning air (see pictures of the car thermometer, it is in Celcius). But we made it, and had a great exchange. The missionaries in C-Bud are doing awesome work, and I got to go on an exchange with Elder Smith, from my MTC group, who is practically 100% fluent in Czech already. He has some serious skills. We had a great time together, and met some really cool people. I got to say hi to a few members and visit some good restaurants there (maybe I sent pictures of the giant, unhealthy hamburgers with 3 patties?). It was great to be back there, even for just one day. I love that city.
 Elders Pickett & Croney and C-Bud Elders Lovell & Smith 
It was really cold on the car ride. It got down to -8

  • Our weather is the 20s. All day long for the past 2 days. That is cold. We had frost on the ground yesterday morning, and then it never melted. It just stayed frozen. Madness I tell you.
  • We also had a great lesson with an investigator on Saturday, and he came to church the next day. He is really sincere and really cool as well. Sunday evening we had everything fall through and ended up talking to people on a tram (because it is hard to find people anywhere else on Sunday nights) where we met some really cool people. That ended up being a really good experience. 
  • It is really fun to ask people what their favorite part of Christmas is, and really easy to tie that into Christ. Also, stopping people and just asking how they are doing is a good one, especially on public transportation. I have had some really good discussions with that. When we are out and it is cold, we bundle up a lot. And also spend a good amount of time on trams and buses. Czechs are tough, so they are still out in the cold.
  • President P has emphasized with us to really teach people who God is, so that they can understand what it means to have a relationship with Him.
  • The Christmas markets sell so many things like crafts, woodcarvings, lots of food, clothing, etc. They are busy all the time, they were really busy the night of the tree lighting because that was an event. They are not usually quite that crazy full.
  • My Christmas tree is here, we are going to put it up today probably.  I am glad to hear the exciting plans that people have for Christmas. It is weird for me, because it is so close to Christmas time, but at the same time this is such a different Christmas environment than I am used to. But still a great one.  For Light the World, on Dec 1 we went and picked up trash here on the streets for a while, it was fun.
My spiritual thought for the week comes from Nephi. It is a classic scripture, 1 Nephi 3:7. It essentially teaches that when the Lord asks us to do something, he prepares a way so that we can do it. I have certainly found this to be true on my mission. The Lord asks a lot out of us, but it is because He knows our potential, not because he wants to frustrate us. He helps and supports us on our path towards perfection and eternal life. Sometimes I think we forget that it really is a path, and not just a canyon we have to jump across. So my challenge to you all is to keep on the path, and rely on the Lord during your weak moments, because He is there to support you. Thanks for all the prayers and support!

-Elder Pickett

Our view at breakfast