Just two days later, on July 24th, I FINALLY turned 17! My family made it one of the best birthdays anyone could ask for. We woke up early, because we were going to spend the day seeing a few more historical sites. As I came downstairs, I heard everyone singing Happy Birthday in the kitchen. When I rounded the corner, Marie and Brooks screamed as they jumped out and blasted me with confetti! After recovering from the mini heart attack, I saw all of the signs and balloons that my cute family had put up. We didn't have long before we were off!
We stopped first at the ancient city of Corinth, where the apostle Paul served part of his mission in the New Testament. Just above the city was a massive hill where an ancient fortress is situated at the very top. We got to hike all the way up and through the fortress; the view was spectacular. We made the trek back down and ate the most amazing birthday lunch in the town surrounding ancient Corinth. I've been asked this a lot, so I'm telling everyone now, I LOVE Greek salad. And anything Greek. (So far...) Our next destination was the 1,000 stone steps that led to another ancient fortress. I highly regretted my shoe choice (sandals) around step 300. When we finally reached the top, I felt pretty ancient too. However, the view was well worth the hike.
About a week after my birthday we had the opportunity to have Elder Dyches (2nd counselor in the Europe Area Presidency) and Sister Dyches with us for a round of zone conferences and trainings. You'd think that I would get tired of sitting in 4-6 hour meetings, but I have loved every second of them. I am learning so much about becoming a consecrated missionary, and giving everything up to the Lord so he can work through me. All of us are placed in areas where we can serve and minister to the people around us, even if it's in our own family. He is giving us a part of His "garden" to tend to, and if the Savior said, "Show me how you have taken care of the people in this part of my garden,” would we be prepared and feel confident in our efforts? These meetings allow me to feel the spirit so strongly and so often, and it is such a blessing to see how the Lord moves His work forward.
The last evening that the Elder and Sister Dyches were with us, we got to take them up to Mars hill. This is always a special experience, to be able to walk where Paul walked. It was coming back down that I had my first real missionary experience with a man who was selling me postcards. He asked my mom what "Latter Day" meant on her missionary badge. We tried to explain that we were members of Christ's church that has been restored in these latter days by a Prophet Joseph Smith. I asked, "Are you religious? Do you believe in Christ?" He answered that he was Greek Orthodox, but didn't believe in God or Jesus Christ, and that he found too many faults with religion in general. The missionaries stepped back and let my mom and I struggle to answer this man's questions. In the end, all we could do was give him a pass-along card and encourage him to visit mormon.org, even though we knew he probably wouldn't. I learned an important lesson. There are people that the Lord has prepared who are ready to receive the gospel, and there are people that we can only love and be good examples to, so that when their hearts are softened, they can remember what we did to reach out.
Just last Friday we got to attend our very first convert baptism here in Athens. All of the missionaries and most of the branch attended, and it was a beautiful meeting. This woman from Africa has so much faith, and demonstrated her faith by entering the waters of baptism. She knew that this was the true church because it requires us to work and learn and grow so that we can become more like Christ. I admire her faith and desire to be what her Heavenly Father wants her to be.
P day is one of my favorite days, because our whole family gets to be together. Two weeks ago we got to spend our P day at the zoo here in Athens! The very first thing we saw as we entered the gates were the flamingos, and that was enough to make my whole week. After visiting the zoo, my mom managed to find another beach to finish the day at. (If there is water anywhere close, my mother will find it, and she will get in it.) This week our P day was spent at the beautiful cliffs and monasteries of Meteora. I don't know HOW they managed to build these monasteries right on top of the cliffs, but it makes for some jaw-dropping views.
Tomorrow we are off to Crete! We will be visiting the few members that live there, and seeing some of the sights. We only have our brother Brooks for a few more weeks and want to fit everything in that we can! School also starts in less than a month, but Marie and I are excited for every new adventure that comes along. We love all of you and wish you all the best!
The Temple of Poseidon blew us away! Literally...
A 17 year old and The 1,000 Steps
Mars Hill with Elder and Sister Dyches
The Zoo (and flamingos!)
More of the beach... ahh
Meteora (I'm slightly afraid of heights...)
Can I take a serious picture? I'm not really sure.