This will have to be the abridged version of my mission. I actually kept a daily journal during my mission but I'm not going to copy it over here.
My first companion was Elder Dale Tracy. We were assigned to Turnhout and lived on Kwakkel Straat. Don't you just love that name? We spent a lot of our time in Aarendonk which is about a 10 kilometer bike ride right near the Dutch border. It was no time at all before my legs became very huge. People in Belgium ride their bikes everywhere and have massive thighs. I really wish I could remember everyone's names but we became very good friends with the members in Turnhout. They met in a large house that was rented specifically to be the church.
I was very gung-ho and ready to get to work but I was quite surprised that every time I spoke to Elder Tracy in Dutch he always answered in English. It was very frustrating because I really wanted to learn the language but that made it much harder. He never did speak to me in Dutch, only in English. Elder Tracy was from Roy Utah and was going to school at Weber State.
I had several firsts in Turnhout. I had my first friets and boy were they good. I don't know what the difference is but the French fries in Belgium are so much better than here. They first deep fry them at a fairly low temperature until they are cooked completely but not browned and then they pull them out of the fat and let them drain. When you order them they throw them in very hot fat for just a minute and let them brown. They serve them in paper cones (sometimes made from newspapers) and you dollop a glob of mayonnaise on top. My mouth is watering as I write. Every apartment I was in had a deep fryer and we made them often. I think the main difference is that they always used animal fat to cook them in but no one in America does that anymore.
Another first was my first door. We were knocking on doors and all of the sudden Elder Tracy said, "OK, this one is yours." I was terrified but I managed to say, "Hello, I'm Elder Leavitt and my companion is Elder Tracy." It was about that time that they shut the door on me. I don't know if I was relieved or disappointed. I might have wet my pants if they'd asked me a question. For the rest of my mission we alternated doors.
I also saw my first windmill in Turnhout. I have hundreds of slides from my mission but they are all in a box and I haven't scanned them yet. Some day I will get to that. I even bought a slide scanner to do it with but I haven't managed to find the time. I have a much better picture of this windmill in my slides but this one from the internet will have to do. This windmill is in Arendonk.
The Flemish people are very interesting. They are the kindest and friendliest people you'll ever meet. They loved to visit with us and we taught an average of about ten hours a week and sometimes much more than that. It made it a lot of fun to tract which is a good thing because that is mostly what we did. They loved to visit with us and they loved to feed us. Unfortunately their religion is more of a tradition than a belief system. Few of them actually believe everything that the Catholic church teaches but I must have heard a hundred times, "I was born a Catholic and I will die a Catholic". They have big celebrations when their kids have their communion and they are very reluctant to change. It is also very difficult for those who do get baptized because they are so different from everyone else. We taught a lot in Turnhout and I thoroughly enjoyed it but alas, no one chose to be baptized.
If you look at the second map carefully you can see in the central square something that looks like a castle with a moat around it. That is what it was. It was strange seeing a castle right there in down town Turnhout but it was only the first of many.
One day we decided to ride our bikes to a town called Molen and buy some wooden shoes from a wooden shoe shop. That was a very long ride but well worth it. I still have the shoes today and sometimes I even wear them. They are surprisingly comfortable but you can't run very fast in them. In Belgium they don't paint their shoes like they do in Holland. Most people just wear them unpainted. I have actually seen old farmers out in their fields working with their wooden shoes on.
Another P day we went into Antwerpen to see some of the sights. The main thing I remember is we toured Reubens house. Reuben also had a castle elsewhere in Belgium that I saw later in my mission but this time I saw his house. He lived well.
Finally transfers came and I got a new companion. I don't remember his name but he showed up at the apartment and before he even had a chance to unpack we got a phone call and he was transferred again. My new companion was Max Davis from Las Vegas. I had been warned about Elder Davis. He wore a toupee. Elder Davis was obviously very popular in high school and very self confident. He showed up and as we were getting ready for bed he said. "Fred (he always called me Fred, never Elder Leavitt) have you heard about me?" I told him I had so he pulled off his hair and stuck it on a styrofoam head. It was really quite funny. With Elder Davis my Dutch progressed rapidly. He spoke it well and he spoke it all the time. I have three favorite stories from Turnhout.
We were teaching this young couple and we often began our lessons describing how after the crucifixion of Christ the Lords teachings were distorted and other religions spun off until today we have over a thousand different Christian churchs. The young mother commented how she had her own beliefs and her husband very calmly said, "a thousand and one". It was very funny and we all laughed.
As we worked together Elder Davis and I talked a lot. We also talked about his toupee. He told me that during high school he went away one summer to work and his hair all fell out that summer. He decided to buy a toupee before he went back to school and when he went back no one even knew. He also told me that the hair used in his hair piece came from Europe. One day we were visiting with a couple and they commented on how nice his hair looked. They told him that it looked very European. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing.
Another night we were visiting some members. Someone had told the sister that Elder Davis had a hairpiece so she thought she would find out for sure. We were sitting there and she quickly reached out and grabbed his hair. Fortunately for him he had just put some new tape on that morning and when she grabbed his hair it held. He grabbed his hair and yelled as if he was in pain. She felt very bad and was apologizing all night.
Another story was a the eating contest. The same family that pulled Elder Davis's hair hosted an eating contest. There were two districts in Turnhout and they had a contest to see which district could eat the most plates of friets with stoofvlees. I'll explain stoofvlees later. Just know that it is absolutely delicious. Most Elders dropped out after 3 or 4 plates but me and one other guy went on to 9 or 10. What I didn't know was that my competition had gone out for a run around the block. I was barely able to put the fries down my throat one at a time when I finally had to give up. The other guy ate one more plate than I did. Personally I think he should have been disqualified. I do believe that our district won though.
Finally after about six months in Turnhout I got the phone call telling me that I was to be transferred to Vilvoorde which was a suburb of Brussels. It was very difficult to say goodbye to Turnhout. Much harder than leaving home. I knew I would someday return home but I was possibly saying goodbye to my friends in Turnhout for the rest of my life. It was a bit exciting to head to a new place.