Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another Opportunity to Serve in the Nicosia Branch

As a side note for the weekend. For your information Elder Vargas was announced as the second counselor in the Nicosia Branch Presidency today in Sacrament Meeting. The Nicosia Branch Presidency is: President Andrew Fulton, Paolo Martins, First Counselor and Elder Antonio Vargas, Second Counselor.
(The most prominent building in front in this picture is where the Nicosia Branch meets - it is located on the third floor. The woman walking in the lower part of the picture is myself, holding an umbrella. Here many of the women use umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun, as it is so HOT!)
President Fulton is from the USA and works at the Grohe Company here in Nicosia - it is a European company that designs and produces bathroom fixtures. Paolo Martins is originally from Portugal and works at the UN in Nicosia.
President Fulton's wife, Bekka (short for Rebekka) is an artist and designs cards and other items of interest. You can find her artistry at:
Brother Martins wife, Paula works too, but I do not know the company or location.
Elder Vargas' wife no longer works to make a living, but is serving a full-time mission with her husband on the Island of Cyprus. (Of course, that is ME! Ha!)
Interestingly, Elder Vargas did not need to be set apart for this position, his name only needed to be presented to the congregation for being sustained to the calling.
Another tidbit of information - because in the Greece Athens Mission there are no wards, obviously there are no bishops, however while there are branch presidents and a district president (no stake president) the Mission President, President Freestone acts as a stake president and is the last word in all issues. The district president reports to the mission president, President Freestone.
Also FYI - currently the Primary President is not available on Sunday so Elder Vargas teaches Primary as well. I am the Relief Society Pianist so I do not teach Primary.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ancient Ledras

This morning we visited the original Lusignan - era Benedictine Abbey, the Church of St. John the Evangelist which was sacked by invading Mamalukes in 1426. But Agios Ioannis was completed in 1662 on the ruins of St. John's Cathedral. It is the State Church. It is unbelievably small, and by no means a cathedral in the sense of the word today. But it is a beautiful Byzantium architecture and is filled with unbelievably gorgeous Byzantine frescoes and wall murals. The rules are - no pictures can be taken inside the church, so the pictures we took of the outside will have to suffice.
Relative to the size of the chapel - for those who remember the original Pomona Ward Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located in Pomona, CA, this is a very good comparison. And for those of you who have your ward located in the Los Angeles California Stake Center, please note - the old Pomona Ward Chapel is an exact replica of the LA Stake Center!

Baptisms in Larnaka

Today we drove down to Larnaka for two baptisms. A young man named Marvellous (yes, that's really his name - he is from Nigeria), and an eight year old girl named, Rebecca. Both members of the Larnaka Branch. We were invited to come by Elder and Sister Christensen, the senior missionary couple for Larnaka.
The baptisms were performed in two places - the young lady, Rebecca was baptized in the back yard swimming pool of President Ivanov of the the Larnaka Branch.
He and his wife have a home right on the Mediterranean Sea, which is a short walk from their back yard,
so the second baptism was performed in the Mediterranean.
It was interesting to watch Marvellous and the two full-time elders assigned to Larnaka and the two witnesses walking wayyyyyy out into the Mediterranean for the baptism. There were many beach goers who were swimming in the sea who witnessed the proceedings with much enthusiasm. We were fascinated to
view the scene.
Afterward President Ivanov and his wife hosted a fine meal for all who attended, and after we enjoyed the food and fellowship we dismissed ourselves to drive back to Nicosia trying to beat the oncoming darkness. Elder and Sister Smith of Paphos also left early for the same reason - however, they had at least a 1 1/2 - 2 hour drive back home.
We sang, "Teach Me to Walk in the Light" as the opening hymn and then for the closing hymn we sang, "I Am A Child of God". Sister Christensen gave the baptismal address and a brother from the Larnaka Branch who is from Bulgaria gave the address on the Holy Ghost.
Marvellous and Rebecca will both be confirmed tomorrow before Sacrament Meeting in Larnaka. A happy day for all in attendance.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our Weekly Schedule on the Island of Cyprus

A little bit about our work here in Nicosia. We begin each day with couple study and prayer, and we close each day with prayer. On Monday we observe "P" (Preparation Day) day. That is - we clean house, do our laundry and go grocery and other shopping. Then Monday evenings we usually teach 1 or 2 investigators with the young elders and then we direct the YSA Home Evening. Tuesday afternoons we have District Meeting at 2:30 PM, we alternate weekly District Meetings in Nicosia or Larnaka, and at 6:30 PM we have our Greek lesson (love it!). We may also teach investigators after that. Wednesdays we share teaching appointments with the young elders. Thursdays, Institute Class - 7 PM, I teach the Book of Mormon. Fridays, we teach investigators with the young elders and then have YSA Activity Night. Twice a month on Friday night I make dinner for all in attendance, and twice a month I make a dessert for all. After the new school year begins I will be cooking a lot more because students will be coming to the church during the day. So I will be making lunches and snacks and probably more dinners. The YSAs will come to the church during the day because they need to rest, read or play games and fellowship between classes. We also provide space for them to study quietly if need be.
Once-a-month we drive to Famagusta on the Turkish side, or to Gierne (in Greek, Kyrenia) to meet with the Nigerian members who are students in colleges in those two cities, to hold a Sacrament meeting. Once-a-week we will be having Skype sessions with the students to provide them with Institute classes come September.
Now for a little more on the Island of Cyprus: Cyprus, from the Greek word pronounced kupros, meaning copper, is a prominent land mass in the northeastern Mediterranean Sea, off the shores of Cilicia (southern Turkey) and Syria on the continent. Measuring about 150 miles / 240 kilometers long and 40 miles / 65 kilometers wide, it is one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean.
The history of Cyprus reaches deep into ancient times. Although the pagans regarded it as the birthplace of their non-existent false god Zeus, Cyprus was the scene of numerous events in Bible History, where some Bible translations refer to it by the name Isles of Chittim or Kittim. As the above Scriptures from Daniel specify, Kittim is also a place involved prophecy of the last days.
As its name indicates, Cyprus has extensive copper deposits which attracted many conquerers to the island over the past 3,000 years. In their turn, Egyptians, Assyrians (see Ancient Empires - Assyria), Phoenicians, Hittites, Greeks , Romans, and in more modern times, Turks and British all controlled the island to some degree. It was also taken during the third Crusade.
During Old Testament times, many Jews had already settled on the island, and many of their descendants were converted by Paul and those associated with him during his travels.
Paul's group travelled from Salamis to Paphos on the island, and while at Paphos, Sergius Paulus, the Roman governor of Cyprus became a believer in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:7,12), despite the efforts of Elymas the sorcerer to prevent his conversion. For his wickedness, Elymas was temporarily deprived of his sight by Paul (Acts 13:7-11). Barnabas and Mark were later active there after they separated from Paul (Acts 15:36-39). The Jews and converted Christians were expelled from the island during the reign of emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138 AD).
What prominent apostle was from Cyprus? (See Acts 4:36)
We will also be visiting three other cities on the island (Larnaca, Limossol and Paphos)to establish, support and assist the YSAs and Institute teachers at least twice per month. Once-a-year we are planning to have YSA Conference. This is essential for unity and support of the YSAs on the island. (See the map below - we are based in Nicosia, in the middle of the island.)
We love the youth of the church. They are the same no matter where you live on the earth. They are exuberant and excited about the Gospel, and they find it so easy to bring their non-member friends into their circles to hear the missionary discussions. We are so proud of them all.
On Sundays we are very busy during the three-hour time block. I often play the piano for Sacrament Meeting as well as for Relief Society. We will also be teaching the investigators "Gospel Principles" very soon. Then, twice a month we meet with the YSA representatives to plan their activities for each month. It is also our duty to teach new member post baptismal lessons, which we do several times a week because of the influx of new members.
Many days of the week we drive throughout the island to familiarize ourselves with the locations of members or other landmarks useful to our callings. We also visit members in these hours to encourage them about coming to church. Our branch is small, as are all the others.
And our new members are often ex-pats, so they do not stay here. They are students or they work here for awhile, then leave to go to other countries or back to their home country.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Arriving in Larnaca, Cyprus

Today we received some pictures of us taken when we arrived at the Larnaca Airport from London. The pictures were taken by Sister Smith. She and her husband were there at the airport along with two other missionary couples on the day we arrived. We were so happy they were there to greet us.
Even though Cyprus is a small country - and an island, we were grateful for the three couples who came to greet us. We were "strangers in a strange land", but not for long we were greeted so warmly by all of them. And Elder and Sister Smith drove up to Larnaca all the way from Paphos, which is on the far western side of the island, a great distance just to say, "Hello".
As I've said before, Elder and Sister Niebuhr (we replaced them in the mission) then drove us from the airport to the car rental agency to have Elder (Tony) Vargas sign his name on the rental agreement so he could drive once the Niebuhr's left the mission. We didn't know when we were preparing to leave that in Cyprus one drives on the left side of the road, as do the British. Since Cyprus was a British protectorate from 1878-1960 that custom remains.
It is so hard to get used to at first. Plus our car is a 'stick-shift', which makes driving even more difficult. But Elder Vargas has mastered it now and we do okay. We remark all the time while on the road how we see signs stating, "Attention! Drive on the Left!" Many people come here on holiday/vacation and drive and have a hard time because they forget to drive on the left side of the road.
After we left the car rental agency we drove to Elder and Sister Christianson's flat and had some lovely desserts and rested. We talked a bit and Elder Smith, who is also the Branch President in Paphos asked us lots of questions about our knowledge of Cyprus and the missionary work. Then we prepared to leave with the Niebuhr's for Nicosia, which is about a 40-45 minute drive from Larnaca, to settled into our flat.
The Niebuhr's had taken a hotel room, right across the street, so we could move into our flat immediately. They were very kind and helpful to us for the few days they remained on the island. It was important for us to learn about how to do things here in Cyprus. How to shop for food, how to pay the rent and utilities. How to find where everything is located (we're still working on that one!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Rain and Wind in Cyprus

Well, ain't that just dandy? We had been told, "It NEVER rains in Cyprus in August!" Today marks the second time in August - it rained here previously two weeks ago.
We love it! It brought the temperature down to where it is liveable, and the wind blew the heat right out of the city.
Here are some pictures,
I'm not certain how well they will show the storm other than a very gray sky, but seriously, it was a monsoonal rain.
It probably came from Pakistan where the rain has caused so much serious flooding. The wind was so bad here at our apartment complex that it blew over a HUGE ficus tree in an alcove of the building right at our front door.
So below is a picture of the partially downed tree as well. What I neglected to say was an hour after the heavy wind/rain it was back up to 100+ degrees and humid beyond belief! Sun blaring in the sky. That's life in the Mediterranean.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Saints in Famagusta in Turkish Cyprus

Usually on Saturday morning we drive all the way to Northern Cyprus to the Turkish side to visit with the Saints in that area. Sometimes we drive to Lefke/Troodos, sometimes we drive to Famagusta. Lefke/Troodos are on the Northwest side of the island and Famagusta is on the Northeast side.
We pack up our car and hopefully the Fultons (our Branch President and his lovely wife, Bekka - below) go with us. We take lots of water to drink and make certain our passports are in order - and OFF we go.
Today we parked our car along the road outside of Larnaka and met with Elder and Sister Christenson who are stationed there, they have a large van and all six of us piled in and we went on to Famagusta!
About 45 minutes later we arrived in Famagusta and drove into the city center, parked our cars and walked up the hill inside the gates of the university. There we set up some tables and benches under an outdoor canopy that is connected to a large restaurant that is closed for the summer. After about 20 minutes two students arrived, Jolly and Destiny, who are members of the church from Nigeria and are students in Famagusta.
Jolly announced this would be the last time he meets with us because he is leaving soon for Denmark to finish his schooling, which makes him very happy - because he will be able to attend church in Denmark. Jolly served a full-time mission and is a very strong member of the church, and while he is very happy to leave the island this makes Destiny so sad because right now until September she will remain in Famagusta as the lone member of the church. (Destiny is pictured on the left and Jolly is on the right. I apologize for the darkness of the picture - we weren't in a very good light.)
Students from Nigeria are not allowed to cross the border into Southern Cyprus where the church is because the two countries do not have reciprocity of visas. There is no organized church in Famagusta, so they rely on us to bring them the Sacrament and to provide them with a sacrament meeting, complete with music, short sermons, the Sacrament and prayers. We provide a modified version of a Sunday sacrament meeting which greatly comforts them.
This time Destiny tells us she has been very ill and asks the elders to give her a blessing, which they did after the Sacrament Meeting. She has been told by the doctor that she has a very low red blood cell count (anemia), and is also suffering from stomach ulcers. She is a very beautiful young woman, about 21-23 years of age, but she is very thin. She has not been able to find work, so I'm fairly certain she doesn't eat regular meals. She was very angry when she found out that she couldn't take the bus from Famagusta to Larnaka to attend church on Sunday - she didn't know that until she arrived. She didn't know the country was divided and feels that the university lied to her when she applied to go there. We felt very sad for her. The loss of freedom must really be difficult for these wonderful Nigerian Saints.
Jolly likewise asked for a blessing, which the elders provided for him, since he is leaving soon for Denmark. He is sad to leave Destiny behind, but happy to be free to go where he can practice his religion freely.
(A Side note) The Turkish government says they allow religious freedom, but so far our missionaries are only allowed to go to Istanbul in mainland Turkey. We are hoping that will soon change and we will be free to practice our faith on the Turkish side of Cyprus. We are not able to wear our badges when we cross the border into the Turkish side or they will not allow us to enter the country. I don't think Turkish Cyprus has heard there is religious freedom in their country. However, other religions are on the Turkish side. Jolly told us he has visited the Presbyterian church in Famagusta, just to be able to be inside a church on Sunday, but he says he is not welcome because they know he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he therefore chooses not to attend it any more. The lack of tolerance in the world is amazing!
If you are not LDS, then maybe you don't understand how this feels, and I know that makes it difficult for you to sympathize/empathize with us, but tolerance for all religions is necessary for us to all get along in the world. We force no one to believe what we do, we only share our beliefs when invited to do so, we do ask for the respect of our right to worship in our faith according to our conscience, just as others ask of theirs.
Enough said. I thought you all would like to know what we do with our time here.

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