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.