Called to serve in the Adriatic North Mission.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

We found the closest thing to Costco that Bankaluka has to offer 
(i.e. bulk products for cheap). The huge size Milka bars were about 
2 dollars at the most. HEAVEN. Family, get ready to love me.

You may or may not be wondering why I haven't written a big letter in a million years; the truth is, I don't really have a genuine excuse for that. I get distracted a lot. By my mission.

The reason for this letter is to attempt to say something meaningful, seeing as this is basically my last email home before... I'm home. What a foreign concept. This would be a lot easier if I actually felt like I was leaving soon, but my heart is under the impression that this Thursday when transfers are announced, my name will be assigned to any of a number of BALKAN cities and next week I will do the normal thing and get a new companion and stuff. But I would be kidding myself if I submitted to that belief.

SO. In an effort to avoid pouring out the rampage of emotions that are churning through my soul (I will name just a few: excitement, depression, nervousness, severe apprehension, irrepressible joy, fear), I want to bear a firm testimony and then exit as peacefully as possible.

Ha ha.

I think one of the most succinct ways to express what I feel is found in the scriptures. My chosen passage comes from the Book of Mormon. It is Ether 12:4--

 Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
Sure and steadfast. This means trusting in the Lord. This means that when things are hard and the summer is blazing hot, you just keep on going. Or when the temptations are swirling and you want to forgo the rules for a bit of "fun" or because you need a "break", you turn yourself around and walk away. When you're in the moment, you really don't think you have the willpower (in Finnish, that is called sisu) to get your carnal and devilish self out of there, but I promise you, you will be able to succeed. God doesn't put us in situations so He can have a good giggle as He watches us struggle pitifully with something that we don't have the power to overcome; no, with every trial, there is a solution. There is the strength to go on. It just probably won't come from your own self. So where in the world do we find it? HINT: LOOK UP. 
I'll see you all eventually (some sooner, some later, some not till the afterlife). Be good.
Црква је истинита!
Сестра Вац
     I used that squatty toilet thing! I feel accomplished.

I said farewell to Elder Porter for the next 6 months at least :( 
He is from my MTC group and also happens to be hilarious.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Katarina has not written a post for her blog in awhile (must be pretty busy), so here are some excerpts from her last couple of letters to us:

Last Monday:

As far as Easter dinner goes, for lunch we had some pasta mixed with eggs, cooking cream, and Russian salad from the freezer that I made. It was actually really good. And dinner was a carrot and some Easter Milka chocolate, I think, because we were still full from lunch. Our senior couple left after church to take some members to the temple in Bern, Switzerland to do endowments (one of them for the first time! Hallelujah!), otherwise they would have fed us something nicer. But the temple is a great excuse! P.S. teaching temple prep in Serbian is something I never would have expected to end up doing, but it happened! Cool.

Oh yeah. Serbs celebrate Easter on May 1st this year, so it was just us and the Catholics celebrating. Actually, I wasn't even thinking to celebrate, and just do what we did for Christmas and celebrate it when the general population does. Then yesterday morning I realized... I won't actually be here for their Easter. But I'll celebrate with Sunny! Funny story: yesterday (Sunday) morning, I was ready for the day early (as is my habit on Sundays since we don't exercise), so I was reading the new Liahona. I had the Lamb of God on in the background (I listen to it more than anything else-- it is the best religious music ever), and I came to the last page, where there is an excerpt from a talk about the Resurrection. In the midst of reading it, I realized that the song "I am the Resurrection" had come on, and so I laughed and decided it was a sign from God that resurrection should be my theme of study and pondering for the day. Fast forward to halfway through personal study, I am immersed in all the scriptures I can find concerning resurrection, and it FINALLY hits me that today (yesterday) is EASTER! I had COMPLETELY forgotten! I cannot explain to you how hilarious and amazingly significant that revelation was. I guess Heavenly Father was trying to remind me all morning, but I was too dense to realize it. 

#Hallelujah ! Love you both.

March 21:

 I had a dream that I showed up at the airport and only you, dad, and Clayton were there to meet me, and you weren't even excited. And then you told me Jens "tested 125% positive for insanity" (direct quote from dream-you). And then we went home and I sat on Facebook all day. Needless to say, I don't really feel like coming home very much. Life is hard here, but it's a much easier kind of hard. Much less dramatic and worldly.

This week was a great one! I'm glad to be a missionary regardless of what happens, though. I have felt such a love for my mission recently, stronger than ever. 

We got to bear some serious testimony to a woman the other day whose husband recently died. It was not an experience I've gotten very many times on my mission where we're in a contact on the street and the Spirit testifies so strongly and the 3rd party listens so intently. At the end she said, "I wish that what you're telling me is true" and we said it is! And we read from the Book of Mormon and asked her to pray about it. We did all we could for her, and then left it up to her agency. She said she would do what she asked, but she couldn't meet with us at this point in her life. She's too busy. But we're praying for her! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Just a short one this week because I haven't written in forever. 

Our hearts were broken last Wednesday when our investigator on date to be baptized last Saturday, the 27th, texted and said she wouldn't be joining our church. Her parents apparently reacted very strongly against her becoming Mormon, and she doesn't want to go against their will. We've done a lot of mourning and praying, trying to figure out why this happened. All I know is that Heavenly Father's love is real and He lets us choose what we want in life so that we can learn and grow. While I'm not ready to say that I'm grateful for this experience, we've learned a lot from it. I so hope and pray that she comes back. If anyone was ready to be baptized, it was she. 

We've seen a lot of blessings this week, too. People have been more open to our message. We work hard. We're still happy, even though for right now we're also a little bit sad. The church is still true and the Book is still blue! 

Sestra Watts

Friday, February 19, 2016


We're a week into our new transfer now, and I suppose it would be good to announce that I am training a new sister. She's fresh out of the States, and doing a real good job of making me realize what an old geezer I am. It's kind of embarrassing. But anyway, her name is Sister Barnes, and the only thing you need to know about her is she has curly hair... so, naturally, we get along GREAT. 

So yeah so I went up to Zagreb last week to get my beautiful new companion, and we've just been doing hardcore missionary work ever since. I am impressed with the drive and determination of Sister Barnes. It can't be easy to come out here and not be used to the language or culture. She's an all-star.

And then we stood in front of a mirror and realized how different we are in height.

The church is so true it's insane. 

Happy Late Valentine's Day! 

Sestra Watts

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rina didn't write a letter to the world this week, but here are parts of her letter to us.

Attention, parents! I have not been transferred to Slovenia. Seeing as this week is the first of a new transfer, travel plans to get all missionaries to their respective locations can get pretty creative. With that in mind, I only ended up in Slovenia for a couple of days to help people get to where they need to be. We got to Celje, Slovenia Sunday evening, had an amazing p-day in this town called Ptuj (great name, I know) where we saw some things celebrating the chasing away of winter. They have a huge parade (it was Sunday, we didn't see it) where they dress up like CRAZY and go insane. I got to try on one of the headdresses. It's very traditional. And then we had the three hours Monday night of missionary work in Slovenia, which was SO HARD. I think it was worse than being a new missionary. I was with Sister Yardley (from my MTC group, she's also a Croatian speaker) and then a Slovene missionary Sister Redding. Sis Redding barely taught us a few opening phrases in Slovene before we were out the door talking to people. The languages are similar, but they're not THAT similar. Especially the shorter, common phrases that you have to use. It was the most intriguing thing because we understood maybe half of what they were saying (I'm not sure how we understood because I don't remember any specific words, it just kind of made sense-- WEIRD) but we had absolutely NO idea of how to respond, so did our best and then turned to Sis Redding and she'd take over till the end. It was sooooo fun. And also I have a huge appreciation for how far I've come in this language. Crossing the border back to Croatia was the biggest relief. I can communicate here!

Okay. Now for the big news: I'M TRAINING! Finally! My last chance! We have two Serbo-Croat-speaking sisters coming in, and I get one of them! Sister Yardley has the other one. I'm staying in Banja Luka (it'll be my longest area-- 6 months by the end of the transfer) and am also still a Sister Training Leader. That is what MY trainer did when she trained ME, so I think that's sweet. President told me like a month ago I'd be training, but he pretty much swore me to secrecy. I'm so excited! As I type I am sitting in the mission office in Zagreb, and the missionaries' plane will land any minute and then they will come to meet us! I couldn't be more excited. I'm a little nervous, but I know I won't ruin her. 

Our investigator is still amazingly on target for baptism. She came to church on Sunday and President Grant was visiting, and he thinks she's in for sure. She loved church. And TWO of our members, having heard last week that she was on date, felt inspired (without conversing with each other beforehand) to bear amazing testimonies about baptism and their own conversion. I cried because it was so wonderful to see the members get excited. I've never experienced that before. Another amazing thing is that one of those members, has recently been reactivated, and now wants to receive her endowments in the temple in the spring. President Grant asked us sisters to teach her temple prep, and she's so excited, and we're so excited too! ALSO, Sister Varty (the senior sis) bore her testimony in Serbian because on Saturday for our hour of language instruction with them we taught how to bear testimony. We mostly just gave them phrases to say (kind of rote), but in recent weeks we've also been doing a lot of grammar, so imagine my surprise when Sis Varty gets up and bears a completely UNIQUE testimony with sentences that she had made up entirely on her own, correct grammar and all. I also cried at that. The members LOVED it.They need to see that the missionaries try.

Okay. Sorry if I'm giving you a lot of information at once, but one last thing. Literally 10 minutes ago I was talking to Sister Halling, a senior office sister, and she saw the picture of mummi you sent me and asked who she was. I told her about her, and her being from Finland, so she mentioned the recent area authority visit from a Finn (whom I did not meet). Then she told me that her husband's cousin actually baptized that area authority about 40 years ago! So I said what years? And she said '75-77. His name is Dean Halling. Isn't that when Pappa served as president?? I told her about that too. I don't know. That's pretty cool, huh?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Can you believe I've been in three countries in the last two weeks? #smallmissionlife

Two weeks ago was MLC in my favorite place, Zagreb. We watched the coolest live broadcast from Salt Lake City which was streamed to every single missionary in the world. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that's for sure, to receive specific training directly from living prophets and apostles. I may have cried a little bit. 

Then last week we got surprised with the go-ahead from President to take a lovely little trip down to southern Serbia (where missionaries and Mormons do not exist) to do some hardcore family history work for Sister Vukorepa (if you didn't already guess, that name definitely originates in the Balkans) for a day or two. She's got a ton of ancestors from this little village right outside of Niš, Serbia, so we got to spend some time in this archive in Niš looking at old records, searching for her family names. You can't find this stuff on the internet. Her family tree on is thriving now. And then we actually went to the aforementioned village and had this HUGE dinner with Sister Vukorepa's cousins! I've never eaten so much meat and bread in my life. Worth it!

We also passed through Belgrade on the way down, and I got to see some of my favorite people while in town. That big, old, beautiful city still holds a place in my heart. Some of my fondest memories took place there.

You're probably wondering how we managed to get any work done here in Banja Luka the last couple weeks. Do not worry, though, we still had plenty of time to teach and preach on the streets of Bosnia. We also put an investigator on date for baptism for February 27th :) we're really excited for that.

Phrase of the day:
Na vrh brda vrba mrda (roll your "r"s and make your "h"s like a cat's hiss. Also, "a" is pronounced "au" like "authentic") -- Something like, "On the top of a hill, a willow sways." It's a tongue twister.

God be with you!
Sestra Watts

P.S. Happy Black History month! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Hi everyone.

Last Thursday we got to watch this broadcast from Salt Lake! Every single missionary in the world got to watch it live (except the ones for whom it was too late at night-- they had to wait till morning). We got to see Elder Oaks, Bednar, and Andersen speak, as well as a few members of the 70 and other auxiliaries. It was probably the most inspirational thing I've experienced in a while. I am so thankful to be a missionary. I know that this is the Lord's work. It's deathly hard sometimes, but that's just how good things are. And, as Dumbledore says, "what is easy is not always right." What a genius.

I also fainted on Saturday, for maybe the second time in my life! I hit my funny bone really hard during personal study (long story, don't ask), and it got to hurting real bad that I just thought "I'm going to put my head down to deal with the pain for a bit" and what felt like an hour later I was waking up like in the movies when the camera is from the person's perspective and it's all blurry and confusing at first and you don't know where you are. I then promptly told Sister Vukorepa what had happened. She said I was only down for about two seconds though. And also that I apparently gave her this 5-7 second long blank stare before I went down that I don't remember at all. She said it looked like my spirit left my body almost. No one home when she looked into my eyes. I think that's probably what the dementor's kiss is like. How cool is that?

Have a great week!

Monday, January 18, 2016

 I finally finished reading the grammar book they gave us at the MTC.

The sick shirt that Sister Vukorepa got me for Christmas! It's the famous Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic.

I think it's been two weeks since I've written a general email, which means that I haven't even told you all about Christmas yet! That was January 7th. We got to go to a Serbian Orthodox liturgy at midnight on Christmas Eve. It was fascinating. Completely and wildly different from your average LDS sacrament meeting. It was basically a huge prayer put to song. We were exhausted because it was the middle of the night and we're missionaries, but it was definitely worth it. I feel like I know these people a little better now since I am more familiar with their traditions.

Then Saturday the 9th was the anniversary of the Republic of Srpska! They celebrate it almost exactly the way we celebrate the 4th of July. Fireworks, cookouts, parades, helicopters, alcohol-- you name it, we saw it. And we completely were not expecting it. We were the only city in the mission that was affected by it, too, since there are no other missionaries serving in the boundaries of the Serbian Republic (it's a part of Bosnia). It was crazy and also kind of awesome.

The 13th was our Zone Conference, which took place here in Banja Luka. All the Bosnian missionaries came in, and we had a great time talking a LOT about repentance and God's Plan of Salvation. We've been focusing a lot on repentance this year already as a mission. It's amazing to me how much my understanding of it has deepened in the last few weeks. You guys! Repentance is not punishment -- it is how we become free from punishment. We all sin. Sorry but that's just how it is. We suffer. We do or say things we regret. The cool thing about repentance is that it means that Christ paid a price wherein he took upon himself all --ALL-- our sins. When we repent, we confess our sins to our Father in Heaven (not a paid minister) and we strive to change our behavior so that we don't have to go through that guilt process again. Repentance means change. It means turning to God and letting ourselves be cleansed. It means becoming better (a.k.a. happier). 

And then I went on this beautiful exchange to Sarajevo, where I served with a new missionary Sister Johnston for a few days. She's an amazing missionary and already owns this language. And Sarajevo is the coolest city. There are the cutest stray dogs absolutely everywhere! I don't know why my friend Will would be reading this, but if he is, I often thought about the fact that he took home one of those little guys a while back. Good times. 

I think that's gonna be it from me today. Don't forget to read your scriptures! Happy New Year.
 The view on the drive from BL to Sarajevo.

Sister Johnston and I on the top of a very high tower (it was crazy windy),

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I guess it's a good thing we decided this year to celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar (Jan. 7) because now our Christmas will actually be white! December 25th passed warm and sunny, but this past Sunday real winter began. It snowed all night and all day and actually just started back up again as I type on Monday afternoon. 

Now, I'm not yet an expert in the metric system, but if I had to wager an educated guess, I'd say the depth of snow is approximately 1,000,000 centimeters, give or take. But really, though, we got about 8 inches, I'd say. It made walking to church really fun. I'm used to Minnesota and it's immediate snow plow action on streets and sidewalks, whereas here, you kind of have to forge your own path for the first day. It was pretty fun. We still had 4 members come to church, too! It was a really good day. Everyone in the building bore their testimony during sacrament meeting! I was just so happy the whole meeting, too, and I really don't know why. I felt so much love for everyone. One of the best set of church meetings I've ever attended. 

Another fun thing: on Saturday afternoon, right before all the crazy weather started, Sister Vukorepa and I had the brilliant idea to eat lunch on this boat restaurant, which I have been dying to do since I got here 3 months ago. It was pretty fancy (remember, the price for fancy here is not nearly as much as in America), and had a great view of the river and the local fortress. 

The downside of things is that this weather has made it so our trip up to Zagreb scheduled for tomorrow for Mission Leadership Council has been postponed another two and a half weeks! I don't know that I can wait that long! We're thinking of just driving up to Zagreb anyway and showing up at President's doorstep. Wouldn't that be an uncomfortable situation.

So, I hope you all had a lovely new year! Have fun going back to work and school and stuff!

Sestra Watts

Sunday, January 3, 2016

    Sister Durfee and I rejoicing in our recent reunion.

How was everyone's Christmas? Good. 

I'll start at the beginning of the week. We did an exchange with the sisters in Tuzla! Sister Vukorepa left me and I stayed in Banja Luka with.... Sister Durfee! Remember her? My beautiful, tall companion from Zagreb? Yep that's her. Oh, how I love small missions. You get to see your friends all the time!

Here's an interesting thing that I'm not entirely sure is true, but it's my current theory: people in the Balkans respond better to tall people. I feel like in America, if two ladies over 5'11 were to stop you on the street, you'd either run and hide or you'd think you'd walked onto a beach volleyball court. But here, they just eat it up. That might be because the females are taller here (but the men typically aren't -- what's up with that?). In any case, we had a lot of fun! And we talked to some groovy people. 

Next: I'm still getting excited for Christmas! It was fun to Skype our families on Friday the 25th, but the rest of our festivities will not take place until January 7th. That means I'm still listening to Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas CDs and the halls are still decked. How neat is that?

Yesterday, Sunday, we put on a Christmas program for church service. Our district sang "Away in a Manger" (in the language, of course), other people sang, we read the Nativity, all that awesome stuff. And, of course, we invited everyone and their dog to come. The cool thing is, a ton of people really did come! I think we had more non-members there than members. Probably 50-50 (which, okay, isn't that hard if you only have 5 active members in the whole county). But we had a bunch of English class students and investigators there who loved it, and some more friends joined us for the luncheon that we put on afterward. One of our students makes desserts for a living, and she knows that cheesecake is in my heart (it's really rare here, and when they do make it it is NOT the same), so she showed up with a PHILADELPHIA style cheese cake. #Heaven.

It was a really good day. I love singing. I appreciate that a lot more now that I'm out here. There's nothing that gets me in the gospel mood more than singing a good hymn. Hallelujah!

Happy New Year!

We also ate at the FANCIEST restaurant ever (at which I paid about $13 for a meal
and dessert) on Friday. Definitely upscale. That red ball was a cheesecake.