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 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