Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Still cookin' in Kentucky!

Dear Family,
Glad to hear that you received my pictures and Christmas card. I have to apologize to John and Felicia, Shawn and Emily, and the Browning's for somehow omitting their cards!! I was quite frustrated when I found that out, but perhaps you'd be able to make copies and send to them. I guess it pays to write down addresses in a place you can find them, doesn't it? But anyway, I really enjoyed reading your blog that you posted! My goodness, talk about a series of unfortunate events! As you also stated, though, gratitude be to God for such wonderful people who took care of you. In the end, it sounds like it was a good experience!

Well, I'm thankful for the chance to serve in Hazard for at least another transfer. There is much good happening here, and we should see continued success with the Lord's help. This past week was a good end to a very busy transfer! We taught 21 lessons altogether! The Lord is also blessing us richly with some great new investigators! One of them, by the name of Emily Cornett, has actually been coming to Church for about 5 months. She is the granddaughter of the Pigman's, an older couple in the branch who are very active. The Pigman's had informed us about her several weeks ago, but also indicated that when she was ready to be taught, they would let us know. Well, this past Sunday proved to be that very day! Even better, she set her own baptismal date of January 9th, which will mark 6 months since she started coming to Church. We will start teaching her at the Pigman's home this Thursday.

As for Dustin Cornett (no relation to Emily that we know of....yet), he continues to become more and more a part of the Church! Incidentally, he also ran into my mission blog on the Internet! It was interesting to hear HIM tell ME about MY experiences that he's read about! I wonder if he's posted anything...... Anyway, Dustin's wife, Amy, has started sitting in on the lessons too. She's very quiet, but will comment and ask questions when she feels prompted. I'm not too worried about her, in large part because Dustin is a whiz when it comes to Church knowledge and has a firm conviction of its truthfulness. Sheesh, all he needs now is a calling!!

We have several people we're teaching right now, but the only hurdle keeping them from progressing is Church attendance. However, with the Lord's help as well as regular member participation, miracles can and will continue to occur here in Hazard. Our recent converts, seven in all, are also doing very well and being made to feel welcome within the Church. Joey Couch's testimony is very strong, even in these early stages!

At Church on Sunday, I was privileged to give a talk on Christmas traditions, and I shared some experiences from you and Dad that really seemed to help those listening to feel the Spirit, for which I was grateful. THEN I was asked to teach priesthood, and everything seemed to go well, which was good considering I was given only one day to prepare! Time and time again, I have been awed at how the Lord will use the unlikely to accomplish the impossible. This is His work, and NOTHING can stop it from sweeping the whole earth!

What a great time of the year to feel of the true Spirit of the season, which is centered around the Savior and His birth. I look forward with earnestness to see what gifts the Lord has for us to give to those prepared individuals and families who are seeking. I'm grateful for all the blessings that God continues to give you, as well as numerous opportunities to grow. Be assured that he is doing the same for me down here! Have a wonderful, spiritual week!

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Heart is Full & Rejoicing

Flashback to 2003
Dear Mom,
My heart is full and rejoicing! A spiritual weekend was capped off by the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, which was once again powerful and went right to the center! It doesn't seem to matter what the setting is: The Lord's anointed never fail to get their message acrossed, due in large part to their ability to teach by the Spirit. Teaching by that power has resulted in Joey Couch being able to get baptized on Saturday. A few inches of snow made the day particularly symbolic, but it didn't prevent some members from coming and showing their support. It was, as I think I mentioned before, the first time I have ever baptized someone. I was both excited and nervous, but everything went perfectly! I will get the memory card sent as soon as I can, since you haven't had new photos in a few months. Anyway, back to the baptism. Afterwards, Joey shared a great testimony, talking about how a friend of his whom he knew in college contacted him out of the blue, and from their conversations he learned that she had recently joined the Church in Oakland, CA. This occurred, he said, while he was praying about the truthfulness of this Church, and that this experience just furthered his assurance that it was what the Lord wanted him to do. A very similar thing has happened with Dustin Cornett, who, although he can't be baptized until July, has nonetheless also been heavily influenced by a member of the Church, which he says has only strengthened HIS testimony of the gospel. He's what you could call a "dry Mormon," basically a member without baptism! Dustin also was able to hear Pres. Monson speak for the first time last night, which was really looking forward to and really enjoyed the devotional overall. Joey and Dustin will be tremendous assets both to the Hazard Branch and to the Church in general. In fact, Dustin especially likes to get on internet forums and set the record straight about the Church, since there is a lot of misunderstanding and just plain nonsense out there. It's pretty crazy to hear him talk about it with us, but he has no fear telling people the truth. They are both outstanding young men who have helped me appreciate my own membership in this Church even more! I liked the idea you mentioned about sharing something with some people I've met out in the field. I will come up with a short list and send it to you with the memory card. In fact, I'll try to get that done today if I can. As for Bernard Taylor back in Hamilton, the last thing I heard was that he had gone back to Georgia where he's from. I'm REALLY hoping he got in contact with the Church and was able to get baptized. He was SO incredibly solid! I left Hamilton soon after his baptism was postponed, but I found out that he came to Church every week until he moved back to Georgia. I would love to get in contact with him somehow, but as you said, that is beyond my power. It's great to hear that everyone is doing well and is happy. I couldn't ask for anything else! Well, it's hard to believe that we're on the last week of the transfer, but we are certain the Lord will give us more success as we keep doing what we're supposed to. Look forward to hearing from you again next Tuesday, no matter where I might be. I kinda hope I stay around here for at least another transfer....but, we'll leave that up to Him. Love you all, have a great week!
Elder Isaac Livingston

Monday, November 30, 2009

1st BAPTISM, Sports & The Gospel

Dear Family,
Wow! What a list of things to be grateful for! I really liked the BYU one as well! I may be cut off from technology, but I knew full well when the big rivalry game was. However, it didn't distract from the work, which is going tremendously! THERE IS MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR!! We enjoyed a great Thanksgiving at the Lee's, a family in Paintsville that joined the Church last year. I met them in Wilmington, and they've wanted me down in Kentucky ever since then. We played basketball all afternoon with their son Levi and a few of his non-member friends. It was totally awesome! It felt good to get back out on the court, considering our meetinghouse doesn't have a cultural hall. There's another thing to be thankful for: A weight room to exercise in every morning, otherwise I'd be a bowling ball! Anyway, the Lee's fed us a great dinner (turkey by the way), and on Saturday the Flinchum's had us over for THEIR Thanksgiving dinner and we stuffed ourselves again! As I put that holiday behind me and prepare for Christmas, I plan on making the most of it, especially since it's my last one in the field. I enjoyed the card you sent as well as the pictures. It's incredible to see how much EVERYONE has grown since I've been away! What a crazy week this was, with another one about to begin! We taught 18 lessons this week, which is incredible considering we had only 5 going into Friday! All I can say is that God is all about miracles. This will be an especially promising week because Joey Couch is getting baptized this coming Saturday....and by me! He asked that I would do it, for which I feel honored and somewhat nervous at the same time. I've never baptized anyone before, but I guess the only tricks are to say all the words right and get them all the way under the first time. That notwithstanding, it's great to see people you teach take that big step and join the Church! Another thing I'm thankful for is all the counsel and advice you've given me over the years that is paying off today. It has been a great aid to me throughout my mission, combined with Preach My Gospel and the scriptures. It makes me think of an interesting analogy. As you know, I love sports, and because I love sports I absolutely HATE to lose. Just hate it. However, as I look at the reasons I lost those games, I discovered something that was infinitely worse than losing itself...and that is that my team COULD'VE won but we made stupid mistakes, we didn't try our best, or we weren't PREPARED. Life, including missionary work, has a lot of parallels with sports.... well at least for me anyway. You aren't going to succeed 100% of the time, because you'd never learn and therefore never progress. I like this phrase: "We aren't called to be successful in all things, but to be faithful in all things." In other words, what do you have to lose when you try your best? Nothing! Yeah, we didn't quite reach 20 lessons this week, but we sure tried hard. At the same time, there may have been a few opportunities to have additional lessons that the Spirit may have prompted us on but that we chose to ignore, and that's no fun to have that feeling. I hope your following along with this, I can get really scatter-brained sometimes. :) Being involved in sports virtually all my life has taught me some timeless principles that have carried over into the mission field, and as a result, I am better able to cope with challenges that come up. Another blessing in disguise was being low on miles for basically the last 2 weeks. Evidently this was the Lord telling us we needed to be on our feet a lot more, and because we listened to His counsel we had 45 contacts this week that resulted in 4 new investigators! We've given out quite a few "Joy to the World" cards and will continue to do so! How can you "Talk With Everyone" when you're driving past them all?! I haven't figured out a way to do that yet. We've determined that whenever we will be staying in the Hazard area, in order to save miles and talk to everyone, we'll work on foot. This ought to bring about even more success, and should cause us to pay less and less attention to the fact that our feet might be sore. I'm thankful to be serving a mission, it's something that has been nothing short of rewarding....and yes, I'm talking about hard times as well as good. More to come this week as we look to bring souls unto Christ! Have a great week!

Elder Isaac Livingston

Monday, November 23, 2009

BBQ Squirrel and U.S. Mail

Dear Family,
First off, this is an announcement that Pres. Robbins sent to us this morning concerning mail delivery and things like that. You'll probably want to pass this along to anyone that you can:

New Post Office Mail policy

Due to new and reinforced postal rules and to a new expensive service that they are promoting (Premium Forwarding Service), the Post Office will no longer forward the mail that is sent to the Mission Office for free. In order for you to receive your mail (letters and packages), your family and friends need to send your mail to you directly to your apartment during the first four weeks of the transfer.

Send mail and packages between these 4 week periods:

November 3 – December 1, 2009

December 15, 2009 – January 12, 2010

January 26 – February 23, 2010

March 9 – April 6, 2010

April 20 – May 18, 2010

June 1 – June 21, 2010

July 13 – August 10, 2010

August 24 – September 21, 2010

October 5 – November 2, 2010

November 16 – December 14, 2010

All mail that is delivered to the Mission Office will be distributed at the following Zone Conference. Please note, that by the time your mail is brought to the Mission Office by the missionaries in the apartment you just left, it could be two or more Zone Conferences before your mail can catch up to you.

So yeah, pretty annoying but nothing we can do. Anyway, now on to the good stuff! Had a pretty good week all around, although we didn't meet our lesson goal, but we were fairly consistent each day. Yesterday was the Hazard Branch Conference, which was really good! Pres. Newill, the stake president (by the way, the stake is headquartered in Huntington, WV) is a deeply spiritual and straightforward individual who is very committed to his calling. He indicated that Hazard is one of the better units in the stake, and he impressed upon everyone the need to rise even higher and be completely faithful to their responsibilities. I can agree that effective home and visiting teaching especially will make or break the future of this area. We have also been asked to place a renewed emphasis on developing and implementing family mission plans. This will no doubt raise member awareness as to their missionary responsibilities. WE CAN'T DO IT ALONE! In fact, we're specifically counseled not to even try and do it by ourselves.

Being on a mission has taught me how important it is to always be a missionary, and I intend to help with the work even after I've returned home! As you know, I've thought a ton about member missionary work and how to make it more successful in the areas that I serve. I liked the question that you posed as to why the Lord asks us to do missionary work. Two statements came into my mind, one from Pres. Kimball and the other from Preach My Gospel. Pres. Kimball basically stated that if the Lord wanted to, He could easily convince mankind of His power and His wisdom in a split second. However, he added, this is not the Lord's interest. He wants us to become converted to His gospel FOREVER. In Preach My Gospel on page 161, it says this about the importance of members:

" The starting point for building strong relationships with members is the bishop. Offer to help and serve in any righteous way that he asks. Regularly ask yourself, 'Am I a blessing or a burden to the bishop?' Develop a 'How can I help?' attitude. If you will look for opportunities to LOVE, SERVE, AND TEACH, the bishop and ward members will be more likely to trust you with their family members and friends."

The basic message behind both of those statements is to become converted and help others to do likewise. This can best be accomplished by ministering and teaching one another the doctrines of salvation that lead to exaltation. As Moses 1: 39 says, "For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." What a privilege it is for us to participate in that divine commission! And yet, it's such a small role we play, but a very significant one. We are here on earth to learn how to get back "there." Elder Ballard has said that true and lasting conversion is the key to accelerating the work of the Church. Therefore, it's up to us to set our lives in order, submit ourselves to God's will, and then go and do what He has asked. From the scriptures, it is evident that sharing the gospel is a commandment, and so it must be a necessary step towards exaltation. Anyway, I don't want to get into another rant, but that's what is on my mind in regards to that subject.

I'm looking forward to another Thanksgiving, which will hopefully include a spiritual as well as a physical feast! A member family in Paintsville that I met in Wilmington(they came to see Elder Remington, who started teaching them) has invited us over for Thanksgiving, which will also include a good deal of basketball playing!! Our church building doesn't have a gymnasium, so you can imagine I'm pretty excited! I'm guessing they will have turkey, although there are quite a few possums lying around this area.....but I wouldn't dare even TOUCH that! I've had barbequed squirrel, and that was enough for me.

Joey Couch should be having his interview at the beginning of next week in preparation for his baptism on the 5th. We're going to go over the agenda and some other procedures with him this evening. He really enjoyed Branch Conference yesterday, and chatted with Pres. Newill for a few minutes even. Joey has basically fellowshipped himself into the branch, and combined with great overall fellowshipping from branch members, he's basically a member without baptism. Much of the same for Dustin Cornett, although he didn't show up to Church yesterday for some reason and wasn't home when we stopped by that evening. I'm not too concerned (yet), but it does make you wonder a little bit. Well, not much else to say this week! Things are going pretty well here, and we're just going to try and stretch a little bit more than the previous weeks. Sounds like winter has finally arrived up there, but no snow in sight for this region. I don't know if we'll get any, but there's still a chance! Hope all else is going well on the homefront! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!! Love you all tons!
Elder Isaac Livingston

Monday, November 16, 2009


Happy Monday! How is everyone doing? A spiritually full weekend! It started of course with Zone Conference, which was great! Pres. Robbins talked mostly about temples and covenants, and explained what the ancient portable tabernacle symbolized. It was really cool, especially for a history buff like myself. Pres. Robbins also gave each companionship a copy of Pres. Hinckley's famed missionary talk, "Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep," which made me very excited! I've talked with him about it quite a bit over the past several months, and he is looking for ways to help us improve in member-missionary work because it is still obviously a problem.  It has opened my eyes about how important member-missionary work is, and strengthened my resolve to be involved in it when I get back. We go out with Pres. Phillips, our branch president each Tuesday, and this time we're going to talk first about missionary work within the branch and how to create more effective Family Mission Plans. I'm looking forward to that! In addition, both of his counselors in the branch presidency should also be going with us to appointments this week. Indeed, effective member-missionary work starts with leadership!

Anyway, so then we had a great Stake Conference yesterday.Pres. and Sis. Robbins both spoke and did great. Pres. Phillips also gave some remarks, so I got to hear from several people I'm well-acquainted with. As for our investigators, Dustin can't get baptized until July because he is on probation for a felony. He was disappointed that he couldn't get baptized next month, but his attitude was full of faith and optimism. Apart from probation, his only real stumbling block continues to be smoking, but he is making an honest effort to overcome it. When he found out the news, his response was something along the lines of, "It's going to be fine. I've been looking for the truth for years, and I'm done searching. I know the Church is what it claims to be, and I WILL join it when I'm off probation." As a missionary, having done all that you could, there honestly isn't a better response you could ask for! We finished teaching him all the lessons last night, and now our focus will be geared toward developing a regular scripture study habit, particularly the Book of Mormon. He knows quite a bit about the Church from the website, but we're helping him to focus more time on this....at least to do it first.

Joey on the other hand is on track for baptism on the 5th of December. Much like Dustin, there isn't really anything that he doesn't understand AND apply, so it makes our teaching almost effortless because he prays for the Spirit to help him understand, and the Spirit helps us teach accordingly. He has fellowshipped himself into the branch, everyone gets along with him and he can carry a conversation as good as anyone. Well, that is basically what's happening in Hazard right now. We're also working with our recent converts and helping them fulfill their responsibilities in the branch. Bro. Flinchum, whose wife was baptized in August, received the Melchizedek Priesthood at stake conference yesterday. He was inactive for 45 years until about a year and a half ago when he decided to turn his life around. He's a referee for basketball and loves sports alot, so he and I get along. He has definitely come a long way.

This kind of thing always reminds me that missionary work is not for non-members only. I've seen a few instances of that during my mission in helping less-actives come back, recent converts to get their feet wet, or in helping active members fulfill their missionary responsibilities. There is no end to the rewards, but the timing is always the Lord's! Well, that's the latest on things down here. We still have a lot of referrals left to contact, but we're working on narrowing it down one piece at a time.

Well anyway, I hope all is going well on the homefront! Any significant snowfall yet? Doesn't look like we'll get any here anytime soon, but you never know with the weather. Love you all, have a great, great week!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Seeing the fruit of His labors


NOV 3 ,2009

Dear Family,
Leave it to me to e-mail this late in the day! Once again, I got to make the long trek all the way up to Portsmouth, OH for transfers. This time, Elder Bittner was transferred after serving here for 7 1/2 months, and I was placed with my new companion: Elder Rush from Gilbert, AZ. He's been out for 10 1/2 months and served in two other areas before this one. I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue serving here in Hazard, and to have Elder Rush as my new companion. It seems that he is always smiling, so I'm confident that will translate to good things as far as the work is concerned. I have the privilege of being the assigned driver as well, so as you can imagine, my back is somewhat sore from driving all day. Good thing we have a truck, because these Kentucky roads are not exactly for the faint of heart. As for our missionary work, we have two progressing investigators, Joey Couch and Dustin Cornett, who are very likely to be baptized this transfer....assuming they keep coming to Church, which should keep happening because they have enjoyed it. I've noticed a trend as I have gone to each of my areas, and that is that the Lord has placed extremely prepared individuals for me and my companions to teach, or at least to start teaching. I suppose that thought came to my mind because Ryan Starks and Kim Wells, whom Elder Remington and I found while serving in Wilmington, will BOTH be baptized on Nov. 23! This I found out from Elder Remington through the Lee Family(some recent converts that Elder Remington found) in Paintsville, KY this morning when we stopped there for a quick breakfast. I couldn't possibly tell you how excited I was to find that out!! I was very excited that Kim is going to get baptized too, as she was struggling for most of the time we were teaching them. I knew Ryan would be baptized eventually, but it's even more rewarding that he will be joined by Kim. IF ONLY I COULD BE THERE FOR IT!! None of this would've happened if Elder Remington and I hadn't been walking through a park one day and noticed them playing basketball, then gone over and talked to them. It is unbelievable to think what we can accomplish when we are absolutely committed to the promptings of the Spirit! I can testify that I have seen that throughout my mission with each of these people that the Lord has prepared, and I am still seeing it here in Hazard with Joey and Dustin. Pres. Hinckley summed it up best when he said, "No missionary can predict the consequences of their labors. You never really know how many lives will be affected because you opened your mouths to share the gospel." That attitude has helped me go from one area to the next, regardless of whether or not I saw anyone get baptized while I was there. This work is so true, and I'm humbled continually at how patient and long-suffering the Lord can be with me as I strive to improve and do what He wants done wherever I am assigned. I see this transfer as being very rewarding for Elder Rush and I, and we are committed to following whatever counsel is given. The weather here has been extremely nice the past few days, neither too hot nor too cold. Hard to believe we've moved into November already! Sounds like Halloween was exciting for the kids, and I'm guessing they got my letter by now. It seems everything is going well at home as well as out here, in spite of the swine flu going around. They've had to close down school in pretty much all of the Kentucky counties that are in this mission! Pres. Robbins has asked us to refrain from shaking hands for the time being, which is an often difficult rule to follow for a missionary since we shake hands all the time! Nevertheless, I have tried my best to keep from doing it. Once it starts to get a lot colder and I have to wear gloves, then it won't be a problem. Well, not sure if there's anything else to update you on at this time, and we have to get headed back to our apartment real soon because our branch president is taking us to appointments this evening. It's nice, he does it every Tuesday night, so it sets a good example for the rest of the members. I will definitely continue to have a good time doing the work, which attitude can only come when I'm obedient and following the Spirit....and it doesn't hurt to receive encouraging e-mails each week from the homefront. :) Hope everyone is doing well! May the Lord be with you always! Love,
Elder Isaac Livingston

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Have a "Hazardous" Halloween!

These past two weeks have been very productive here in Hazard! We've taught a whole bunch and been able to contact plenty of referrals that have some potential. The biggest highlight was that we finally got an investigator to Church! Joey Couch came yesterday and had a great experience all around. It was especially nice to see the members take charge and fellowship him. If everyone did that constantly, baptisms AND retention would improve drastically. As for Joey, there doesn't seem to be anything keeping him from getting baptized as early as next month. He's a very smart and attentive guy, and the fact that he is blind isn't an issue at all. The benefits of regular study, prayer, and Church attendance cannot really be condensed into this letter! There is a huge difference between those who do those things and those who don't. I am a witness to that, and am thankful that the Lord has taken the time to help me understand and apply the gospel better. As a result, He has used me to bless His children virtually everyday!

We also had a unique experience on Saturday, as we went with some members to a Civil War Reenactment a little ways south of Hazard. Of course, we wouldn't have gone if there weren't a bunch of people there, and we took advantage by talking to whoever we could and offering them pass-along cards. It was a rather appropriate mix: Great missionary opportunity, and a big piece of history! In addition, Elder Bittner got called on to say the opening prayer before the battle began. He was dressed like an 1860's missionary with a first edition reprint of the Book of Mormon in hand. Yeah, I have a very interesting companion, to say the least.

Wow, you all had a full week from reading your letters! It's indeed crazy how fast this year has gone, for both me and you. Nevertheless, the Lord has given us the needed experiences in that time that will truly benefit us in the long run. No matter how He does it, you can't help but thank Him for being anxiously engaged in our lives. He can only do that if we let Him though, as I've learned. I like this quote from President Joseph F. Smith:

"We should carry with us the spirit of prayer throughout EVERY duty that we have to perform in life. Why should we? One of the simple reasons that appeals to my mind with great force is that man is so utterly dependent upon God! How helpless we are without Him; how little can we do without His merciful providence in our behalf!"

I have learned during my mission the need to make my prayers very specific, and therefore they are more from the heart and also greatly acknowledge my dependence on the Lord. Transfers are at the end of this week, so I look forward to seeing what happens and what the Lord's will is for me.
Well anyway, thank you for continuing to motivate and encourage me in my efforts. The things you share set the tone for the rest of the week, and it helps tremendously! I love you all and wish the best for each of you for another week! God Bless!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Funny stuff

Be sure and check out the city and street names that Isaac sent our way - very funny!

Shotguns in the "Hollar"

Well, things are moving along fairly smooth here in the land of Hazard. We still have a ton of referrals to contact, and some are so far out there that we can't do it without members. Ideally, we shouldn't be trying to do the work without members anyway, but it's difficult when the closest ones are a good 20 minutes away. I know that as we have faith and make a real effort, the work will accelerate as never before. Truly, we are the only ones that keep the gospel from sweeping quicker over the earth. The Lord is in charge, but if we aren't doing our best, we will miss out on some choice blessings.

Our branch president, President Phillips, is a very knowledgeable guy and understands what missionary work is about. He served a mission and thankfully is endeavoring to keep that same spirit today. He comes with us every Tuesday night and always takes us to dinner as well. I'm not gonna complain about that one! I was also introduced yesterday to a new fast Sunday tradition: Potlucks! They have one every fast Sunday, and there is usually a great deal of food to be eaten. Not as much food or people as usual yesterday, but plenty to eat for those of us who were fortunate to be there! On another positive note, the branch ordered a ton of copies of Preach My Gospel to give to members who don't have them! As you may be aware, I have been striving to help members study and apply the teachings in this book, for it promises that unity will come between members and the missionaries. Also, I have to respect members' time because they have lives to live too, so pushing them to do missionary work doesn't help at all. Only by loving, serving, and teaching them can success come.

Currently, we don't have any investigators who are progressing, but there are several that are extremely close. The only thing stopping them is Church attendance, and as I said earlier, some are so far out there that it has been a challenge trying to see our investigators regularly. We basically pick an area or two each day to contact and follow up with these referrals, and we've actually had a pretty good deal of success in teaching them and getting a return appointment. The people out here are very gracious and will usually invite us in....once they figure out who we are. I say that because apparently this is the time of the year in this part of Kentucky for "certain people" to harvest their drugs that they grow back in the "hollars." That's a slang term for a narrow, windy road, and they are EVERYWHERE! Anyway, some of the people have been surprised that we found their address and a few have asked if we were from the government, the reason being that, well, they obviously were growing illegal drugs or something along that line. One guy said he was about to get his shotgun until we told him who we were and why we were there. Yep, that's Kentucky!! All those circumstances aside, the people are pretty open-minded and interested in hearing what we have to say. They may not all understand it or even believe it, but the thing I've understood more on my mission is that the Spirit knows no boundaries....anyone and everyone can be influenced by that power. If we create an environment where the Spirit can be present, boy do the lessons go a whole lot better!

Let's see, the weather here is slightly more consistent than Ohio, but not by much. It rains a whole lot more, and floods are apparently frequent in this part of the state. The weather is still decent, but it's slowly starting to turn colder....which I'm not looking forward to. I'm doing fine with warm clothing and garments also, I even inherited a scarf from Elder Janiec when he went home! The leaves are starting to change color, and it's more evident in some places than in others. I'll have to take pictures so you can see it. It appears that fall is trying to skip past Utah from what you were saying. I miss those drives up the canyon during this time of year, it was always very nice. Then again, pretty much this whole area is nothing but canyons, so I guess it's all right. Let's see, what else could I say about this area? Oh yes, we live right next to the rec center in Hazard, so we get to go there every morning to work out in the weight room! I was pretty excited to discover that, and so I'm enjoying sweating again! I am doing my best to keep both feet planted in this area as well. It isn't easy when you were in your last area for 9 months, but your continued counsel and encouragement has helped me the past few weeks. Thank you for your letter, and thanks to Kenz for hers as well.

So, Bro. Heaton finally got released, did he? I was thinking he'd serve in that calling forever! I just might write him as well! Bro. Rogers will do an excellent job in that calling. Both of them have had a great influence on me and were definitely influential in helping me prepare for a mission. There are so many people that I could thank in that regard, and I make it a point of doing so each night in prayer. I would not be where I am today without family, friends, and leaders to point me in the right direction. Only now have I understood how important their examples were to me. It will stick with me for the rest of my life, I can promise that. There are many ways that we can "consecrate [our] performance" to God, and through selfless service and sacrifice we can accomplish wonders. I can testify to that, being a missionary and all. I hope that this week holds many such blessings for each of you, and that the things we learned from General Conference will not be forgotten anytime soon! Love you all, and God Bless!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The blessing of The Book of Mormon

WHAT AN INCREDIBLE GENERAL CONFERENCE!!!! It seems that it Conference can only get better each time, but of course that's true since the Church is still growing....and always will be! I would give anything to sit at the feet of the Lord's anointed and be instructed like that EVERY day! Then again, that's why I like listening to and reading their words so much, because I never seem to run out of things to apply. I was especially excited on the talks that were given regarding the Spirit and in particular, personal revelation. This is something I've been studying quite frequently this past week. The Spirit confirmed to me during those talks that this was something I needed to focus on. I suppose all of us have had experiences when the Spirit prompted us and we didn't follow it immediately! The Spirit is absolutely necessary to be able to do this work, and I don't want to EVER get to the point of not being able to follow a prompting. As always, each of the talks given had something for me, and therefore I have many things to work on. Elder Holland's testimony of the Book of Mormon was exceptionally powerful, wasn't it?! You could've heard somebody breathe in the Conference Center, it was dead silent. It caused me to reflect on how much I've used the Book of Mormon thus far and what I need to do differently. Preach My Gospel states it best: "The Book of Mormon, combined with the Spirit, is the most powerful resource in conversion. Use it in EVERY aspect of your work." I haven't forgotten the challenge that was issued by Bro. Farmer, but to be honest I haven't followed through on it yet. Praying about it should help solve it, don't ya think?

Anyway, back to my "speech" about the Book of Mormon. The fact that people reject it is perhaps due to two things: First, we as missionaries aren't clearly explaining it's purpose and what the person must do to know it is true. And second, we as missionaries aren't giving them something to read, ponder, and pray about after each meeting. There are, of course, other outside influences that cause people to set the Book of Mormon aside as something not of worth, but in essence we have a divine mandate to bear testimony of the truthfulness of that book! And if people don't accept it, well, Elder Holland made that pretty clear. :) Truly, those men are prophets, seers, and revelators! I know that this is true and am thankful each day that God has blessed me with that knowledge. There are many people in this area that are seeking that, but they don't know where to find it. Luckily, we are here to bring it to them, or God can also bring these people to us.

I have to say, Mom, I'm slightly jealous about all the time you've been able to spend at the temple lately. I wish I'd taken better advantage of having one so close when I was still home. You don't appreciate something that great until you don't have it anymore....well, at least for a little while. It was also exciting to hear about the new temples announced by Pres. Monson. Hard to believe that ANOTHER temple will be built in Utah. If anything, it shows that the Church continues to grow there. It's kind of comical to me about the all the fun members will poke at Utah, but who wouldn't want to have a couple million members and countless temples in their state? Regardless of where you live and how many people are members, the Church is still true no matter what. I pray that we may never take for granted our membership in the Lord's Church, and with that knowledge may we be an example and share it with others. I can scarcely believe how quickly this year has passed by, I almost want it to slow down. My mission may be slowly winding down, but I plan to lengthen my stride and enlarge my vision.

Neat to hear how successful the garden was this year, quite the harvest! I kind of caught the garden bug in Wilmington seeing the members plant their own stuff. I may try planting something when I get home. Mom and Dad, hope your anniversary was a good one! Hope the kids are all still enjoying school and life in general. The days are so short, I hope we continue to make the most of them. May heaven's blessings continue to attend you all! Have another great week!

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's not where you serve, but how

I'll tell you what, this whole e-mail thing is a headache! We're at a technical college now, they just happened to have public access to the Internet, so hence I am able to e-mail still. This won't be that long, considering my milk is still in the car. :)

Well, I'm getting adjusted to this new area. I have to say right off that Hazard isn't what other missionaries have said it is. I'd hear other missionaries say that Hazard was the one place that they didn't want to serve in, and I'm not sure why they'd say that. Yeah it's different, I'm not going to lie about that, but people here need the gospel just as much as the next person. I do remember when I was set apart that I would be sent to humble and unlearned people. And by unlearned I think that means in the ways of the gospel, and that is evident here since the Church is reasonably small. Thought I'd clarify that, in case you thought I was judging the people here as being dumb or something. I definitely saw a fulfillment of the humility part in Wilmington, but that's no reason to believe it couldn't be the same here. In Alma 32, we learn that Alma changed his focus from one group of people to the other, in large part due to the fact that their afflictions had humbled them, and therefore they were prepared to hear the word from God's prophet. The missionary efforts here have been pretty successful the past few months, and with the vast swarm of referrals the Lord has blessed us with, Elder Bittner and myself plan to continue moving the work forward!

I can sense that there are many people here that are just waiting for us to find them and teach them the restored gospel. The only trick will be if we can track them down on the seemingly endless and hidden array of Kentucky roads. :) It makes driving an adventure, let me tell ya! The other day it rained non-stop, and it was just pouring down the mountains turning little creeks into raging rivers! It was pretty close to flooding the roads in a few spots. Didn't stop us from teaching though, we got a lot done this past week. We still have something like 200 referrals to contact, but with the Lord's help we'll get it done! Hope all is well with the family, wherever they may be, and the ward as well. Thank you for your continued love and encouragement during this new phase in my life, I couldn't be more happy!! Have a great week!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Hazards of Missionary Work

Hazard: Approx. 5,000; Perry County: Approx. 29,390

Hazard is located in the heart of the Appalachian Coalfields in Eastern Ky. It is found at the crossroads of Highways 15 and 80 and the Hal Rogers Parkway (formerly the Daniel Boone Parkway).

The City of Hazard was founded in 1884 on land deeded to the town trustees by Elijah Combs and his wife, Sarah. Hazard is the seat of Perry County, founded in 1820, the 68th county to be formed in Kentucky. Both the county and the city were named to honor Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a naval hero from the War of 1812.

Dear Family,

You are probably worried sick as to where in the world I am, since it usually doesn't take this long for me to e-mail you. The answer to that is I am no longer in Wilmington. After 9 months there, the Lord has sent me to the most southern area of the mission: Hazard, Kentucky. Yep, from the all the way north to all the way south, in one day too! As such, we spent pretty much all of yesterday driving, and on top of that the library here is switching locations and won't be open until October 15th or somewhere around there. Currently, I'm sitting at a members' computer writing this. We're still trying to figure out what we're going to do about e-mail until the library opens, and if we don't find anything we'll have to resort to the old days before technology and write snail mail instead. Not that it's a bad thing, even though it would take longer for you to find out how things are going. But I remember Mom saying she likes hand-written letters better, so perhaps this will be a good thing. Obviously, I don't know the area yet, and I really doubt I will ever know it near as well as I did Wilmington. The reason being is that there are roads EVERYWHERE....literally! What would seem like just a narrow dirt road turns out to be filled with houses that somehow are still standing on the side of the mountain. That's pretty much how it is all over the place, and we cover like 5 or 6 counties or something like that. I don't know exactly, my head is still spinning trying to get used to things. Once you find this place on the map, you will discover just how far removed from everything it is! On a brighter side, we will be plenty busy this transfer as there are a lot of investigators and an unrealistic amount of referrals. The number of referrals is seriously in the neighborhood of 250 at least! This came about because of a festival held here last transfer in which the missionaries set up a booth. They encouraged people to sign their names on a list to have a free Church DVD or Book of Mormon delivered to them. Hence the huge list of referrals! Pres. Robbins already told me I won't be here near as long as Wilmington(no surprise), but I'll probably be around these parts for 3 months at least, 4 1/2 at the longest. Here's my new address:

409 Cedar Street Apt. B

Hazard, KY 41701

Oh, and my new companion is Elder Bittner from Centerville, UT. He has 3 months left on his mission, so it's very likely that I could be his last companion, which would make 3 altogether! He has a very interesting personality which will definitely take some getting used to. He's a pretty creative person and doesn't have any problems talking to anyone, so I'm planning on learning from him just as I have any other companion.

I suppose my current trial is how quickly I will adjust from Wilmington to Hazard. :) Congrats to Dad and Mom on your talks/garage sale managing/yard work/making dinner by yourself! Woah, that was a mouthful to say! I'll have to measure myself to see just how tall I am so Caleb's inquiries will finally be answered. Sounds like from Mom's pleadings that he has been asking about that a lot. How's Ellie doing with preschool? I'm sure she's enjoying it still. Well, I'm not sure if there is anything else to report at this time. I managed to get all my stuff packed pretty snug in my suitcases and backpack, but if I was going home I'd definitely be paying extra for them 'cause they were heavy! I'm continually amazed at how the Lord has blessed you with basically everything you need and then some! I can't think of any better knowledge to have than to know that my family and friends are safe and happy! This area will be a unique experience for me, but I'm looking forward to the things the Lord would have me do in the short time I will be here. Hope all goes well for you this week, and hopefully I'll be able to communicate via e-mail next week as well. If not, keep an eye on the mailbox! God Bless!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some highs, some lows - it's all good!

My goodness, what a week this was! We taught a grand total of 22 lessons, the most I have ever had in one week! I felt great about it for a couple reasons: First, was that the Brethren have asked us to reach this on a weekly basis; and second, the quality of our lessons was very high for virtually every one. The downside to the week, though, is that Judy and Shawn will not be getting baptized this coming Saturday. This has been tearing at me ever since we had to break the news to them. The reason is that Shawn is struggling with the Word of Wisdom and will need more time to begin living it fully. Judy is definitely prepared, but naturally she would like to wait for Shawn to be ready so they can be baptized together. It's amazing how you can have everything else in place to have a spiritual experience for all who attend, and yet those who the baptism is for are one problem away from being worthy to make that covenant. I have had this happen more than once on my mission, where it comes down to pretty much a week before the baptism and it has to be postponed. I admit, it would be easy to get down and discouraged and feel like it's your fault, but I know that this is God's work, and He is ALWAYS in charge. I feel as did Alma when he faced a very difficult situation with a group of people(the Zoramites) who had strayed from the right way; and yet, he sought the ability from God to bring them to a knowledge of the truth:

"O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people." (Alma 31:31)

Missions are extremely challenging, and as I've gone through the months I've recognized that the sorrow I've felt has not been for me, but for the people around me. I want more than anything for them to know and understand the truth....but THEY have to want it for themselves. In fact, I'd say the only negative about having a car is driving past countless numbers of people and realizing they need the gospel as much as the next person! This current challenge with Judy and Shawn is just another one of the Lord's tests to see if I will continue to persevere and help prepare them for the time when they can make those covenants, and more importantly, understand the significance of them. In times like these, all I can really say is, "Onward, ever onward!"

First off, Christina Coleman's baptism went great! This was the first time she had ever been underwater, and I could tell she was a little nervous. Everything went perfect, we got her all the way under the first time. It was especially great to have Bro. Coleman worthy to perform the baptism. When I first got here, he was struggling with the Word of Wisdom and only coming to Church every now and then. However, with the help of Pres. Anderson (first counselor in the stake presidency and a member of the Wilmington Branch) and our efforts to reach out and serve, he has done a virtual 180. He's even accompanied us to a few appointments and taught and testified very well. THAT'S what missions are really all about: Seeing people make significant changes in their lives, which brings greater happiness. You don't have to be an investigator to change. All of us need to become who the Savior wants us to become, and it's a lifelong process but one that is definitely worth it.

Now the second item, which I believe was about my companions. Elder Remington heads back to Montana in just over a week, and he's excited but also sad to be leaving. He's really looking forward to jumping back on his racing bike, which his brother has been working on since he left. Anything with wheels, Elder Remington is on it! Elder Parker is way into trucks, and he has a great sense of humor that is much needed in missionary work. He isn't afraid of trying anything, and I suppose that could be both good and bad depending on what results. :) Nonetheless, I've really enjoyed serving with these two and can hardly believe that another transfer is almost over. Once again, I have no idea if I'll be leaving or not. The odds are good considering I've been here 9 months, but if the Lord still needs me here, I will be more than happy to stay.

Well, the work in Wilmington continues to go ahead despite the constant challenges we're up against. But, just like Mom pointed out a couple weeks ago: NOTHING WORTH HAVING IS FREE! I am thankful for your constant prayers and letters you send, it is probably the greatest thing I could ask for right now. I know without a doubt that I am NEVER alone in this work, so there is no reason to become discouraged. Things will work out, they always do.

Anyway, have another great week, and I'll look forward to e-mailing you again next Tuesday, wherever I am!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Learning to listen

Thank you so much for your wonderful letters last week, I very much enjoyed reading them!

I think I have gotten taller since I left, but I'm not complaining about that. Heck, from looking at the picture of you at the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, it looks like I'm not the only one! Man, Cal and Ellie are BIG!! They are making me feel old, even though I'll only be 21 this Saturday. Seems strange to think I've reached that age....and scary! Oh well, nothing I can do about it. Sounds like you had a good trip to Oregon (again!), but I'm wondering how much time it's going to take you all to recover from your "vacation month." Doesn't sound like things are slowing down, though, with school getting underway and various other things. And I'm looking forward to getting some much anticipated mail this week as well; I'll have to make sure Elder Remington and Elder Parker don't open them in any way! Our mail slot is in the door, so we know when it's come because we hear the mailman open and shut it. Last week, we were all sitting at the table planning for the next week when we heard him drop mail in. We pretty much tackled each other trying to get down the stairs to the door to see who the mail was for. This happened the day you sent your letters, which was the only piece of mail that day, so the other two were pretty upset. :) That's just one example of how valuable it is to hear from loved ones, so I want to thank you and everyone else that has taken time out to write me thus far.

Zone Conference was great last week! We really enjoyed having Elder Packer come and speak to us. I felt the Spirit as I listened to everyone that spoke. Pres. Robbins taught us what it really means to listen. I've seen how much it's helped in the short time since he presented it to us. All too often we've been guilty of having investigators present problems or challenges right to our faces, but we're so self-absorbed in what we planned on teaching that we pass it off as nothing....big mistake! I went back and studied about adjusting our teaching to meet needs as well as listening, both of which are in chapter 10 of Preach My Gospel. Those two teaching skills play a huge role in the amount of success we experience, so I'm committed to following them to the letter. The words of the Brethren in Preach My Gospel, combined with the words of ancient prophets in the scriptures, couldn't make the gospel any easier to understand! They don't beat around the bush, so why should we? If we'd just follow the Spirit every day, we'd be SO much more successful in our assigned areas.

Stake Conference was great as well, Pres. Robbins shared a wonderful testimony. I'm sure that Judy and Shawn, our progressing investigators, were able to feel the Spirit as he did so, as well as during all the other talks that were given. They came to the adult session the previous night as well, and afterwards informed us that they are 100% positive that September 19th is the day they are going to get baptized!! I know this is due to the fact that they have been doing everything we've asked of them and are therefore feeling the Spirit more and more. Judy has even payed fast offerings a couple of times!! The members are beginning to take them under their wings more as well, which takes quite a bit of stress off of us. Members ARE the key to success, I can testify of that for hours!

Pres. Robbins is thinking of sending every missionary given a copy of Pres. Hinckley's talk, "Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep." It is absolutely incredible!! I've studied it a lot and shared many things with him, so thank you for sending it to me. I believe that TRUE conversion to the gospel is the key to accelerating the work, something Elder Packer stressed a lot in his remarks. I'll close with a great quote from Pres. Kimball about this same subject:

"Our role as missionaries is not primarily to convince people of the truthfulness of the gospel. If the Lord were primarily interested in convincing people of the divine nature of this work, He could, and perhaps would, demonstrate His powers in such a way that large numbers of people could know the truth in a relatively brief period of time. He could speak if He chose, and all the people on earth could hear in their own language. Or He could emblazon His words in the sky, where all could read or see them. But if those persons thus convinced did not really change their lives for the better, repent of their sins, and turn to Him in righteousness, they would be worse off than before and would be more insensitive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. No, the Lord is not primarily interested in having His children only convinced of His work. He would like them to be converted to the gospel. Truly converted persons change their old sinful ways and turn to a new life in Christ; there is truly a 'converting' or a changing in their lives."

Kind of a lengthy quote, but it perfectly illustrates the need for each of us, member and missionary alike, to live and teach the first principles and ordinances of the gospel to everyone, and show personal examples of how much it blesses us. Doing so will not only aid in THEIR conversion process, but for ours as well. I think I've said enough, so I'll quit for this week. May God continue to bless you with the things you stand in need of is my prayer!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What Else has Elder Livingston Been Doing??

In honor of ONE YEAR in the mission field (Yes, you read correctly, today is the 1 year anniversary for Isaac entering the MTC.) we thought it was time you saw what else Elder Livingston is up to. Although these do not represent his day-to-day work as a missionary, they are very typical of what missionaries do. Or so I've been told. Here is a synopsis in pictures:

EATING RIGHT- Or perhaps well is a better word.

Receiving Packages
Service Projects

Making New Friends

Getting Plenty of Exercise

Continuing to Fight the Dark Side
Avoiding Loud Music

Performing on Stage

Staying in Tandem with his Companion
Knocking on Every Door

Getting His Hair Done

Monday, August 17, 2009

I hope you enjoyed the time spent up in Idaho with extended family. I'm sure it was exciting to see Britney come home, but I still can't believe that her mission is actually finished! Heck, I'm the only one serving from the family right now! Oh well, no pressure at all. :) 

The Lord continues to bless me in Wilmington! What a great ending to a week that started out really slow! Sunday was an especially good day, which is always true because we get to attend Church and feel the Spirit even more. And when your investigators show up, it doesn't get much better than that! We had 5 there yesterday!! Jim and Mary along with their son, Randy; and Judy and Shawn Weatherford. They have been coming for a few weeks now and are very interested in the Church! Jim and Mary are being fellowshipped by the Fear's, who have been bringing them to Church even before we met them, so of course that's a bonus! We helped them move into a new home this past week, which greatly increased the level of trust. That is absolutely essential to successful missionary work, building a bond of trust with members and investigators. Pres. McKay said once," To be trusted is better than to be loved." 

Having the privilege of spending this much time in one area, I have seen the trust people have for us as time has gone on. It is indeed a tremendous advantage when working with members to build their confidence and courage to share the gospel with others. As for Judy and Shawn, they are receiving the message very well! We're looking at September 19th as a possible baptismal date, and they don't seem to have any problems that we know of. We had planned on teaching them the Plan of Salvation last time, but after listening to some minor concerns Shawn had, we felt impressed to watch the Restoration with them. The Spirit was there and we were able to resolve Shawn's problem, and they came to Church again and enjoyed it. The members have done a great job making our investigators feel welcome, we don't even have to tell them to go and say hello. They just do it! This is something I want more than anything for the members to grasp, and that is doing missionary work without our help. I know that members are the best source for finding new investigators, and as we help them integrate the principles found in Preach My Gospel, GREAT things will happen! Miracles continue to occur here in unforseen ways, and I'm confident the Lord will keep blessing us so long as we put our trust and strength in Him, and in Him alone! 

To think I will hit the one year mark this Thursday is just nuts, but it's only going to make me work harder because they say the second year is even faster!

Nothing I have is as valuable as you all, and what a tremendous thing to know that we belong to the only true church of Jesus Christ on the face of the earth! I pray that we can continue to share that testimony with a world that desperately needs it right now. I know that God lives and that He has given us living prophets and apostles to teach us and help us become more Christlike. I know Christ's Atonement is the only way by which we can become clean and qualify ourselves to live in His presence forever! I hope my prayers are with each of you daily! Have another excellent week!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Transferred to...

I am grateful beyond measure to still be serving in Wilmington. Many people, mostly missionaries, assumed that I'd had enough of this area and was WANTING to be transferred. However, the Lord's will mandates that I stay here. What a privilege it is, I really am enjoying this area and am seeing God's promises fulfilled. I'm not in any hurry to leave!! For the first few months I was here, we struggled to see people attend Church even one time! Now, we have some solid investigators who are coming on a weekly basis, thanks in large part to the loving friendships provided by members. I can testify of the speed with which investigators can progress when they feel welcome and wanted. I know that our willingness to serve others unselfishly is a representation of our desire to do the will of the Lord. As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. once said, "In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how." To me, the spirit of service does not come by assignment, but rather as a feeling that accompanies a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I want with all my heart to serve the Lord continually by serving His children any chance I get. I know this will open doors for us to teach the gospel and invite others to come unto Christ and be forgiven of their sins.

This week in our area could be called "Plan of Salvation Week," since we are teaching it on at least 3 separate occasions to our progressing investigators. I know that our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, but we can't do that unless we cleanse ourselves, or in other words, repent. So perhaps the overarching purpose of all our missionary efforts is to warn people of the consequences of sin, and of the blessed gift called repentance. And we can't repent unless we have faith in the one who can forgive us, even the Lord Jesus Christ! Those are the first two fundamental principles of the gospel for a reason. To quote Pres. Packer, "Repentance is the escape clause in it all. Repentance is the key with which we can unlock the prison from inside. Had agency come to man without the Atonement, it would have been a fatal gift." As we prepare to teach these great eternal truths this week, I feel especially grateful for the knowledge and understanding I've gained about the Plan of Salvation and of the remarkable power of the Atonement. I know that if we rely on the Spirit to help us teach and testify, our investigators will see the need to repent now, and thus they will continue to progress towards eternal life....for that is the ultimate goal, not just baptism. I appreciate this opportunity to serve a mission, I can scarcely believe that it is halfway finished! There are many things I'd like to see happen before I go home(obviously), and if it's what the Lord wants, then I know it can be done.

I am glad to hear that your trip to Oregon was enjoyable and that you are all safe and sound. I send my prayers for Grandma McClellan as well. That is hard to believe that Caleb is already in second grade and that Ellie will be in preschool! They are going to be giants when I get home! And how in the world can Britney already be done with her mission? My goodness time flies by! This is going to be another great transfer, I can just feel it! It will also be Elder Remington's last one, so there's a good chance I could STILL be here next transfer! That's several weeks from now, though, so I'm not going to think about it. I pray for blessings to continue flowing in from on high. Seems like every week I get the privilege of feeling the Spirit as I read your letters. God loves us SO much!! Have a great week!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Faith is work

I don't know if another week can go by without being informed of a new addition to the family! Congrats to Leslie and Eric! It's gonna be exciting to see all these new faces, and also see how much everyone else has grown! I always remember to thank the Lord each day for the many ways that everyone back home is growing, especially spiritually. Hard to believe that Kenz is done with another semester of college! She's definitely a lot more diligent about learning another language than I was! I just find it remarkable how quickly missionaries at the MTC are able to learn another language.

I'm sure it's no different anywhere else, as long as you have the faith and the desire to accomplish it. The work in Wilmington continues to move forward, and great are the blessings we have received thus far. I don't know where I'd be without faith! It's not a stretch to say that every good thing is based on faith! Everything! This is a topic that is brought up every day, particularly in missionary life. The Lord's thoughts and ways are not like ours; the key is to trust Him enough to know He will always open a way for us to do His work, but on His timetable. That's an attitude I have tried hard to develop lately, and it has definitely shoved doubt and discouragement aside. Those two D's are tactics of Satan designed to make us think only of ourselves, which will absolutely kill missionary efforts if we allow it to fester. I have received assurance multiple times in the last few weeks that God answers the prayer of faith, but only after we do our part. The teachings I've learned from Alma 32-34 will help tremendously in the days and weeks to come! The scriptures are so rich with eternal truths, I'm just getting started!

Another aspect of faith I've understood more lately is that faith isn't really valid until it has been tested, as Dad pointed out today. In regards to our investigators, we are finding and teaching many who are receptive to the gospel and have no hesitation to ask any questions that are on their minds. This, I believe, is a way to know that investigators have real intent because they aren't shy about asking questions or bringing up any concerns they have. They really want to know the right way, and we have the sacred obligation of making sure they understand our message...but also that they don't MISunderstand. I am once again excited to see what lies in store for this week, and I will continue to put my faith and trust in the Lord to see His purposes fulfilled in their season. Missions aren't about seeing people get baptized, although that is important. The greatest successes in the Lord's work is seeing people develop and then exercise faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance. In short, it's seeing people change, even if they don't join the Church. That can be especially difficult to understand why they would do that, even if they've received a spiritual witness that the Church is true. People have their agency, and we need to always respect it. If I can know at the end of each day that I taught so clearly that people couldn't possibly misunderstand, then I know I've done the best I could. From Alma 32: 41 (surprise), I learned more about what exactly enduring to the end means: "But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life." From this verse, I came to the conclusion that enduring to the end involves exercising our faith, and being diligent, patient, and optimistic. When we do this, then our faith becomes firmly rooted, or in other words, our TESTIMONY becomes anchored deep within the gospel soil. All of us that have joined the Church, even some who haven't, have gained a testimony that it's true. The rest of our lives are then spent weeding out our brains of doubts and fears and continually GROWING our testimonies.

I know I've covered a lot and hope that this makes sense to all who read it. I guess to sum it all up, true conversion is something that takes all of our lives to try and accomplish, but the Savior has promised us this from the scriptures: "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (Matthew 24:13) I pray with all my heart that each of us will seek to become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and one of the best ways to do this is by living it and then sharing it with others. Every day I ask the Lord to give you missionary opportunities, and I hope that your prayers on occasion ask for the same thing. May this week bring continued happiness and success for each of you! Have faith, things will always work out the way they're supposed to!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hot, humid and happy

Zone Conference was a lot of fun, I really liked being with missionaries and just relaxing. Then again, I spent the whole time running around and sweating like crazy, so I was anything but relaxed when it was over. It was fun to see Pres. Robbins playing basketball with other missionaries, he wore them out! He said we'd have to play one-on-one sometime, although I don't know when we'd get the chance!

We had a great experience of answered prayer this past week, due entirely to the fact that we put our faith and trust in the Lord. We had failed to get any appointments with our investigators, so we faced a day that was extremely wide open. We were in desparate need of getting at least one member present lesson, but we didn't have any appointments. As we were planning, a member called us and said he was off work the next day and wanted to come teaching with us. That was the Lord doing His part. Now we needed to exercise our faith, which we did. We decided to stop by each of our investigators with him in a 90 minute period, and hopefully get a lesson or two out of it. One by one, we went to each of our investigators and found them home! In fact, each of them were outside almost as if they were waiting for us! The last ones we stopped by, Ryan and Kim, invited us in. We had found them at the park the week before playing basketball, so of course we went over to talk to them. They had many questions for us, and they accepted a Book of Mormon and a Restoration pamphlet. The day we stopped by with the member was our first real chance to get a lesson with them. We spent the whole lesson answering Ryan's questions from 3 Nephi 11 and the pamphlet, both of which he had read thoroughly. The pamphlet had questions written all over it, and he had written his questions from the chapter on a notepad. He told us that he stayed up one night until 4 in the morning reading what we'd assigned! When we initially gave them the materials, I asked them to pay attention to their thoughts and feelings as they read, and then afterwards to get on their knees and pray to confirm those feelings with the Lord. Ryan told us that the same question came across his mind when he read and then when he prayed: "Could this really be true?" They, along with Kim's brother Britt, are seriously investigating now. In fact, Ryan and Britt came to Church yesterday!!

I firmly believe that this all started with the faithful prayer of two missionaries seeking the Lord' s guidance, all the while trusting in His purposes. I don't think it was a concidence that we found them playing basketball, and not simply knocking on their door. We had a similar experience by doing service at the Taylor's these past couple weeks. They have a construction company remodeling part of their house, and they were surprised to find a couple 20 year olds who wanted to help for free. To make a long story short, the company owners (father and son) both have copies of the Book of Mormon now. Elder Remington and I have discovered that our best contacts have come through means other than tracting. President Robbins asked us to use our talents, and I'm finally realizing that you can do that and still keep the rules. You can talk about the gospel no matter what you're doing, as long as you create the right environment.

This promises to be a great week, and I am excited to see what can happen as we continue to have faith. We truly worship a God of miracles, but faith has to precede the miracle. Throughout the course of my mission, I have changed from someone who was frustrated at talking to so many uninterested people, to being someone who understands that they are not prepared yet. I am grateful to be a part of this mission, and to be serving in such a neat area at this time for as long as I have. I hope that my efforts will have at least laid a foundation that future generations of missionaries can build on.

I really enjoyed what Mom wrote about, boy do letters strengthen me! I imagine the basement is much more comfortable during these months, but just be glad you don't have to face Ohio humidity. It's crazy, even at 6:30 AM!! I loved your reading experiences from the Book of Mormon, there is so much we can apply from it. I am getting ready to start studying Alma 32-34 this week, really looking forward to it. A big thanks to Kent, Carol, and Co. for their letter last week. I don't know if that house can fit anymore kids! I think that's everything for this week, so I will leave my blessing and prayers on each of you as I always do. Keep the spiritual experiences coming!

Monday, July 6, 2009

I am only one

Well, the 4th of July was a little bit on the wet side, but there were fireworks nonetheless. Too bad we couldn't see them because we had be in by 9 PM, but we heard them pretty easily. It's always humbling to think of how much was sacrificed by those early colonizers so that we might have freedom. Such an environment was necessary for the Lord to restore His Church to the earth, so there's no doubt the Founding Fathers were inspired of God. We talk to so many people each day that lament how the country is headed in the wrong direction and in my mind I'm thinking, "Our message can solve those problems." I then do my best to present the restored gospel in a positive way, which will leave no doubt in their mind of the peace and happiness that it offers. Far too many, however, are not yet ready for it.

Well, this was a rough week as teaching goes, only 7 lessons taught. I think a big part of the problem was that we didn't take advantage of every opportunity to teach. I wish that the seeds previous missionaries had planted were ready to grow and harvest, but obviously it isn't the Lord's will. I have to keep telling myself that I'm not in charge, I'm just called to be a servant in the Lord's name. This has not been easy by any stretch, but not a day goes by that I don't learn something, and for that I am grateful. We did have several great experiences that came from giving selfless service to others, something I felt we weren't doing enough of the past couple months. Most of the service was rendered to members, which is a "piece of cake" way to earn their trust and confidence. We all have tasks that only we can perform, and all the Lord asks is that we give everything we've got and then wait. This was illustrated very well by President Monson in the most recent issue of the Ensign:

"Remember that you are entitled to our Father's blessings in this work. He did not call you to your privileged post to walk alone, without guidance, trusting to luck. On the contrary, He knows your skill, He realizes your devotion, and He will convert your supposed inadequacies to recognized strengths............I encourage you to reach out to those you serve and to love them. When you really love those you serve, they will not find themselves in that dreaded "Never, Never Land"---never the object of concern, never the recipient of needed aid. It may not be your privilege to open gates of cities or doors of palaces, but true happiness and lasting joy will come to you and to each one you serve as you take a hand and reach a heart."

Preach My Gospel teaches us that the ultimate measure of success is not in achieving goals alone, but in the service you render and the progress that others make. For me, this has been a great source of comfort lately. I realize that many people have in some way been positively affected by the message I've been called to share, even if they don't get baptized. With that mindset, I am confident that we can move the work here to another level, and our focus will be on helping the members join that cause. We have nothing to be afraid of! This is the truth, and those who choose to listen to us will never regret it. Lastly, here is a short poem that I keep in my journal to help me maintain a positive outlook when times are tough. It's called "I Am Only One":

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But I still can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do

I am grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime chance to serve the Lord in His vineyard for two years. If this Church is anything, it is service; for without charity we are nothing. It's time for the work to go where it has never gone before, and I intend to spend my remaining days in Cincinnati and elsewhere in life seeing that fulfilled. The elect will not only hear the voice of the Savior, they will follow it. People that choose not to listen are not yet the elect, so therefore WE CANNOT BE DISCOURAGED! It's wonderful to hear of the Lord's infinite blessings being poured out upon each of you, and humbling also to realize that some of them are coming simply because I chose to serve a mission. I am not deserving of all that the Lord continues to give me, but I simply plan to continue doing my best. As Steve Prefontaine, the famous Oregon track athlete once said, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." The Lord has assured me repeatedly that those I love and pray for are likewise doing everything they can to give all to God. I will most definitely study those chapters in Alma that Dad suggested. Coincidentally, this is where I'm at in my personal study of the Book of Mormon, so the timing is definitely right. And congrats to Mike and Ashley on the newest addition to their family! The pictures are good! Sheesh, cousins are popping out of the ground like the corn fields out here!

This promises to be a great week, plus we've got our Sports Zone Conference on Tuesday and that will be awesome!! Amazingly, we have appointments w/members every day this week! We will help them develop FMP's with meaningful goals so they can boldly and lovingly invite others to Christ. In addition to that, our branch president has asked us to find out which members don't have Preach My Gospel, and then to help them learn to study it regularly! I know this will strengthen their understanding and testimonies of the gospel to the point where THEY will be finding and we can focus on teaching.

Great things are ahead in Wilmington, I'll keep you posted! God bless!