Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July 29, 2008 -- Time to Say Goodbye

This is the last time that I will be greeting you from Taylorsville. No, I am not going to Mexico, but tomorrow I will be transfered. I'm not supposed to know where I'm going until tomorrow, but because Elder Zobell is my companion and because he is an office elder and a zone leader and well-liked by president and the assistants, I have a pretty good idea of where I'm going and who my companions will be. But I'll tell you more about that next week when I know for sure.

I am very sad to leave the area. I love my companions, and I love the people I am teaching. Everything is going so well right now (well, not everything, but almost everything.) Jorge and Rosa got their marriage certificate and are planning on getting married on August 16, Ruby is already inviting friends to church and teaching branch FHE's. We have found a few families to teach and have several people who are preparing for baptism soon. I really don't want to go, but I know that President Laney, who makes transfer decisions, is called and inspired by God, and I'll go where He wants me to go.

Last night I taught what was by far the most powerful lesson of my mission so far. It had nothing at all to do with me, but I'm grateful that the Spirit was able to work with me. My companions where at a zone leader meeting, so it was me and Elder Fieldson (who is also a new missionary waiting for a Visa.) We taught the lesson to the DePaz family, a mother, father and two daughters. They are the children and grandchildren of an elderly couple in our branch, and one of the brothers of Carlos, the father, is also a member. Last night was a Family Home Evening, so we had the DePaz family, their member cousins, and their member grandparents all there in the home of their grandparents, and we taught about the plan of salvation. I felt the Spirit very strongly as I taught and as Elder Fieldson taught. I also felt the Spirit as those who were members added their testimony to the things we had shared. By the end of the lesson, several of us where in tears, including Maria, the 13 year-old non-member. My companion, Elder Zobell, challenged me this week to give someone a baptismal date, and last night I felt like it was the right time, so the DePaz family will all be baptized on August 23. I hope I can get permission to come back to see it.

That experience last night really strengthened my testimony of several things, including the importance of members in missionary work. When you teach in a member's home, where the Spirit already dwells, with the member willing and ready to share their own testimony, it is almost impossible for the investigator to not feel the Spirit.

I had another experience this week that also strengthened my testimony of the importance of members, but in a different way. Last Wednesday was a branch activity, and we invited several investigators to attend. As missionaries, we don't usually go to activities, but because there were so many recent converts, less actives, and investigators who were coming, we decided to go. Unfortunately, things didn't go well. I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say that several of the members did not behave well, and I felt like Elizabeth Bennett at the ball [in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice] where her whole family embarrassed her in several ways throughout the evening. It was so bad that the Young Woman's President, who was in charge of the activity, was in tears by the end of the night. I honestly don't know if some of the investigators we brought will want to come back to church after that experience.

Before this week, I never really appreciated how much members can affect missionary work, for good or bad.

Today is a busy day, because we have to pack in addition to all of our normal p-day activities, and we have our final zone activity in a few minutes. Saying goodbye is hard, but I guess I'll be doing a lot of that in the next two years. How grateful I am that death does not end relationships, especially family relationships.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

July 22, 2008 -- Pictures, Marriage

I have attached two more pictures. The first is a picture of my district from the MTC, including my teachers. [We also posted a copy of this with the June 10, 2008 entry.] The second is a picture of my first baptism, that of Jairo Sanchez. [We also posted a copy of this with the July 1, 2008 entry.]

Things are going very well for me. I have discovered that the harder I work, the happier I am. Yesterday I was alone in my area with another fairly new missionary (Elder Robledo--he is from Chile). And we worked very hard, so today I am very happy.

I had an interesting experience last week—there is a part-member (less active) family that we have been working with, including a 15 year old girl and a 14 year old boy. A few weeks or so ago I felt like I should get them a copy of For the Strength of Youth, so we got one from the office, but didn't have an opportunity to give it to them for a while. Last Thursday, we stopped by and started talking to them. They told us about many things that are happening in their life. We talked about school, dating, family, drinking, and music. As we talked, I had two feelings: one of gratitude for being raised by goodly parents, and one of gratitude for living prophets who have revealed guidance for youth today. They are wonderful people, but because of the way they have been raised, they have some problems in their lives. I also felt re-prompted to give them a copy of For the Strength of Youth. I took it out of my backpack, and started to explain to them what it was. As I read through the table of contents with them, I realized how many of the things we had just been discussing were talked about in that booklet. I could tell that they were interested in even more than the things we had talked about as well. After explaining it, we read the section on friends, and then gave them a copy and challenged them to read it and live it. It was a great experience.

* * *

I heard something really cool this week—the church has just finished translating it's own version of the Bible in Spanish (right now there is no official church version.) The project was headed by Elder Scott. Besides the Joseph Smith version, which we don't have in fullness, this is the first time that a Bible has been translated and approved by the church, in any language. I can't wait until it comes out, although I'm sure it will be at least another year.

* * *

I am very excited because this week I should have my first marriage in the mission. There is a family who the missionaries have been working with for about 8 months. They have changed a lot, even in the month that I have been here, and are now very ready for baptism. The only problem is the parents aren't married. We challenged them last week to save 50$ from their paycheck for the marriage license, and they did, so this week we should have a wedding and next week a baptism! I'm so excited. It is wonderful to see how much the gospel can change people's lives, and I can't wait to see them make those important steps.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

July 15, 2008 -- Direct from Salt Lake

Things are going wonderfully well for me, although it is also incredibly hard sometimes. Last Saturday was my second baptism. Her name is Ruby Senorra, and she is golden. (I didn't personally baptize her, but a "baptism" is counted as anyone you teach twice or more that gets baptized). She has absolutely no family support, in fact her husband is rather opposed to the church, but she is very strong in her faith. She stood up and bore a powerful testimony before her baptism. Baptisms are my favorite part of being a missionary--the spirit is so strong there, and it is wonderful to know that you have been apart of helping someone go through that all important gate.

I had a big disappointment last week. There is a family from Mexico that we had been teaching, Jesus and Terre, with their three young children, as well as Jesus's two teanage brothers. I really like this family and had high hopes for them. One morning as I was studying, I felt very strongly impressed to prepare a special lesson for them about families. So I studied Preach My Gospel, the scriptures, and the Proclamation, and prepared what I thought was the perfect lesson, a lesson that was sure to convert them instantly. Well, we stopped by last Tuesday, but Terre was the only one home, so we gave her a copy of the Family Proclamation and set up an appointment for Thursday. When we came back at the appointed time, the apartment was completely empty--they moved.

I was devestated. I really loved these people, and I knew that the Spirit had prompted me to prepare the special lesson for them. But with some help from my companion I realized that just because we weren't able to teach the lesson, doesn't mean my studying was in vain. I know the Lord wanted me to prepare that lesson, even though I don't know why (1 Ne 9:5-6). Maybe we planted an important seed by giving them a copy of the proclamation, maybe I'll need to use that lesson later in my mission, maybe I needed to learn something from the experience.

Last week we got a call from the Assistants to the President, telling us that our companionship would become a foursome (I know, I have the strangest companionships.) We were going to be getting another Visa-waiter. At first we weren't very happy--we have a small apartment and are tight as it is, but we soon became very excited. My companions told me that I would virtually be his trainer, as they were going to go on exchanges throughout the zone every day while the new elder and I stayed in the area. I was nervous about training at three weeks, but also excited. On Monday morning we went to pick him up, however, and the Assistants told us that they had changed their mind last minute, and that we were no longer going to get a new companion. I was disappointed, but it is probably for the best.

I forgot to mention it last time, but I am already over a month old! It is hard to believe. It has gone by very quickly. At the same time, I have learned and grown so much, and I can't imagine what 23 more months will do for me.

I have a little extra time on the computer, so I thought I'd really quickly share a thought.

Last week we celebrated our country's independence Day. One of the members of my zone made the comment that we all to often forget to celebrate our spiritual independence day. We should all celebrate everyday our independence from sin and death provided through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

July 8, 2008 -- Greetings from Swampland

This last week was quite a crazy one for me. As you know, last Friday was the 4th of July. Our mission president directed that each zone should have a "lock down" in a church building from 5 to 11 pm, and watch certain approved movies. It was fun to be with my zone and to be able to watch National Treasure 2 and Prince Caspian, but I would rather have approved books (like Rough Stone Rolling). It was very fun, though.

Because my companions are the Zone Leaders, we got home at around 11:30. My feet were hurting, so I immediately took my shoes off when I entered the apartment. As soon as I stepped on the carpet, my socks were soaked through with water, and I heard a squishing sound after each step I or my companions took. I guess the water heater of the apartment above us exploded, causing over 60 gallons of water to go down through the walls and spread out over our apartment. So a lot of our weekend was spent moving. We are all settled in to our new apartment now, in the same complex, but accross the stream from our old one. I'm glad we were able to stay in Fairway, because that is where almost all of our work is.

I told you last time that I wish I could tell you in detail about everyone I am teaching, but I can't becasue of time. I thought, however, that you might be interested in a general summary. There are many various interesting people here that I have taught, and many more that I have heard about. The following is a list of people that I have either taught personally or have heard of succesfully being taught in this mission:

- Polygamists (require an interview with an apostle before baptism)
- Muslims (require special permission to teach)
- a former witch (she is a very nice recent convert who is now preparing to enter the temple in September).
- homosexuals
- people who struggle with every kind of word of wisdom problem
- a man who commited [attempted?] homicide and spent several years in prison
- people from El Salvador, Guatamala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Chile, and Peru
- extreme anti-mormons
- and many more.

Last Wednesday I had my first Zone Conference. It was great. My president is a wonderful man named President Laney. He is a great teacher. This conference we focused on the importance of families, and I learned a lot. In fact, this evening we are teaching a special
lesson on eternal families to a young family of investigators who recently arrived from Mexico. In this mission we are very blessed to be able to go to the temple once a week on our preparation day. I love it! Today my companions and I did sealings (this is the second time I've done so.) I love all the ordinances of the temple, they are all beautiful and spiritually powerful, but I have to say that sealings are my favorite. Every time I go I feel grateful for Mom and Dad and their decision to be sealed in the temple, thereby giving me so many blessing. (I also sometimes think about doing it with my future wife someday, but I try not to think about things like that right now.)

I only have a few minutes left, but I want to tell you a little bit about a golden family we found last week. We were tracting, and came accross a less active family we didn't know about. They are the Sunigra family and are from Guatamala. Brother Sunigra is a collector and his house is like a museum of suits of armor and model airplanes. Anyway, they have an 11 year old daughter, Leslie, who isn't baptized, but she asked us if she could get baptized. They also have a grandmother living with them, Dona Tancho (dona is pronounced donya), who replied "not yet" when we asked her if she is a member. A lot of the time missionary work is hard and seemingly fruitless, but every once in a while you get a family like this that recharges you. I love
this work.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July 1, 2008 -- First Baptism

As you can tell from the subject line, I had my first baptism on Sunday! (My first on my mission, that is--I didn't forget about [my sister] Rachel.) His name is Jairo Sanchez and he is a 53 year old man from Colombia. He was already planning on getting baptized before I came to the area, so I had very little to do with his decision, but he said he didn't care who baptized him and my companions decided to give me the experience! It was one of the happiest days of my life. After I baptized him and we were out of the font, he turned around and looked at the water for a few seconds. Then he turned to me and said "Que Dios nos bendiga por toda la vida." (May God bless us for all of our lives.) Then, in broken English, he said, "Today I start a new life. I go to God." A few minutes later, he asked me, "Como se dice bautismo en Ingles?" I answered and then he said, "Thank you for baptism me." Later, he told me that he is saving the underwear he wore in the font as a memory of the special day. Needless to day, Jairo is an incredible person and it was a wonderful day. In my call, it tells me that "Greater happiness and more joy than you have yet
experienced await you..." I believe I experienced some of that last Sunday. Such great happiness and joy only come from helping people come unto Christ through faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.

Church was also wonderful last Sunday. Our branch here is much smaller than the Lugonia branch [in Redlands], but it was much larger than usual because we had 7 investigators come! (11 if you count children under 8.) It was wonderful. Seeing the people we have been working so hard to help there in the church building was a wonderful feeling and helped give me perspective.

I love my area. We live in Fairway Apartments, which is the 3rd largest apartment complex in Utah. It is huge! We hardly ever leave our complex--almost all of our investigators live within the same apartments. I wish I had time to describe each of the people we are teaching, but I don't. Suffice it to say that I love them all and love teaching them.

Mom, to answer your question, we are not allowed to eat with members unless an investigator or less active is also there. (Although that rule might be changing soon.) Occasionally we are fed by investigators, but usually we provide for oursleves. We are on a tight budget, so I am learning a lot about what is and isn't worth buying. I do miss the 3 times a day, free, all you can eat MTC food, and I miss your cooking even more, but I'm not going hungry and can't complain. In fact, my companions are pretty good cooks themeselves.

As for the 4th [of July], we are having a normal day until 5 PM, when we are going to a stake center for a "lock down." The lock down, which lasts until 9, will be for missionaries to spend time with each other, and we even get to watch an approved movie. I'm excited, but honestly I would rather use that time to study or teach, but it is what President Laney said we should do.

Yesterday I went on an exchange with Elder Fieldson, who is also a "Visa Waiter" like me. He got here 3 weeks before I did, so he is pretty new too. At first I was really nervous, and thought my zone leaders (my companions) were crazy for putting the two greenie gringos together for a day, but it turned out to be wonderful. I learned a lot in just a few hours, and we did some good work, and found some wonderful people to teach.

This is a somewhat random thought, but I have developed a love for Polynesian people. They are so generous, especially to the missionaries. We had to run a booth at the Taylorsville day fair and there was a booth of Navajo bread run by a Tongan family right next to us. They insisted on feeding every missionary who worked at the booth (which over the course of three days was quite a few) for free. I talked to the brother who ran the stand and he said business wasn't too hot, but "as long as we feed the missionaries, this booth has served its purpose." I know God will bless him and his family for their generosity.

Speaking of genrosity, I think that when I get to Mexico I'll think that the Utah missionaries are spoiled. Here there are constantly people waving at you, you often get people offering rides, there are several restaurants where missionaries eat for free, and sometimes people even offer you money. I love it here, not because of all the free stuff, but because of the missionaries I work with and the people I teach. I am excited to go to Mexico, but I will be sad when I have
to leave Salt Lake.