By Mark M. Trunnell
On the last day of my mission in Italy, I realized how much I had come to love the people I was leaving.
Mark M. Trunnell, "Good-bye, Italycon Amore," Ensign, Aug. 1998, 43
The early-morning fog had barely lifted from the green rolling hills on the outskirts of Rome. The fall air, clear and brisk, had only just begun to give way to the warm glow of the sun. As I gazed through our apartment window at the splendor before me, I quietly realized that a chapter of life was drawing to a close. It dawned on me like the new day: my mission was over.
I fumbled with my battered suitcase, that old familiar friend that had been with me on so many transfers. It would be lighter now, spared of the tattered shoes and graying shirts I was leaving behind. How long two years had seemed when the suitcase, shoes, and shirts were new. How short it seemed now.
The other three elders in the apartment didn't say much as I prepared to leave; but I could feel their love, and I knew how much I would miss them. My companion, Elder Hunter, had that inimitable and ever-present smile on his face. I reflected on how close we had become in just one month.
My fellow missionaries and I shared embraces and one last prayer together. Baggage in hand, I waited at the bus stop outside our apartment building. Few cars passed; the bustle of the city had not yet begun. The next few moments seemed like an eternity. I knew that my life would change forever when I stepped on to the bus that would carry me to the mission office on the other side of the city. I realized that I was at a milestone, a threshold beyond which lay a new era in my life.
My thoughts turned to the past, to the experiences of my mission. I thought about how many times I had stood at bus stops just like this one, waiting to go to baptisms, appointments, conferences, or church. Over the last two years, perhaps I had begun to take for granted the sights and sounds of Italy that now surrounded me. I took a fresh look around. I looked at the trees gently swaying in the morning breeze. I looked anew at the old villas and buildings, the stately gates, the cobblestones. This was Rome, a city where history hung in the air.
The bus arrived. The big rear doors opened. I stepped on board. Even the little signs inside the bus, so commonplace before, took on new significance. I mused over one sign in particular: Non parlare al conducente (Don't speak to the driver). I remembered that every time I had boarded a bus, there was at least one person engaged in energetic conversation with the driver. I smiled inside as I thought about how gregarious and naturally friendly these people were. Asking them not to speak was like asking a flower not to bloom.
The people on the bus had no idea I had just spent two years among them and now I was returning home. Perhaps they marveled that I watched them so intently, soaking up their every word, action, mannerism. They didn't know how much I would miss them.
I looked out the window. Italy was literally on parade before me. I saw the small shops, the newspaper stands, the water fountains, the open markets, all with renewed appreciation. As the city came to life, cars began buzzing by, their drivers dodging and swerving expertly. Italian traffic had always captivated me, but this morning it held me spellbound. It was behind the wheel of a car that the Italians best demonstrated their impressive ability to improvise. It seemed a paradox, but Italian traffic was a sort of ordered chaoschaotic because of the aggressive darting and scooting about, but ordered because everyone drove the same way.
After a few minutes, I saw some ristoranti (restaurants) and osterie (inns) that reminded me of the Italian passion for good cooking. I thought of the countless meals in Italian homes at which we were urged to continue eating long after we were full. I thought of their generosity and graciousness toward their guests. I remembered all the times when, knocking on doors, we were invited in for a meal even though our hosts were not interested in our message. I thought of how many times they would ask us if the food was good, and how often they would scurry about the house fussing over every detail. Italians had refined entertaining to an art. I was saddened as I thought how much I would miss their hospitality.
I saw fathers and mothers walking their children to school, and I recalled how impressed I had always been with the Italians' strong love of family. As a missionary I had had many chances to see how they lovingly looked after their own. I witnessed their concern over how their actions might affect family relationships. I saw how they cared for their elderly and how they maintained family ties, even with extended family. I observed how they took pride in the accomplishments of their loved ones. In a country in which the government had changed hands more than 40 times since the end of World War II, the Italians always knew that the stability and integrity of their society lay in the home.
Now it was time to change buses downtown. I continued to look around me, absorbing my surroundings and thinking. I saw the monuments, the statues, the ancient ruins. I realized how much I had grown to appreciate this people for their sense of history and their rich cultural heritage. I remembered that Italy was the heart and mind of the Renaissance, that this country had produced some of the finest art, literature, and music in the history of mankind. I reflected on this people's refined sense of aesthetics and how they excelled in design, architecture, and fashion. I remembered some of the great minds that this people had produced: Dante, da Vinci, Fermi, Marconi, and others.
I observed people talking on the sidewalks as the bus continued on. I saw them energetically gesturing as they spoke. I thought to myself that the use of the hands for conversational emphasis must have been invented in this country. I recalled my first experience hearing Italian members give talks in church. I could understand few words, but the earnestness and the honesty conveyed by their hands will stay with me forever.
A lady on the bus was noticing the name tag pinned to the pocket of my shirt. She moved closer to read what it said. I smiled, as she made no effort to conceal her curiosity. At home, people would read name tags through a series of unobtrusive glances, hoping the wearer would not notice. But Italians were unabashedly inquisitive.
I recalled when I first learned of the Italians' inclination to investigate. I was riding the train from Foggia to Rome. It was Easter, and the train was packed with travelers. I had been fortunate enough to find a seat in a compartment. I promptly struck up a conversation with my fellow passengers (never a difficult thing to do in Italy). To make some points about the gospel plan, I had drawn a diagram. When I looked up from my work, no fewer than 15 people were engrossed in what I was saying. Many were leaning into our crowded cabin from the adjacent corridor. I recalled everyone trying to ask questions over the clickety-clack of the train.
As the bus made its way up Via Nomentana toward Monte Sacro and the mission home, I thought about why I viewed everything around me with such a profound sense of appreciation. Of course there had been rejection, unkindness, and even scorn on my mission. But those were not the things I remembered on this day. They were far from my mind, and they remain so today.
It occurred to me that I had been blessed with a heightened capacity to love. I had always heard that I would grow to love the people I served as a missionary, but only now did I realize how the beauty of these people was etched in my heart. I knew I would love them forever. It wasn't the traffic that made me smile; it was the drivers. It wasn't the buildings; it was the builders. It wasn't the food; it was the cooks. It wasn't the city; it was the residents. The Savior had blessed me with a love for these people that I didn't know was possible.
When we speak of missions, we think much of teaching others, which was in fact a wonderful and vital part of my mission. On this day, however, I realized how much I had been taught. I realized how my association with these people had profoundly influenced my own attitudes and my own outlook. In a simple and profound way, they had become a part of me.
The new chapter of my life suddenly seemed far less daunting. The Italians faced their challenges with courage. I took heart from their example. They confronted life's problems with resourcefulness and enthusiasm. They adapted to change. Many were models of cheerfulness, even in dire economic circumstances. Many had made far greater sacrifices to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ than I had ever been called upon to endure. Their example had given me the courage to face the rest of my life with greater confidence. Their energy and gusto made me even more willing to dive headlong into the future.
The words of our mission song rang in my ears: "Two years we're asked to give, for in losing life we live." In giving two years of my life, I had gained so much more. I had learned to love. I had learned that it was possible to see people through the eyes of the Spiritto overlook faults and appreciate strengths. I had gleaned powerful lessons for my own life.
I thought of the Apostle Paul, who had labored anciently in this same city. His words to the Ephesians would later remind me of today's bus ride through Rome:
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
"May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
"And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19).
My thoughts were interrupted by the squeaking of brakes. The bus was arriving at my stop. As I made my way toward the doors, I paused for a moment to read another small but familiar sign above me: Non scendere prima dell'apertura delle porte (Do not step down before the doors open). In true Italian style, my fellow passengers had already stepped down onto the platform directly in front of the exit. I watched as they easily dodged the opening doors with practiced grace. This simple scene became a final treasure that I quietly and reverently tucked away in my heart. I smiled inside as I stepped through the exit into a new day.
Gospel topics: Church growth, love, missionary work, understanding
[photos] Photography by Scott Knudsen, except as noted
[photo] Left: Family photo © FPG International, posed by models
© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
News of the Church:
Meeting Italy's President
"News of the Church," Ensign, Apr. 1999, 78
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Seventy, President of the Europe West Area, recently met with Italian president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and presented him with a leather-bound, inscribed copy of the Book of Mormon and a porcelain statue of a family. Also in attendance were Elder Raimondo Castellani, an Area Authority Seventy; President Leone J. Flosi of the Italy Rome Mission; and Church public affairs representative Giuseppe Pasta. "He showed every courtesy and helpful concern for the Church's growth in his country," said Elder Uchtdorf. The meeting was arranged by a presidential adviser who attended last year's Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert and VIP reception in Italy.
© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
News of the Church
Italy: A Foundation in Faith
By DeAnne Walker
DeAnne Walker, "News of the Church," Ensign, June 1999,
For centuries, the beautiful countryside of central Italy has inspired artists, writers, musicians, and poets. As far as the eye can see, rolling hills and fields are adorned with vineyards, umbrella pines, and cypress and olive trees. The gospel of Jesus Christ has likewise inspired many hundreds of steadfast people in this beautiful region who have joined the Church since Italy was rededicated for the preaching of the gospel in 1966 by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
An indication of that growth was made evident in 1994 when the Florence Italy District, located midway between Rome and Milan and extending from coast to coast through the central part of Italy, was divided into three separate districtsPisa, Florence, and Rimini. These three districts have a combined total of 16 branches and 1,682 members of the Church. From among these pioneers have come many stalwart members. Their faith adds to the unique beauty of this part of the world.
When Roberto Asioli, second counselor in the Italy Padova Mission, first met the missionaries, he was a discouraged young man working through a sad time in his life. His wife, Loretta, had just lost a baby and was in the hospital.
Roberto was home alone when a knock came at his door. He saw two missionaries standing there, but he felt so low that he did not open the door. At the same time the next evening, a knock came at his door again. "This time I opened the door and invited the missionaries to come in," he recalls. "We started to talk, and I felt their spirit immediately. It was not difficult for me to receive their testimonyit was the right time for me to hear the gospel message."
As he learned more about the gospel, Roberto wanted to share his feelings with his wife and tell her of his wish to be baptized. She was not interested. Disappointed, Roberto worried about being baptized without his wife. He prayed for Loretta to recognize the same spirit and happiness he had found, and he considered postponing his baptism.
"When I spoke to the elders about my concern for my wife, they gave me a blessing and a promise from the Lord," says Roberto. "They said, 'If you will be baptized, you will show your faith to the Lord, and He will never leave you alone. You will convert your wife.' "
Twenty days after the elders knocked on his door, Roberto was baptized. He was one of the first members of the Church in Rimini. He decided to be an example for his wife and give all his energy to living the gospel as he should.
And Loretta watched. She watched as he woke early on cold Sunday mornings and went to church on his motorbike, never trying to force her to accompany him. She watched as he studied his scriptures. And she watched as he prayed alone by his bedside each night.
And they talked. Their conversations were not at first about the gospel; they talked about their life, about their marriage. Loretta remembers, "I realized that the Church and the message of the gospel were very important to Roberto. I realized that I couldn't stay indifferent to thisI am his wife! I had to learn more about the gospel, so I started reading the Book of Mormon." Roberto baptized Loretta only two months after his own baptism.
When Roberto Asioli became the branch president 17 years ago, there were only 10 people in the Rimini Branchnow there are more than 95 members.
Alberto Sottili, president of the Firenze Second Branch, Florence Italy District, is a silver craftsman. He recognizes and treasures beautiful things. Each day in his shop in Florence, Italy, he creates jewelrylovely necklaces, earrings, and brooches. "My shop is very simpleit is really just a laboratory," he says. "I always wanted to be a musician, but I didn't have enough money. So when I was 14, I worked in the summer and began learning to make gold jewelry."
Three years later, at a time when his life seemed very unsettled and he was searching for direction, Alberto heard about something that brought peace and beauty to him. "God loves you," said a relative who was a member of the Church. Alberto was so impressed by this simple statement that he consented to kneel and pray with him. "I felt an incredible peace inside after our prayer, and I felt that I should learn more about this church."
When the elders began teaching the gospel to Alberto in 1972, they spoke to him about the purpose of life. "As I listened, I was touched by the fact that the ideas the missionaries were explaining to me were already familiar," he recalls. One month later, Alberto was baptized.
Today24 years laterAlberto's life is still surrounded by beauty. For many years, he was a single parent to his two older daughters, Simona and Silvie. When they were 12 and 11 years old, he met a woman he soon married, Maria Teresa. They were sealed in the Swiss Temple and now have two more lovely daughters, Sara, 10, and Denise Gloria, 5. The older girls, now 23 and 22, have strong testimonies of the gospel. Simona reflects: "Thanks to the gospel, I am the person that I am. The gospel influences me each day of my life. Even though sometimes it is hard, I feel that the gospel brings me strength and freedom."
Silvie, a student of painting and sculpture, says: "I am so thankful for my fatherit is because of him that I was able to join the Church. ... To me, the gospel is strength and help and everything in my life. The most important thing I know is that God loves me and listens to me."
In Florence, Italy, a city renowned for beautiful treasures, Alberto Sottili talks of his own priceless treasures: "I think that everything good is from God. To keep our family together, we have to work, to pray, to have family home evening."
Maria Teresa agrees: "I can't imagine my life without the gospel. The gospel is my life!"
Like the Asiolis and the Sottilis, hundreds of other Italian pioneers in central Italy bear testimony of the beauty and joy the gospel has brought into their lives. Brother Massimo Lo Monaco of the Pisa Branch summarizes the feelings of other Latter-day Saints:
"We feel that our family is better prepared than our nonmember friends to face the economic, political, and social challenges that we may encounter. We have a precious giftwe have the gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches us principles of honesty and righteousness. We uphold the law, we pay our tithes and offerings, and we do what the Church leaders advise us to do. We know that we will be blessed in all things when we follow the commandments of God."
[photo] A picturesque view of San Marino. Covering only 24 square miles (61 sq. km.), San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world and is part of the Rimini Italy District.
[photo] The Asioli family: Alice, Loretta, Thomas, Roberto, and Matteo. Roberto and Loretta were baptized when there were only a few members in Rimini.
[photo] Il Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge) in Florence, Italy. During the Renaissance many great painters, sculptors, and writers lived and worked in this beautiful city.
[photo] Maria Teresa and Alberto Sottili of Florence with their two youngest daughters, Denise Gloria (center) and Sara.
© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
Book of Mormon Language Lessons
By Janet Peterson
Janet Peterson, "Book of Mormon Language Lessons," Ensign, Aug. 1999, 70
In preparation for a trip to Italy, I carefully listened to a set of language tapes and memorized phrases from a guidebook. I experienced moderate success in finding our way to the hotel and ordering meals at various ristoranti. It wasn't until I read the Book of Mormon in Italian, however, that I felt I had really begun to learn the language.
With the English version of 1 Nephi next to the Italian one, I commenced reading Il Libro di Mormon. At first I made my way through only four or five verses a day, always checking unfamiliar words against the English copy. But as repeated words and phrases became familiar, I began to read more. Further help came from a returned missionary who recorded several chapters on tape so I could listen to spoken Italian.
Still I translated back and forth, encountering new words on every page. One day, while reading in Alma 5, I realized that I was actually reading in Italian and that translating into English was slowing me down. At that point I no longer read only at night but eagerly turned to the Book of Mormon during free moments throughout my day. By removing sections from the paperback copies I had in both languages and putting them in my purse, I was able to read on airplanes and buses and while waiting for appointments.
Reading the Book of Mormon in a new language caused me to read more slowly and thoughtfully. I found heightened meaning in some words. For example, the Italian mediante reads in English as "through." Mediante, however, has a more complex meaning in Italian that implies Christ's role as our Mediator. As I pondered such words, I found new insight into the meaning of the scriptures.
One year after I began 1 Nefi, I finished reading the last five verses of Moroni aloud. As I did so, I was moved to tears and felt the Holy Ghost testify that Gesù Cristo vive (Jesus Christ lives) and Il Libro di Mormon è vero (the Book of Mormon is true).
In a neighboring ward, 25 people are reading the Book of Mormon in various languages, including Spanish, German, and Portuguese. One sister chose Swedish because her great-grandparents first read the Book of Mormon in Swedish and joined the Church. While reading, she felt closer to these ancestors than ever before.
Reading the Book of Mormon in a new language is one way we can "study and learn, and become acquainted with ... languages, tongues, and people" (D&C 90:15).
© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.