Sunday, March 29, 2009

Double the fun!

We've neglected to post the last couple of emails from Elder Livingston, so here is our humble attempt to make good...

From March 23rd, 2009 -

Dear Family,
It is wonderful to hear that you are happy and having spiritual experiences, and it has led to similar things for myself. The weather has taken a turn for the better here as spring is finally beginning to make everything greener, which has boosted spirits a lot. It makes it a lot easier to talk to people as well, especially when they are already outside. Had a couple cool things happen this past week: On Saturday we helped the Taylor's(members)haul some big logs out of a field, definitely a good workout. We've helped Bro.Taylor in the past with chopping wood and taking it to people in need, so I always love it when he calls us and asks us to come help him. Gets rid of a lot of stress, which is definitely normal for missionaries. Also, we were in this apartment complex getting a return appointment with an investigator, when these people we didn't know called us over to play basketball with them. Call it my-first-street-ball-
experience-on-a-mission, it was a lot of fun. Kind of awkward in a suit coat though, can't wait 'till we get to take those off! Only two more weeks! Lastly, the priesthood brethren have been needing someone to play the piano in opening exercises, because our past a cappella experiences have been, a funeral march. I volunteered my services, and I don't think I've ever seen priesthood holders so excited to sing. So, thanks Mom for telling me to fine-tune my piano skills before I left, it's payed off several times.

And yes, I am jealous that you get to attend General Conference coming up, I'd give anything to go again. Oh well, I'm sure I will feel the Spirit anyway even if I'm not there in person, or even just in Utah. We're planning on teaching a lot about prophets in these next couple of weeks, and hopefully we can a decent amount of non-members, especially investigators, to attend a session or two. We've already committed all three of our investigators to go, so that should be a great experience for them. I'd have to say that Sunday and Monday are probably my favorite days of the week, at least since I've been on a mission. The reason for that is because so much tends to happen on those other days, and never exactly as you planned it, that it just drains me by the end of the week. It can be disheartening at times, but thank goodness for Church on Sunday's! These two days give me a chance to refuel, recharge, reflect, and in the case of sacrament meeting, renew those sacred covenants. I always get super-excited to go and teach after feeling the spirit at Church, as well as reading my e-mails from you and others. Too often I feel that missionaries do not take advantage of church meetings as an opportunity to not only become better acquainted with members, but more importantly, to set up appointments to go to their homes and teach the lessons from Preach My Gospel. Doing this will help the members see the need for them to share the gospel as well, and when you leave bold and direct commitments, they are far more likely to follow through on them. We can't forget to follow-up regularly either. Elder Ballard said once that when you sit down with members and help them set goals, commit them to a specific date whereby they will find someone for us, the missionaries, to teach.

A quote from President Monson at last summer's Mission President's Seminar caught my attention. He said, "There is just no substitute for a member-oriented proselyting program. Tracting will not substitute for it. Golden questions will not substitute for it. A member-oriented program is the key to success." In my callings as a ward missionary, it was, as you know, my responsibility to go into members' homes, teach them the lessons from Preach My Gospel, and help them set goals for them to find someone for missionaries to teach. Obviously, missionaries out in Utah have such large areas to cover that they are not able to help members create Family Mission Plans on a regular basis, so that responsibility was delegated to me and the other ward missionaries. Now, being out here in Ohio, and particularly in Wilmington where the Church is much smaller, I have quickly learned that the responsibility for teaching and committing members falls directly to full-time missionaries. This is a lot that's been on my mind, as you can see, but I just keep feeling that this area is about to really flourish; but I've come to the conclusion that it cannot be done without full member participation. I think I've mentioned recently of our branch's new plan for us to work with members to help achieve our goal of 20 lessons per week, and yesterday at church I spoke with several members who are very excited to start doing this. I am praying that this will turn out the way it's been designed to, and if anyone has suggestions for me I will gladly be open to them.

I have seen great blessings as I have returned to more simple explanations of Church doctrine, as I once did with those wonderful boys in Primary.

Well, I think I've emptied out my brain of everything I wanted to say, but I would like to quickly express appreciation to the Sam and Kim Kienow Family, the Kent and Carol Livingston Family, and also Grandpa Ray for their heartfelt letters which have made me so grateful to know of the support that I am receiving! I pray that the Lord will continue to bless each of you and watch over you, and also that opportunities to share the gospel may be granted to you. Oh, and Happy Spring Fever!!

From March 16th, 2009 -

Dear Family,

First off, I wanted to express my thanks to you for those little reminders you give me each week, it really does help. As I look back on the years before my mission, I lament at the wasted time and on my often grumbling attitude when it came to being reminded about something or being told to do something. Being on a mission and also having the unique opportunity to focus on the Savior each day has wrought some changes in my life, as you so accurately pointed out. The 2 hours I am given to study each day is so little that I wish it could be longer, but I've committed myself to making the most of it. Well anyway, I am glad to hear that spring is beginning to show itself out there, it's taking a bit longer than I would've liked in Wilmington. It IS supposed to be really nice for most of this week, so I'm anxious to see how many people will be outside for us to talk to. Much less awkward than going door-to-door and not knowing what to expect.

We didn't teach as many lessons this past week as we had planned for, but I feel comforted knowing we tried our hardest. I still feel that we are falling short of our potential as it relates to member missionary work, but I think the members are starting to see what we're asking of them. We'll be meeting with several different families this week, and we plan on setting some goals and extending some commitments. I've found out with any kind of goal or commitment that the stronger it is, the more likely the person will keep it and follow through on it. We are continuing to see results as we teach simple and clear doctrine, but the tough part is when we prepare a whole lesson plan and the appointment falls through. It definitely is frustrating at times, but we still do everything we can to use those doctrinal statements no matter where we might be.

Yesterday at Drake Coleman's home, we decided to go back to the beginning and teach about Joseph Smith and read from the pamphlet containing his testimony. We asked some very straightforward questions and received the answers we sought, and it was good because lately we've been concerned that Drake hasn't really been applying what he learns. He has a desire to be baptized and wants to continue learning, but he was in need of some extra motivation. We simply told him that everything we've taught him hinges on whether or not Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ....everything! We committed him to read the pamphlet that evening, then go into a quiet, secluded place and pray earnestly for an answer. We plan to follow up with him on it, and we're anxiously awaiting the response he will give. On another bonus, we are also starting to teach Drake's new foster brother, Jason, who sat in on the lesson and told us he wanted to read the Book of Mormon and learn more about the Church. He's had a pretty rough life up to this point, so we are definitely looking forward to helping him make changes. Other than that, the work goes on.

A couple of funny experiences from this past week: First, We taught Kenny Ewing on Saturday, one of our new investigators from last week, and we asked him if he had prayed about the Book of Mormon. He told us that he had and that God told him to get new glasses so he can read it better, because his eyesight isn't very good! We all thought it was pretty funny, but I don't see anything wrong with THAT answer. The second one just happened this morning. Last night, Elder Lundquist made some chicken with biscuits, potatoes and gravy for both of us. We didn't have much time to eat it before bed, and this morning we discovered to our half-shock and half-laughter that Elder Lundquist left the oven on at 400 DEGREES!! I'd say we're pretty lucky but at the same time it's one of those things you have to laugh at. Definitely NOT going to do that again though! So anyway, things are going great out here, it's hard to believe this is the fourth week of the transfer already, and we plan on making the most of it! Hope you all have a wonderful week, and that the weather cooperates! :)

Elder Isaac Livingston

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Miracle(s) of Missionary Work

Dearest Family and Friends,
The Book of Mormon is the word of God! Seems like an odd way to start off a letter, but I see it more and more each day as I continue to learn the difference between "study" and "read." The Lord truly does prepare His children to accept it, and I am setting a goal for myself to be able to hand out at least one Book of Mormon per day to someone. We have so many in our apartment, and they don't belong there! It can be somewhat daunting trying to make suggestions to the senior companion, but I've mustered the courage and explained to each of them the need to get the Book of Mormon into peoples' hands, and not just simply tell them we'll bring one back some other day. We are bound to forget because we're so busy, so I always make sure I have some copies in my backpack and another in my coat pocket.

We had another great Zone Conference this past week, President Robbins focused on teaching simple and clear doctrine using the scriptures and Preach My Gospel. That divinely-inspired guide continues to amaze me, I can never get enough out of it! As I've followed the counsel of President Robbins, I've noticed more and more that Preach My Gospel doesn't talk about anything that we don't already other words, it doesn't teach deep doctrine such as where in the world Kolob is located. Every time I pick it up, I think to myself, "This book was put together by prophets and apostles under the spirit of revelation, so it's almost like scripture!"

We too are stressing increased member involvement here, I think I told you last week about the plan we've come up with to do that. We have appointments in 4 or 5 members' homes this week, so it's a tremendous opportunity to help them set goals for referring their friends to us, and also a chance to show them that Preach My Gospel is not just for full-time missionaries. It tells each of us how to do missionary work, so members need not fear! From reading your letters, it sounds like the Lord is answering my prayers that you would have opportunities to share the gospel and bear testimony of it! And the continued increase in temple-building is evidence that the Lord is working to establish His Church throughout the world, even in Utah!

I do miss the daily drive past the Mt. Timpanogos Temple, but I have resolved in my heart that I will take greater advantage of it when I return. I would love to see a temple announced out here in Cincinnati, that would be a huge blessing to the members. They talk so frequently about how much the temple means to them, even though the nearest one is up in Columbus. As you may have heard, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (the OTHER M.T.C.) will be performing in Cincinnati in mid-June, we are looking to get tickets for people here. They came out here back in the summer of '07 and it went extremely well, the missionaries experienced great success as a result of that. So, as you can imagine, I am very much looking forward to seeing what it can produce this time around!

Exciting to hear that the Draper Temple open house was a good experience, and that Dee enjoyed it as well. That's interesting that she was baptized at age 8, I never could've guessed that. Best of luck to her as she takes the discussions at our home!

This week ended on a high note, we had a couple things happen that hadn't taken place in a while. First, we found ourselves a new investigator! His name is Kenny Ewing, an older African-American who lives out in Sabina. He let us right in when we started talking on his porch, and boy do I get excited when somebody lets us right in. My enthusiasm level goes WAY up, because you know how it can be when you're going door-to-door. You just want to start teaching as soon as you get inside, but I was able to bridle that for a little bit. We sat down and got acquainted with him, found out that he goes to the A.M.E. church out in Washington Court House. He asked us a question that set things up perfectly for the first lesson: "I've always wondered about this, but have never gotten an answer I was satisfied with. Where did all of these churches come from, and how did they get started?" I was thrilled, because what member of the Church wouldn't want to hear a question like that? We proceeded to teach a powerful first lesson, filled with simple, doctrinal statements and soul-searching questions. At the end of the lesson he told us that people from other churches have come by in hopes of getting him to join their denomination, but they've never been able to peak his interest. He then looked right at us and said that he was truly interested in learning more about our message, and he was especially excited to start reading from the Book of Mormon. We have a return appointment with him this weekend, and our goal is to commit him to come to Church this upcoming Sunday. So that was the first great thing that happened, and the second was that we received a member referral! I love those! It was for an apartment complex run by the members' sister, and it's literally full of potential investigators. We'll be having a discussion there tonight, so to me anyway the setting will feel almost like the one Brigham Young was in when he felt the Spirit after someone bore a pure, simple testimony. "A Man without Eloquence," was what the video was called, I remember Dad showing that during a family night once. President Robbins showed it to us again at Zone Conference. So anyway, I am hoping the opportunity to testify presents itself tonight, and I will not shy away when it comes.

Other than that, the work continues to move on despite the hardships experienced by thousands here. In time, I believe that the Lord will pour out His spirit upon the people and they will come to a knowledge of the truth. Thank you as always for the unending support each of you provide in my behalf, I can feel the strength of your prayers. It revitalizes my desire to teach the gospel to others, as I once did when I taught Primary. In addition, a momentous upswing in the weather has helped us be able to talk to more people, this past Saturday it was 75 degrees! I definitely see that the Lord is putting my faith to the test, as He has done on many other occasions. The key is to not lose hope and exercise my faith, for God will always open the way. Have a great week, may the Lord be with you each day and give you opportunities to bear testimony