Today I am in Sofia Bulgaria. Someone forgot to tell me it is cold here. I looked at the weather report a couple of weeks ago when I was packing for my trip to India and Bulgaria. I distinctly remember seeing temperatures in the 50s (10-15 degrees Celsius). I packed accordingly and brought a nice little black hoodie. When I arrived in Sofia last night, having traveled from 35 degree Celsius weather in Cochin, India, it was a whooping 2 degrees Celsius here in Sofia. Burr, I was definitely not expecting that. Still, I put on my hoodie and took a walk down Vitosha Blvd to check out some of the sites in the center of the city. It was cold, but manageable.
I also decided that today I could walk to Church. It was only about a 20 minute walk I figured, and it would save me having to pay for a taxi on the Sabbath. I enjoyed the brisk walk to the church, and managed to stay warm through creativity. I put my hoodie on under my suit coat. I am sure I was quite the sight wearing a nice suit with a black hoodie coming up and out of the suit over my head. I went to the Sofia 2nd branch at the direction of the mission president here, President Wilstead, and apart from having a little bit of a hard time finding the entrance once I was at the address—I finally ended up following someone else dressed in a white shirt and a tie that I figured was probably a member—I had a great time at Church. Elder Maxwell was not there, since he is assigned to the 1st branch, but just about everyone I talked with, knew Elder Maxwell. And, amazingly enough, they had great things to say about him. : ) Actually, I was not surprised at all, the Elder Maxwells of the world are great missionaries!
There were 4 missionaries at the branch. Two were in the same district with Elder Maxwell at the MTC, a third has actually worked with Elder Maxwell on splits and knows him from those experiences. The family that had the missionaries over for Thanksgiving complimented Elder Maxwell on being quick to jump up and help with dishes. That is always a sure sign of a good person—right Opa? A couple persons took their picture with me so they could share it with Elder Maxwell when they next saw him. I have to say that I was really impressed with the kindness and goodness of the Saints. I was very glad to be there. Not knowing any Bulgarian was not an issue either. Because a couple families in the branch also don’t speak Bulgarian, they already had interpreters set up for each of the meetings. They even asked me to say the closing prayer in Sacrament Meeting. I also picked up my first words in Bulgarian. I can now say thank you.
The Church was cold. The heaters weren’t working so all they had were a couple small electric space heaters to try and warm the place. By the end of the 3 hours I was really cold. I walked back to the hotel after Church with another member who lives near where I am staying. She speaks pretty good English so I was able to learn more about Bulgaria and the Church in Bulgaria from her. She walked very slowly though and the wind had really picked up so by the time I was back to the hotel, I was frozen. We passed a thermometer display on the way back and it read -5 degrees Celsius. With the frigid wind it felt even colder.
I warmed up for an hour or so in my hotel room (it is a very warm room), and then decided to venture out again on one more walk. To ensure I stayed warm, I put on two pair of socks, and a pair of pajamas underneath my clothes. It worked great! I took a walk over to the Vasil Levski National Stadium. I know Elder Maxwell had once commented that his apartment was near the stadium, so while I knew I couldn’t seek him out to see him (since it is against Church guidance), I figured I could at least walk some of the same streets and see some of the same sights. I am glad I got to do it. Sofia is a beautiful city. It is almost like I am walking down a city street in Germany or France. Except for everything being written in Cyrillic and me not being able to read any of it, it feels very much the same. It started snowing while I was out and there was probably a half inch on the sidewalks by the time I returned.
Elder Maxwell, the elder, returns home in just over a week! It is impossible for me to believe that it has already been two years!!! The time passes so quickly. It really reinforces the point that we need to live every day to the fullest. There is not a moment to waste. It is so easy to let a day pass with idle or unimportant work, we just can’t afford to do it. Every day we need to strive to learn a little more, live a little better, and love and serve a little more completely. Perfection can only be reached with a lot of diligent effort, and of course an amazing portion of God’s grace. How thankful I am for the gospel of Jesus Christ, for His restored Church, and for a family that embraces light and love as we help each other and those around us, down the path towards perfection. Nothing gives me greater joy than the promise of an eternal family.
Elden was also able to meet with the Mission President today and deliver our Christmas gifts for Christian. He had some fun experiences teaching Christian's investigator in French, with Christian's companion and also meeting many members and missionaries at the mission office. (All while working carefully to NOT run into Christian!)